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Named after the Arabic word for rectangle, mustatils were first discovered in northwest Saudi Arabia in the Seventies but received little attention at the time. Now a team of researchers from the University of Western Australia has found that these monuments are far more complex than previously thought. Using helicopters to fly over the region and following up with ground excavations, archaeologists found more than 1,000 mustatils across 200,000km – more than twice than were previously thought.

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Project leader Dr Hugh Thomas said: “You don’t get a full understanding of the scale of the structures until you’re there.”

The team published their findings last month, where they reported what is believed to be among the earliest stone monuments constructed by humans in the world.

Made from piled-up blocks of sandstone, the mustatils ranged from 10 metres to 500 metres in length and some of which weighed more than 500kg – but their walls stood only 1.2 metres high.

Dr Thomas explained: “It’s not designed to keep anything in, but to demarcate the space that is clearly an area that needs to be isolated.”

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1,000 ancient structures have been identified1,000 ancient structures have been identified (Image: GETTY/UNI WESTERN AUS)

Mustatils were first discovered in northwest Saudi Arabia in the SeventiesMustatils were first discovered in northwest Saudi Arabia in the Seventies (Image: UNI OF WESTERN AUS)

Excavations at one mustatil uncovered a chamber within which contained fragments of cattle horns and skulls.

Experts say these may have been presented as offerings, suggesting mustatils may have been used for rituals.

Radiocarbon dating of the skulls shows that they date to between 5300BC and 5000BC, indicating that this was when this particular mustatil was built.

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