The ramparts of Khaybar: 4,000 year old wall found at site of Prophet Mohammad’s battle

Aerial views of the dry-stone basement of the outer rampart: A. Segment KH00911 facing south; B. Segment KH01130 facing north; C. Segments KH00904-KH00905 and KH00906 facing south; D. segment KH00922, © Khaybar LDAP, G. Charloux.
Aerial views of the dry-stone basement of the outer rampart: A. Segment KH00911 facing south; B. Segment KH01130 facing north; C. Segments KH00904-KH00905 and KH00906 facing south; D. segment KH00922, © Khaybar LDAP, G. Charloux.
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Since the Bronze Age, a walled structure surrounded Saudi Arabia’s Khaybar Oasis, which became an important site in Islamic history

Highlights

  • Khaybar Oasis was entirely enclosed by a rampart in pre-Islamic times, like several other large regional walled oases in north-western Arabia (Tayma, Qurayyah, Hait, etc.).
  • The cross-referencing of survey and remote sensing data, architectural examinations and the dating of stratified contexts have revealed a rampart initially some 14.5 km long, preserved today over just under half of the original route (41 %, 5.9 km and 74 bastions).
  • This rampart dates back to the Bronze Age, between 2250 and 1950 BCE, and had never been detected before due to the profound reworking of the local desert landscape over time.
  • This crucial discovery confirms the rise of a walled oasis complex in northern Arabia during the Bronze Age, a trend that proved to be central to the creation of indigenous social and political complexity.
Map of the main ramparts of Khaybar, with identification of main segment walls and location of bastions and soundings in 2021–2023, © Khaybar LDAP, G. Charloux.

Map of the main ramparts of Khaybar, with identification of main segment walls and location of bastions and soundings in 2021–2023, © Khaybar LDAP, G. Charloux.

 

Archaeologists have uncovered an 14.5 km Bronze Age rampart around the Khaybar Oasis in Saudi Arabia, thought to date from between 2250 and 1950 BCE (4,000 years old). It was most likely constructed for protection, as well as to show strength to enemies. The enclosed area contained at least one settlment and was also probably used as agricultural land.

Interestingly, in 628 CE, the very same Khaybar Oasis was the site of an important military victory for the Prophet Mohammed, making it a key location in Islamic history.

Aerial views of the dry-stone basement of the outer rampart at Khaybar Oasis. © Khaybar LDAP, G. Charloux.

Aerial views of the dry-stone basement of the outer rampart at Khaybar Oasis. © Khaybar LDAP, G. Charloux.

 

This rampart or wall had remained undetected until recently because the oasis had not been properly surveyed. Even as recently as 20 years ago, no one knew of the existance of settlements in this area. It was only after the work of Saudi Arabian and German archaeologists that it was revealed that such sedentary communities did exist. Now, more than half a dozen walled oases have been identified and the team of experts are of the opinion that the structure had walls 1.7 to 2.4 metres thick.

Location map of the Khaybar walled oasis (red and white circle) and other major sites in north-western Arabia, © G. Charloux, ESRI.

Location map of the Khaybar walled oasis (red and white circle) and other major sites in north-western Arabia, © G. Charloux, ESRI.

“We can really show that there was a kind of walled oasis complex in north-west Arabia during the Bronze Age. This makes the thing very exciting,” said one of the authors of the study, Dr Guillaume Charloux of the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

“Thanks to this discovery of Khaybar, we are now able to say it’s not one place, it’s many places that were fortified with monumental architecture. It makes the thing absolutely exciting and very different to our initial belief,” Dr Charloux said.

The new study published in the February edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports posits that the oasis was a complex of “many places that were fortified with monumental architecture”.

“We can say that the main goal, the main purpose, was ostentation,” Dr Charloux said. “It means that people really wanted to show their power and to demarcate their own territory and demarcate what is inside and what is outside, which is the desert and the plateau and the very arid area.”

The experts also think that a secondary key role protection because the segments of the wall that have been discovered display a number of bastions (projections) that show its defensive function.

“Of course it’s protective, but it’s not … active defence with archery or military units. It’s probably passive defence. People can enter only if they’re authorised to enter,” he said.

Furthermore, it would have protected the residents from natural disasters and weather, including wadi floods and sandstorms.

While not yet definite about the number of people that lived within the oasis. the researchers have estimated that the population may have numbered at around 1,000 to 1,500 people, who may have cultivated cereals (based on the seeds found in the areas).

Dr Charloux has also calculated that the structure would have taken a group of 250 workers about four years to build.

Further work will continue at the site to discover more of its history. However, this study goes on to show that the Arabian peninsula has been occupied by human civilisations from the Bronze Age and before, long before the advent of Islamic civilisation.

Read the full study here.

I am a Chartered Environmentalist from the Royal Society for the Environment, UK and co-owner of DoLocal Digital Marketing Agency Ltd, with a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University, an MBA in Finance, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics. I am passionate about science, history and environment and love to create content on these topics.

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