Archaeologist Dr Robert Mason of the Royal Ontario Museum has recently announced the discovery of mysterious rock formations near the Syrian monastery Deir Mar Musa.
In 2009, Dr Mason was at work at the monastery when, walking nearby, he came across a series of rock formations: lines of stone, stone circles, and what appeared to be tombs.
“Much more detailed examinations are needed to understand the structures,” said Dr Mason, who talked about the finds and about archaeology at the monastery at Harvard’s Semitic Museum. But that he isn’t sure when he will be able to return to Syria, if ever.
Analysis of fragments of stone tools found in the area suggests the rock formations are much older than the monastery, perhaps dating to the Neolithic Period or early Bronze Age, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Dr Mason also said that he saw corral-like stone formations called ‘desert kites,’ which would have been used to trap gazelles and other animals. The region is dry today, but was probably greener millennia ago.
“It was clear that the purpose of the stone formations was entirely different from that of the stone-walled desert kites,” Dr Mason said. “The kites were arranged to take advantage of the landscape and direct the animals to a single place, while the more linear stone formations were made to stand out from the landscape. In addition, he said, there was no sign of habitats.”
“What it looked like was a landscape for the dead and not for the living,” Dr Mason explained. “It’s something that needs more work and I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.”
Dr Mason said he felt like he’d stumbled onto England’s Salisbury Plain, where Stonehenge is located, leading to the formations being dubbed ‘Syria’s Stonehenge.’
“Early work on the building likely began in the late 4th or early 5th century. It was occupied until the 1800s, though damaged repeatedly by earthquakes. Following refurbishment in the 1980s and 1990s, it became active again,” Dr Mason said about the monastery, Deir Mar Musa.
“The monastery was originally a Roman watchtower that was partially destroyed by an earthquake and then rebuilt. The compound was enlarged, with new structures added until it reached the size of the modern complex, clinging to a dry cliff face in the desert about 50 miles north of Damascus,” Dr Mason said.