East of Azraq on the edge of the Harrat ash-Sham lie a series of Basalt mesas (flat topped hills). On and around these mesas are an assortment of stone built structures - Wheels, Kites, Cairns, Tower Tombs and Pendants, which in this region were first described in the 1920s by pilots of the Royal Air Force on the Cairo-Baghdad airmail route. It was this landscape that we set out to investigate.
We broke from the main road at dawn and watched the sun rise over the desert as we rattled our way slowly down a questionable track - often no more than a pair of wheel ruts over the pebbly desert floor. Our first stopping point was a couple of Wheels surrounded by Cairn Rings. These were almost unrecognisable from the road, but as we got closer the walls began to be apparent. One was nestled in the slope of the hill while the other lay prominently on top of a rise of basalt boulders. Between these Wheels was a Bullseye Cairn - unfortunately illicitly excavated - but still associated with some Safaitic inscriptions and flint artefacts.
|Rajil Wheel with Cairn Ring in the early morning sun. Photographed by Rebecca Banks.|
|Mesas in the Qattafi area. Photographed by Rebecca Banks|
The most prominent features of these mesas are Tower Tomb Cairns, visible as small 'pimples' on their surfaces, easily visible from surprisingly far away. The size of the rounded basalt boulders on these mesas provide the perfect building material to construct these large burial mounds and other features. On two of the mesas, these Tower Tombs were incorporated into Pendants - a tail of smaller cairns connected to the larger burial cairn at the head. Other cairns also littered the surface of the mesas, but it was predominantly the Tower Tombs that had associated inscriptions, varying from ancient to modern.
|Tower Tomb on Qattafi Mesa 7. Photographed by Rebecca Banks|
|Inscription associated with Qattafi Pendant 3 on Mesa 2. Photographed by Rebecca Banks|
|An illictly excavated cairn (Qattafi Pendant 4) on 'Maitland's Fort'. Photographed by Rebecca Banks|
|Our Pajero after running afoul of a wayward stone. Photographed by Rebecca Banks.|