Late Neolithic cult of the betyls in pre-Islamic Arabia

“Since the 1970s, monumental stone structures now called mustatil have been documented across Saudi Arabia. However, it was not until 2017 that the first intensive and systematic study of this structure type was undertaken, although this study could not determine the precise function of these features. Recent excavations in AlUla have now determined that these structures fulfilled a ritual purpose, with specifically selected elements of both wild and domestic taxa deposited around a betyl. This paper outlines the results of the University of Western Australia’s work at site IDIHA-0008222, a 140 m long mustatil (IDIHA-F-0011081), located 55 km east of AlUla. Work at this site sheds new and important light on the cult, herding and ‘pilgrimage’ in the Late Neolithic of north-west Arabia, with the site revealing one of the earliest chronometrically dated betyls in the Arabian Peninsula and some of the earliest evidence for domestic cattle in northern Arabia.”—”Cult, herding, and ‘pilgrimage’ in the Late Neolithic of north-west Arabia: Excavations at a mustatil east of AlUla

Hermetic Library Omnium Late Neolithic Cult of the Betyls in Pre-Islamic Arabia 18mar2023

“The monumentality of mustatil IDIHA-F-0011081 and the associated deposition of animal horns and upper cranial elements, along with the inclusion of fire, in close association with a standing stone, suggests that the structure had a supra-domestic or cultic function [86, 101, 102]. Although, the nature and meaning of the rituals associated with these remains are unknown, it appears to have been focused around the large central up-right stone (A), located in the east (rear) of the main chamber, with almost all of the faunal elements clustered around this feature. Based on the size, positioning and stone choice we have interpreted this up-right stone (as well as B and C) as a betyl (“house of the god”). As such, although there may be other interpretations, we hypothesise that the standing stones (betyls) from mustatil IDIHA-F-0011081, particularly stone A, may have functioned as a mediator between humankind and the divine, acting as a proxy or a manifestation of an unknown Neolithic deity/deities or religious idea, to which the faunal elements were deposited as votive offerings. However, it should be noted that based on our extensive ground survey evidence, of more than 80 mustatils, we do not believe that betyls featured in all examples of this tradition. Despite this caution, the presence of at least three betyls is highly significant, with these examples amongst the earliest chronometrically dated (late 6th millennium BCE) instances of a tradition, which was to become a hallmark of the pre-Islamic ritual landscape of Arabia [103]. Indeed, the religion of pre-Islamic Arabia has been described as a “cult of the betyls”, with up-right stones, natural rock outcrops and other portable idols revered as a manifestation of, or as a house of the god(s) [103]. These stones were also believed to have been associated with animal sacrifices and blood offerings, which were poured over the betyl, in order to garner the favour of the god(s), and to ensure fecundity [103]. Ritualised hunting and feasting, of both wild and domestic taxa also played an important role in this tradition [101], as it did elsewhere across the Neolithic [cf. 86–92]. Although these practices have generally been ascribed to southern Arabia and a later time period [103], on the basis of the radiocarbon evidence from mustatil IDIHA-F-0011081 it is possible that such beliefs have their origins earlier than previously supposed.”