The Arabian Horizon: The Wet Deluge


Tucked away in the annuals of history there is one story of cataclysmic rainfall that defies the general rule that reports of “a torrential downpour that lasts 40 days” are thin on the ground.

Ancient narrators were not reticent to describe water appearing from above and below.

But since those ancient times narrators have experienced difficulties finding any precipitation reports that are on a truly epic scale i.e. a deluge.

Modern narrators tell of horrific hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis and monsoons but reports of “a torrential downpour that lasts 40 days” are thin on the ground.

This narrative of “cataclysmic rainfall” includes all the major storyline features associated with the Big Chill in Greenland.



This narrative of “cataclysmic rainfall” is located in one of the driest regions of the world: the Empty Quarter of the Arabian peninsula.


The Rub’ al Khali (“Empty Quarter”) is the largest contiguous sand desert (erg) in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula.

The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi) (the area between long. 44°30′−56°30′E, and lat. 16°30′−23°00′N) including parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Its surface elevation varies from 800 metres (2,600 ft) in the southwest to around sea level in the northeast.

Daily maximum temperatures average at 47 °C (117 °F) and can reach as high as 51 °C (124 °F).’_al_Khali

Rub’ al Khali is a Neogene basin that is characterized by large sand dunes measuring 50 to over 250m high separated by up to 2 km wide flat valleys.

The valley floors are either inland sabkhas, sandy or gravely or bed rocks.

There are two main parameters that have influenced the evolution of the Rub’ al Khali’s landscape.

Firstly, there is the very low rainfall (< 50 mm/year) which has limited the density and permanence of the natural vegetation cover, restricted soil formation, increased erosion, and expanded existing aeolian sand bodies and sand sheets.

Secondly, the dune morphology in this region is primarily influenced by the changes of wind direction during Pleistocene-Holocene epochs.

An overview of Origin, Morphology and Distribution of Desert Forms, Sabkhas and Playas of the Rub’ al Khali Desert of the Southern Arabian Peninsula
Arun Kumar and Mahmoud M. Abdullah
Earth Science India, – Vol. 4(III) – July 2011 – pp. 105-135

Click to access tech_pdf-1328.pdf

The story begins [for western audiences] in 1932 when St. John Philby encountered the Wabar Craters in the Empty Quarter.

Harry St John Bridger Philby Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) (1885 – 1960), also known as Jack Philby or Sheikh Abdullah, was a British Arabist, adviser, explorer, writer, and colonial office intelligence officer.

In 1932, while searching for the lost city of Ubar, he was the first Westerner to visit and describe the Wabar craters.

Philby had heard of Bedouin legends of an area called Al Hadida (“place of iron” in Arabic) with ruins of ancient habitations, and also an area where a piece of iron the size of a camel had been found, and so organized an expedition to visit the site.

After a month’s journey through wastes so harsh that even some of the camels died, on 2 February 1932 Philby arrived at a patch of ground about a half a square kilometre in size, littered with chunks of white sandstone, black glass, and chunks of iron meteorite.

Amongst the samples of iron, cindery material and silica glass that Philby brought back from the site was a 25 lb chunk of iron.

Analysis showed it to be about 90% iron and 5% nickel, with the rest consisting of various elements, including copper, cobalt, and 6 ppm of iridium, an unusually high concentration.


The largest fragment was recovered in a 1966 visit to Wabar and weighs 2.2 tonnes.

The layout of the impact area suggests that the body fell at a shallow angle, and was moving at typical meteorite entry speeds of 40,000 to 60,000 km/h.

Its total mass was more than 3,500 tonnes.

The shallow angle presented the body with more air resistance than it would have encountered at a steeper angle, and it broke up in the air into at least four pieces before impact.

The biggest piece struck with an explosion roughly equivalent to the atom bomb that levelled Hiroshima.


The Day the Sands Caught Fire – Jeffrey C. Wynn and Eugene M. Shoemaker
Scientific American – Nov 1998

Click to access 1998SciAm-Wabar.pdf

Fission-track analysis of glass fragments by Storzer (1965) suggested the Wabar impact took place thousands of years ago, but delicate glass filagree, and the fact that the craters have been filled-in considerably since Philby’s 1932 visit, suggests their origin is much more recent.

Thermoluminescence dating by Prescott et al. (2004) suggest the impact site is less than 250 years old.

Philby discovered that Arabia contains a lot of water.

Almost immediately after resuming our march we entered the broad channel of a Sabkha, a band of salt-impregnated mud about 500 yards across, which divides the Ghuwaiba plain from the soft undulating sandy downs of the Mutaiwi district.

The head of the saline channel is said to be at the wells of Khuwaira, whence it runs, roughly northward on a winding course, to the neighbourhood of Jisha and Taraf on the eastern confines of the great Hasa oasis.

When I had passed through those parts on my way to and from ‘Uqair there was a considerable lake or marsh to the south of the route.

I now noticed that Zayid, who professed to know all this country intimately, was diverging from the direct route to the wells of Mutaiwi which I had expressed a desire to see.

He had indeed changed his mind with the idea of getting to a desirable camping spot without delay, and I considered it expedient to remonstrate very gently with him against any change of plans without consultation.

He declared that he was not aware of my desire to see the altogether uninteresting wells, but without a word changed course again towards them.

At the same time he sent the baggage animals straight on to an agreed camping place while we followed the right bank of the Sabkha channel for half an hour until we came to Mutaiwi, two small water-pits, two feet in diameter at the mouth and ten feet deep to the water level.

The mouth of each pit was protected by a structure of woodwork and wattle, and round the wells is a wide circle of bare ground liberally covered with the droppings of sheep.

Khuwaira, half an hour’s ride due south from Mutaiwi, also has two similar wells.

The Empty Quarter – H StJ P Philby – 1933


Study: Third of Big Groundwater Basins in Distress
Jet Propulsion Laboratory – 16 June 2015


The size of mega-dunes in the Liwa region (UAE) in the northeastern part of Rub’ al Khali represent multiple generations of superimposed sand dunes separated by calcrete beds.

An overview of Origin, Morphology and Distribution of Desert Forms, Sabkhas and Playas of the Rub’ al Khali Desert of the Southern Arabian Peninsula
Arun Kumar and Mahmoud M. Abdullah
Earth Science India, – Vol. 4(III) – July 2011 – pp. 105-135

Click to access tech_pdf-1328.pdf

But Philby probably didn’t appreciate how much water the Empty Quarter contains.


An overview of Origin, Morphology and Distribution of Desert Forms, Sabkhas and Playas of the Rub’ al Khali Desert of the Southern Arabian Peninsula
Arun Kumar and Mahmoud M. Abdullah
Earth Science India, – Vol. 4(III) – July 2011 – pp. 105-135

Click to access tech_pdf-1328.pdf



Sabkha is a phonetic translation of the Arabic word for a salt flat.
In some parts of the world, these lakes can also form in inland deserts, filled by rain or a rising water table from underground aquifers.

For example, large parts of the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia and the southern UAE consist of patterns of high drifting barchan dunes alternating with sabkha salt flats.

In some places, the sabkha connect to form long accessible corridors into the desert.


Natural salt pans or salt flats are flat expanses of ground covered with salt and other minerals, usually shining white under the Sun.

They are found in deserts, and are natural formations (unlike salt evaporation ponds, which are artificial).

A salt pan forms by evaporation of a water pool such as a lake or pond.

This happens in climates where the rate of water evaporation exceeds the rate of precipitation, that is, in a desert.

If the water cannot drain into the ground, it remains on the surface until it evaporates, leaving behind minerals precipitated from the salt ions dissolved in the water.

Salt pans can be dangerous.

The crust of salt can conceal a quagmire of mud that can engulf a truck.

But Philby realised the Empty Quarter once contained a lot more surface water.

Climbing the cliff to eastward of our camp I found myself on an extensive patch of gypsum, roughly circular in form and sinking gently from its outer perimeter to a smaller circular depression lightly covered with sand and grit.

Its somewhat crater-like appearance, together with the roughened surface of the gypsum, churned up as if by the wind, suggested that this might possibly be the desiccated site of an ancient lake or pond; but I found nothing either to confirm or invalidate such an impression.

At Shanna itself the northern dune-range cuts straight across the gypsum valley-bed which, however, continues beyond it in a north-easterly direction for a mile or more.

The whole line of these exposed patches of the bed-rock suggested very strongly to my mind the possibility of its being in fact the dried-up bed of an ancient river.

The very fact that the comparatively deep sweet-water well of Shanna lay in the line of the supposed valley tended to confirm such an impression.

The Empty Quarter – H StJ P Philby – 1933

Along the middle length of the desert there are a number of raised, hardened areas of calcium carbonate, gypsum, marl, or clay that were once the site of shallow lakes.’_al_Khali


McClure’s 1984 doctoral thesis at London University reported in detail on the lakes, filling a blank in the world’s ancient climate map.

McClure’s own discoveries came in 20 years of exploring in the Rub’ al-Khali as a member of drilling and geological parties, and during research trips on his own time through the dunes.

Today, he is pursuing his research in affiliation with the British Museum (Natural History), London.

The lake beds he charted “are distributed down the middle length of the Rub’ al-Khali” – a distance of some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles).

What remains of them are marl terraces and patches of hardened crust a few meters wide, distributed in thin, “shoestring” forms, a kilometer or more long, between the dunes.

Now, however, instead of lying below the level of the desert, the lake beds stand up in relief, the sand that once surrounded them having been blown away by thousands of years of scouring winds.

McClure admits that the idea that lakes dotted the Empty Quarter in recent prehistory “might have been met with skepticism” as late as the 1970’s.

But there were “a thousand or more” lakes, claims the geologist, who followed up clues uncovered by explorer Harry St. John Philby in the heart of the desert more than 50 years ago, along with later discoveries there by Aramco prospectors, to develop his data about the area’s ancient environment.

Lakes of the Rub’ al-Khali
Written by Arthur Clark – Illustrated by Michael Grimsdale
Aramco World – Vol 40 Num 3 – May-June 1989

Click to access 198903.pdf

And Philby realised the Empty Quarter was once a bountiful land.

Suddenly I observed a white object on the ground and, before I could take in its significance, we were marching on masses of them.

Look ! I said to Salim, shells of the sea !

I must dismount.

He was off his camel in a trice, performing a sprightly war-dance as he gazed down at a cluster of bivalves.

For nearly two hours we remained with others of our party riveted to that spot, while the baggage went ahead.

Apart from Wabar itself this was perhaps the most interesting and dramatic discovery of the whole journey.

The place was simply littered with shells, and among the shells we collected a good assortment of the most delightful flint implements of antiquity, the first of which was picked up and brought to me by Parraj, while Zayid, grubbing under the gravel, brought me a lump of what he imagined to be disintegrated mud of man-made walls !

It was evidently alluvial soil of an old river or lake and appeared to
lie in bands which certainly created the illusion of wall-foundations.

The Empty Quarter – H StJ P Philby – 1933

But Philby didn’t realise just how bountiful the Empty Quarter used to be.


The long-ago presence of hippos is attested by finds of their fossilized teeth, so pristine they might have been lost just yesterday.

The fossilized bones of water buffalo and long-horned cattle, as well as of wild asses, wild goats or sheep, oryx, gazelle, and possibly camels and hartebeest, have all also been found in the petrified lake mud.

Clam shells are in evidence, too, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest modern coast.

Chipped-stone tools are scattered in the vicinity.

Lakes of the Rub’ al-Khali
Written by Arthur Clark – Illustrated by Michael Grimsdale
Aramco World – Vol 40 Num 3 – May-June 1989

Click to access 198903.pdf

There is also evidence of human activity dating from 3,000 to 2,000 years ago, including chipped flint tools, but no actual human remains have been found.’_al_Khali

In 1989 radiocarbon dating suggested some of these dried lake beds contained water 5,000 years ago.

In fact, evidence indicates that lakes formed twice: once from roughly 37,000 to 17,000 years ago, and then again from around 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.

In the interim, “hyper-arid,” period, as today, rain was very rare.

Radiocarbon dating was used to calculate the ages of mollusk shells and lake-bed marl, and thus determine the age of the lakes themselves.

Lakes of the Rub’ al-Khali
Written by Arthur Clark – Illustrated by Michael Grimsdale
Aramco World – Vol 40 Num 3 – May-June 1989

Nowadays, it’s suggested these dried lake beds contained water “2,000 years ago” and that the Empty Quarter only became “virtually impassable” around 300 AD.

These lakes existed during periods from 6,000 to 5,000 years ago and 3,000 to 2,000 years ago.

Before desertification made the caravan trails leading across the Rub’ al Khali so difficult, the caravans of the frankincense trade crossed now virtually impassable stretches of wasteland, until about AD 300.’_al_Khali

Given the mainstream flexibility with dates [e.g. re-dating 37,000 down to 6,000 years ago] it seen sensible to take a closer look at the mainstream “AD 300” cut-off date for frankincense traders crossing the Empty Quarter because it seems likely this date was obtained from a classical source i.e. not by radiocarbon dating the desiccated remains of a frankincense trader.

In the context of the Realigned Roman Empire Time Line the “AD 300” cut-off date aligns with 934 CE.


In many ways this revised date makes sense.

Firstly, the Old Japanese Cedar Tree chronology suggests the climate was becoming colder [and drier] from 669 CE to 914 CE and this reflects the mainstream “desertification” narrative.

Secondly, the “desertification” storyline aligns well with the Denver Dust Bowl which was accumulating its Middle Sand Unit between 675 CE and 1,020 CE.

Thirdly, the “desertification” storyline generally aligns with the disappearance of the Syrian and North African Forest elephants.

The Syrian elephant is deemed to have become extinct “around 100 BC”
i.e. only 200 years before the North African forest elephant became extinct.


Fourthly, it’s no surprise the frankincense trade is said to have ground to a halt 20 years after the disruptive events associated with the Heinsohn Horizon in 914 CE.

However, for this realigned time line to have any validity the mainstream “desertification” narrative needs to be prefixed [somewhere along the line] with a deluge storyline.

The catastrophic downward spike in surface temperatures at the Arabian Horizon triggered a spike in released oceanic heat and water vapour which [in their turn] caused a dramatic short term spike in precipitation [aka Deluge].


And the mainstream duly delivers “cataclysmic rainfall” to the Empty Quarter.

These lakes existed during periods from 6,000 to 5,000 years ago and 3,000 to 2,000 years ago.

The lakes are thought to have formed as a result of “cataclysmic rainfall” similar to present-day monsoon rains and most probably lasted for only a few years.

However, lakes in the Mundafen area in the southwest of the Rub’ al Khali show evidence of lasting longer, up to 800 years, due to increased runoff from the Tuwaiq Escarpment.’_al_Khali

McClure theorizes that the lakes were created by cataclysmic rainfall, like that seen in the summer monsoons which today water the Indian subcontinent and, on the Arabian Peninsula, extreme southern Oman.

He speculates that the summer monsoon moved to the north twice in recent geological history, most likely creating lakes in what he calls “one-time fill-up incidents.”

“It would rain like hell one monsoon season and then not rain in a particular area for the next 10 or 100 years,” he says.

The lakes had no links with rivers, above or below ground, or any other source of continuous replenishment, and their bed sediments present no evidence of regular refilling.

Rub’ al-Khali lakes “weren’t enormous lakes like in East Africa or like Lake Superior,” explains McClure.

They probably ranged in depth from two to 10 meters (six to 32 feet), he says, though some were only “ephemeral puddles.”

A few may have lasted several years, but most existed only “a few months to a few years.”

Lakes of the Rub’ al-Khali
Written by Arthur Clark – Illustrated by Michael Grimsdale
Aramco World – Vol 40 Num 3 – May-June 1989

The mainstream currently explains away this “cataclysmic rainfall” as “monsoon rains”.

The lakes are thought to have formed as a result of “cataclysmic rainfall” similar to present-day monsoon rains and most probably lasted for only a few years.’_al_Khali

However, “freak” monsoon-like rains [lasting three weeks] in 1977 didn’t managed to produce any “ponding” in the Empty Quarter.

In July 1977, he notes, three weeks of “freak” monsoon-like rainfall occurred in the northeastern Rub’ al-Khali.

No dune-slope runoff or ponding resulted at the time, “but it’s intriguing to think that should the same thing happen this summer, or next summer – and be intense enough to again form lakes – it could herald a genuine return of the monsoon to the Rub’ al-Khali,” he says.

Lakes of the Rub’ al-Khali
Written by Arthur Clark – Illustrated by Michael Grimsdale
Aramco World – Vol 40 Num 3 – May-June 1989


But the monsoons did experience “significant changes” for “decades after the Roman take-over in Egypt in 30 BC”.

Control over coastal areas allowed the South Arabian states to take advantage of the long-distance maritime trade based on the monsoon winds.

These blow steadily from the south-west in the summer and from the north-east in the winter, thus facilitating swift and relatively safe passage from all coasts of the western Indian Ocean and back again in the course of less than year.

The use of the monsoon certainly goes further back than the first century AD, but three passages in the classical sources tell us that significant changes took place in the decades after the Roman take-over in Egypt in 30 BC

Ancient South Arabia: Trade and strategies of state control as seen in the “Periplus Maris Erythraei”
Eivind Heldaas Seland
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies – Vol 35 – 2005

The monsoon’s movement to the north, which is also strongly suggested by the climate histories of the deserts in Africa, India and Australia, may have been due to a slight wobbling of the earth in its orbit around the sun.

Lakes of the Rub’ al-Khali
Written by Arthur Clark – Illustrated by Michael Grimsdale
Aramco World – Vol 40 Num 3 – May-June 1989

This classically sourced reference to the “decades after the Roman take-over in Egypt in 30 BC” makes sense in the context of the Realigned Roman Empire Time Line because “30 BC” aligns with 606 CE which is three decades before the Arabian Horizon in 637 CE.

In other words:

The Old Japanese Cedar Tree chronology suggests the history of the lakes in the Empty Quarter during the 1st millennium neatly fills the Heinsohn Sandwich.

The Heinsohn Sandwich contains 277 years of history that are wedged between the Arabian Horizon [637 CE] and the Heinsohn Horizon [914 CE].

In essence, these 277 years in the Heinsohn Sandwich provide most of the 300 years worth of history the mainstream has [somehow] smeared across a 1,000 years in the 1st millennium.

The Heinsohn Sandwich begins with “cataclysmic rainfall” at the Arabian Horizon [637 CE] which is followed by a period of increasing “desertification” until the “frankincense trade” grinds to a halt just after the Heinsohn Horizon [914 CE].


The bountiful conditions associated the Empty Quarter Lakes are echoed in the ancient narrative of the “the garden of Eden” where land “just north of the modern-day Dead Sea” was “well-watered”, “green” and “suitable for grazing livestock”.

Sodom and Gomorrah were cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis and throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and in the deuterocanonical books, as well as in the Quran and the hadith.

According to the Torah, the kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah were allied with the cities of Admah, Zeboim and Bela.

These five cities, also known as the “cities of the plain”, (from Genesis in the Authorized Version) were situated on the Jordan River plain in the southern region of the land of Canaan.

The plain, which corresponds to the area just north of the modern-day Dead Sea, was compared to the garden of Eden[Gen.13:10] as being a land well-watered and green, suitable for grazing livestock.

However, researchers and commentators are advised that this topic can be particularly contentious and controversial.

Kamal Suleiman Salibi (2 May 1929 – 1 September 2011) was a Lebanese historian, professor of history at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the founding Director (later Honorary President) of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies in Amman, Jordan.

Kamal Salibi wrote three books advocating the controversial “Israel in Arabia” theory.

In this view, the place names of the Hebrew Bible actually allude to places in southwest Arabia; many of them were later reinterpreted to refer to places in Palestine, when the Arabian Hebrews migrated to what is now called Eretz Israel, and where they established the Hasmonean kingdom under Simon Maccabaeus in the second century B.C.

This entry was posted in Arabian Horizon, Books, Heinsohn Horizon, History, Old Japanese Cedar Tree, Radiocarbon Dating. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Arabian Horizon: The Wet Deluge

  1. rishrac says:

    +1… very informative…

  2. Louis Hissink says:

    Salibi restricted his analysis to the fertile western part of Arabia. He probably would not have considered the more barren rest under the sand which is being implied here.

    The Cretaceous in this region is marked by enormous volumes of carbonate rocks as well, of various sedimentological environments, which only makes my head hurt more.

  3. Pingback: The Arabian Horizon: The Dry Deluge | MalagaBay

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