The worst sandstorm in over thirty years hit the Rub’ al-Khali desert. The largest sand desert in the world with a single dune stretching for twenty five miles and measuring a hundred feet tall, was being dispersed by the winds, only to be reformed miles away. It was an ongoing process as the sand swirled miles up into the sky, blocking out the midday sun and turning it into twilight.
Bedouins, the desert people from the Bedu tribe, were used to the harsh conditions of the desert, but this storm was unusually cruel. Atop their camels, they sheltered their skin from the stinging sands with pieces of cloth and only left small openings for their eyes. The mighty beasts they rode were also covered with protective cloth over their heads to prevent breathing in of the sand and dust. The camels, referred to by Arabs as ships of the desert, navigated blindly and were only guided by the tugs from the hemp reins to keep them on course. The caravan moved at a slow pace and the knobby-kneed creatures sometimes stumbled as the sand piled up in front of them. After a few miles, the winds began to subside, and the sun started to lighten the desert.
They looked ahead through their facecloths and pulled on the reins to stop the camels. The winds became almost silent as they pulled their face cloths down for a better look. They turned their heads to one another, almost beckoning for agreement that they were all seeing the same thing. In front of them were human skeletons, unearthed from under the desert sand by the howling winds. As the intermittent gusts would come and go, the sand blew away and exposed more corpses, lots of corpses. As they moved forward and tried to avoid the piles of bones, it became clear that there were thousands of bodies scattered across the desert terrain, almost as far as the eye could see.
They chattered in their native tongue at the horror surrounding them, and were confused at the conditions of the bodies. They weren’t all skeletons. Some were in different stages of decomposition. The dry, hot climate had mummified some, and others looked like they had only been there a short while. They wondered how this could be. Who were these people, and how did they get here? Had there been a war and they didn’t know it? They were located hundreds of miles from civilization, and only small villages of nomadic tribes dotted this area of the desert. As the stench became overwhelming, they pressed on. They traveled miles before the odor of death finally blew away.
As darkness fell, they decided to camp for the evening. They set up their tents that were woven from goat’s hair. The camels huddled together for warmth as the night desert air became frigid. The women prepared flat bread made from flour and salt, while the men talked of the terrifying experience they had witnessed that day. No one could come up with a logical explanation. The answer seemed illusive, like a desert mirage.