Out in the desert, where roads are mostly a matter of imagination, a treasure chest awaits future archaeologists.

Many of the castoffs of war to be found in the sun and sand - the ration cans, water bottles, fighting holes and abandoned posts - may indeed prove puzzling to students and scholars of future generations.Will they understand, for example, the significance of plastic liter water bottles scattered in heaps around abandoned camps in the middle of nowhere?

What will they make of the huge earthworks built high enough to hide a half-dozen tanks, abandoned like the cliff dwellings in the American Southwest?

As the allied forces move, regroup and maneuver through Saudi Arabia's northern desert, they leave behind marks likely to go undisturbed for years in an area largely unchanged since Biblical times.

You can travel six miles from the nearest city before you see anything. And then, suddenly, on the horizon are mounds of dirt made to form tank obstacles.

On closer inspection there are water bottles, plastic jugs of cooking oil and hundreds of cans of tomatoes - evidence that this was not an American camp.

Drive on another three miles and you come across another camp, also rich in archaeological treasures. Within a ring of 4-foot-deep fighting holes are signs of human habitation - and boredom.

There are cartons made in Korea and junction boxes nailed to buried posts, evidence of portable generators.

In the middle of the camp is a cactus decorated, possibly for Christmas, with the hardened drippings of a melted water bottle.

A foundation of cinder blocks set in the sand is a mystery until you spy a bar of soap, evidence that this was where they put the showers.

The biggest mystery, however, is the plastic bottles that have been buried in patterns around what looks like an attempt to start a garden.

Another six miles and there is another camp, with dozens of fighting holes guarding a volleyball net made of camouflage netting that flaps in the wind.

The reason for all the empty camps: Even the best outposts must be abandoned in war.