Archaeologists Map ‘Desert Kites’

(ORDO NEWS) — It turned out that separate structures for driven hunting, built by people of the pre-ceramic Neolithic, are part of a large and complex chain.

“Desert kites” (desert kites) archaeologists call structures from low stone walls. These walls form a corridor leading to an expanding part (the “head” of the serpent). It is believed that they were used to guide game, such as gazelles, into an area where they could be caught or killed.

Such “snakes” have survived in Syria, Jordan and Israel. And last year, archaeologists found similar structures in South Africa.

They are not easy to observe from the ground, where they often look like just a shapeless pile of rocks. Therefore, these structures were once discovered not by archaeologists, but by aviators – and they also gave them a name.

Archaeologists Map Desert Kites 2
The map shows the places where kites were found

Archaeologists from Oxford University studied satellite images of the Nefud Desert (northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq) and found more than 350 “kites” there that were not previously known. The results of their research are published in The Holocene .

The authors of the work believe that the structures they discovered are the result of complex and careful design.

The “heads” of some of the “serpents” were more than a hundred meters wide, and the guiding corridors along which gazelles and other game could follow to the “heads” stretch in almost a straight line for more than four kilometers, often over very varied terrain.

According to scientists, “kites” are noticeably different from any other structures of the early Holocene – they are more carefully designed and built.

The researchers suggest that the builders of these kites lived in temporary structures made of organic materials that left no traces visible on satellite images.

Oxford archaeologists did not set themselves the task of dating the kites, but earlier work suggests that these hunting pens were built during the so-called wet period of the Holocene (between 9000 and 4000 BC). During this period, the current deserts of the Arabian Peninsula were mostly savannas.

Archaeologists Map Desert Kites 3
Most often, the final part of the corral was built in the shape of a star

The new work is interesting not only for the finds of “kites”. Satellite images made it possible to establish that they are all built according to the same principle: the “head” is located in the west, and the corridor leading to it begins in the east. The entire architecture of the structures is almost completely repeated.

These, according to the authors of the work, testify to a previously unknown level of cultural homogeneity throughout northern Arabia at that time.

The pre-ceramic Neolithic (about 10 to 6 thousand years ago) is the period when people who lived on the lands of the Fertile Crescent had already begun to engage in agriculture: both agriculture and cattle breeding.

The question arises: why was it necessary to waste energy on such monumental buildings, which previously researchers associated only with driven hunting? Who was supposed to be fed by hunting game?

Perhaps “kites” were used not so much to kill animals, but to capture them for the purpose of subsequent domestication. But it is impossible to speak about it confidently today.

Researchers believe that for the construction and maintenance of structures in a holistic form, for many generations, by necessity, significant resources were concentrated. Most likely, such projects were the result of the union of several communities.

They also believe that their scale and shape can be an expression of cultural identity and territorial affiliation. The reflection of these structures in rock paintings found in Jordan suggests that they had significant symbolic and ritual significance.

The very fact that so many of these structures were found in the Nefud Desert suggests that contacts between different Early Neolithic communities went directly through the desert, and not around it, as was previously believed.

This emphasizes the importance of the now desert territories in more favorable climatic epochs for the movement of people and wild animals.


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