Neolithic hunters drew plans for monumental traps

Aerial view of Jebel az-Zilliyat, in Saudi Arabia, where you can make out the stone walls constituting a trap intended to trap herds of game, in March 2010.

Nearly a century ago, when the first airplane pilots ventured into the skies of the Middle East, they were surprised to sometimes discover strange lines and geometric shapes streaking the deserts below. Their shape evoked that of kites, traced over several hundred meters, which earned these enigmatic structures the Anglo-Saxon name of « kites “. From the ground, one could hardly discern anything but long dry stone walls less than a meter high and sorts of enclosures, not very exciting for archaeologists.

These arid zone kites therefore fell into oblivion until the democratization of satellite images thanks to Google Earth, which allowed them to be located “in a wheelchair”, on screen. “Ten years ago, there were about a thousand of them. Today, there are more than 6,600, in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, but also in Armenia and as far as Kazakhstan., lists the archaeologist Rémy Crassard (CNRS, House of the Orient and the Mediterranean, Lyon-II). In an article published on May 17 in PLOS Onehe presents with an international team a spectacular discovery concerning two of these kites, in Jordan and in Saudi Arabia: engravings traced on stones found nearby represent, to scale, these constructions which are no longer enigmatic.

Excavations conducted in recent years have, in fact, revealed that kites were “megatraps”, stone traps allowing the game to be lowered towards a closed end surrounded by pits, “where the animals ended their journey”, says Rémy Crassard. These small circular cells, sometimes 3 meters deep, had gone unnoticed, because the collapse of the low walls closing the trap and the sand had filled them in.

Engraved plan of the trap

It was in 2015 that engravings representing these megatraps were discovered, in the north of Saudi Arabia and in the south-east of Jordan. In both cases, blocks presented the plan of the nearest trap, respecting the scales and with astonishing fidelity to the terrain.

“The discovery of these plans is all the more incredible since the entirety of these structures is only visible from the air. They are the projection of what was in the mind of the person who conceptualized the kite,” emphasizes Rémy Crassard. He notes that, even with a GPS, making such a survey by surveying the site remains a challenge. A feat that is all the more remarkable given that the dates give an age of nine thousand years for the Jordanian site, and eight thousand for the Saudi one – ie five to six millennia before the first building plans made by the Mesopotamians.

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