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Ancient Humans Mapped Out Hunting Device on Boulders

Humans carved into boulders precise, to-scale representations of the large "desert kites" they built in the Middle East.

By Matt Hrodey
May 17, 2023 6:00 PMMay 17, 2023 6:01 PM
Saudi Arabia desert
Saudi Arabia, close to where the engravings were found. (Credit: Olivier Barge, CNRS. CC-BY 4.0)


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Humans who built massive “desert kites” in ancient times first carved to-scale plans of them, creating an 8,000-year-old schematic, a new study says.

Scientists found the maps carved into boulders lying on the ground in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, not far from the kites they depicted. Desert kites are ancient, keyhole-shaped structures designed to funnel in animals, which walk in through one end and get stuck in the round enclosure or pit at the other.

What Were Desert Kites Used For?

The current study concludes that humans used kites not just for meat but also for hides and horns, harvesting animals at a rate that might have risked extinction. At the same time, humans were experimenting with farming in the Near East, the study says, and developing other means for producing large amounts of food.

Despite their dramatic appearance, desert kites are commonplace in the Middle East, Caucasia and Central Asia, where researchers have identified 6,255.

Engravings of Ancient Hunting Traps

In Jordan, the researchers found a 7,000-year-old engraving near eight different kites in the Jibal al-Khasabiyeh area. Humans had used stone tools to map out the projects, which are fully visible only from the air.

In Saudi Arabia, the team found an 8,000-year-old engraving chipped out of the stone using hand picks, all to map out two different kites positioned more than two miles apart. This engraving was much larger – about 12 feet by 8 feet.

The researchers from France and the Middle East say the newly discovered maps stand as the earliest to-scale depictions yet discovered.

“Few plans or maps predate the period of the literate civilizations of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt,” according to a press release. “The ability to transpose large space onto a small, two dimensional surface represents a milestone in intelligent behavior.”

How Accurate Were the Ancient Drawings?

“The engravings are surprisingly realistic and accurate and are, moreover, to-scale,” the paper says. “These engravings are obviously mental depictions that could only have been made by their users and/or builders.”

At the Saudi Arabian site, humans carved the maps at about a 1:175 scale and in line with cardinal directions. Such precision would have come in handy, the papers says, when coordinating different hunting strategies after the construction of the mega-traps.

Airplanes first spotted desert kites in the 1920s, and later research measured their stone walls to be up to 3 miles in length. These impressive structures date back as early as 9,000 years ago in Jordan, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.

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