Massive prehistoric stone structures in desert landscapes from Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan have baffled archaeologists for decades. They can each extend for up to a few miles, and resemble a kite with tail threads in general shape.
recent studies They have come to a consensus that the so-called desert kites were used to hunt and kill herds of wildebeest. But how ancient hunter-gatherers conceived of—and realized—these great structures has remained a mystery. In their entirety, kites are “only visible from the air,” said Remy Crassard, an archaeologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research. “Even with our modern ways of visualizing our landscapes, it is still difficult for us archaeologists, scientists and scholars to properly map.”
Dr. Crassard and his colleagues were thrilled in 2015 when they found two monoliths with accurate depictions of nearby desert kites in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Inscribed between 7,000 and 9,000 years ago, these representations are the oldest widely known architectural plans recorded in human history, The Team Reported Wednesday in PLOS ONE magazine. They also highlight how meticulously planned desert kites were by the ancient peoples who relied on them.
“It’s amazing,” said Dr. Crassard, “knowing and demonstrating that they were able to get this mental perception of very large spaces and put that on a smaller surface.”
Over the past decade, as part of a project called globalkitesDr. Crassard and his colleagues used satellite imagery to identify more than 6,000 desert kites of various shapes and sizes throughout the Middle East and western and central Asia. Other researchers uncovered petroglyphs depicting these man-made mysteries while conducting surveys and excavations.
But, speaking of previously found engravings, Dr. Crassard said “You can’t associate these drawings with a specific kite.”
When they stumbled upon the two kite images in southeastern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia during field surveys, archaeologists realized they were distinctive.
At first, they notice three defining features of the kite. There were “tail chords”, which represented more or less contiguous lines of stones. These converge into a walled enclosure that resembles the “body” of a kite. And along the edges of the body, pits were cut out. Archaeologists suspect that groups of animals such as deer followed or stalked along these stone lines before being driven into the enclosure, where hunters killed the animals, using strategically placed pits to trap those trying to escape.
The team very quickly realized that these petroglyphs matched the shape and structure of the kites seen nearby. In southeastern Jordan, for example, the tail lines of kites curve as they converge into enclosures—a feature also seen on inscribed stone.
said Mohammed Al-Tarawneh, an archaeologist at Al-Hussein Bin Talal University in Jordan and author of the book “You Remember.”
The mathematical models also indicated that the kites in the Jordanian-Saudi region where the team worked were the closest match when the researchers compared the geometry of the two inscriptions to a total of 69 kites from a variety of regions. Comparisons of the shape with these close kites also revealed that the images were on a large scale. The researchers inferred the ages of the engravings by using geodating tools to determine when the corresponding local kite structures were built.
What remains unknown is whether these drawings were made as blueprints to help build kites, or served as maps for hunters. Wael Abu Aziza, an archaeologist at the French Institute for the Near East in Cairo, said the inscriptions could also be symbolic celebrations of desert kites, which may have been an important part of the cultural identity of the ancient peoples who made and used them. Jordan and author of the study.
York Rowan, a University of Chicago archaeologist who was not involved in the study, said the inscriptions mentioned in the paper are a remarkable find. He described it as remarkable that people on Earth were accurately photographing things that can only be fully seen from above today. Finding this mental mastery of space opens a new window in the minds of these ancient hunters.