Huge low wall patterns in the Arabian Desert – first called “desert kites” by pilots a century ago – date back 8,000 years.
The kites stretch for miles, in some cases, and the ability to plan and build such structures is “incredible” for the time, researchers have said.
Two studies have shed light on the use of the structures, made up of low stone walls constituting a head enclosure and several guiding walls, sometimes several kilometers long.
They are believed to have been used to guide game such as gazelles to an area where they might be captured or killed.
The V-shapes of the kites indicate either pits or pens where the animals could be captured, the scientists said.
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Researchers from the University of Western Australia write in the journal Arabian Archeology and Epigraphy: “The purpose of a kite’s shape is generally accepted: the animals were driven (an ‘active’ kite system ) or guided (a “passive” kite system) within an area restricted by the walls of the structure.
“The hunting of animals, most commonly gazelles and other herbivorous ungulates, possibly ibexes, wild equids and ostriches, is now accepted as the most common use for these structures.”
Kites cannot be observed easily from the ground. However, the advent of commercial satellite imagery and platforms such as Google Earth has enabled the recent discovery of new distributions.
While these structures were already well known in eastern Jordan and adjoining areas of southern Syria, another study found kites farther east in northern Saudi Arabia, some also being identified in southern Iraq for the first time.
Dr Michael Fradley, from the University of Oxford and who carried out a separate study, said: “The structures we found showed evidence of intricate and careful design.
“In terms of size, the ‘heads’ of kites can be over 100 meters wide, but the guide walls (the ‘strings’ of the kite) that we currently think gazelle and other game would follow up to the kite heads can be incredibly long.
“In some of these new examples, the surviving portion of walls stretches in almost straight lines for more than four kilometres, often over a wide variety of topography.
“It shows an incredible level of capability in the way these structures were designed and built.”
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Evidence suggests that considerable resources should have been coordinated to build, maintain and rebuild the kites over generations, combined with hunting and returning downed remains to settlements or camps for later preservation.
Scholars believe that their exaggerated scale and shape may be an expression of status, identity, and territoriality.
The appearances of kites in rock art found in Jordan suggest that they had an important place in the symbolic and ritual spheres of the Neolithic peoples of the region.
Bill Finlayson, Director of EAMENA (Endangered Archeology in the Middle East and North Africa) and Professor of Prehistoric Archeology at the University of Oxford, said: “Desert kite research is a field very active at the moment – Michael and colleagues are exploring a significant extension to their distribution model, which has major implications for our understanding of the relationship of kite builders to new nomadic herders and occupation of the region. “
From the design of kite heads to the careful tracing of long-distance guide walls, these structures contrast sharply in scale with any other evidence of early Holocene architecture.
Researchers believe that the builders of these kites lived in temporary structures made of organic materials that left no visible traces in current satellite imagery data.
These new sites suggest a level of connection previously unknown throughout northern Arabia at the time of their construction.
They raise exciting questions about who built the structures, who the hunted game was intended to feed, and how people were able to not only survive, but also invest in these monumental structures.
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