Massive Evidence of Prehistoric Hunting Throughout the Arabian Desert
Over 350 gigantic hunting buildings known as "kites" have been identified and mapped by archaeologists at the University of Oxford's School of Archaeology using satellite photos
The little studied eastern Nafud desert region was meticulously examined as part of the EAMENA project's research using a variety of open-source satellite photos. Structures, known as kites by early pilots of aircraft, were spotted. They are made composed low stone walls and a number of guiding walls that can be kilometer-long. They are thought to have been employed to direct animals, including gazelles, toward a location where they might be killed or caught. There is proof that these Neolithic-era buildings could be as old as 8,000 BCE.
See, kites are difficult to view from the ground. The development of commercial satellite images, however, and tools like Google Earth have recently made it possible to find new distributions. These most recent findings extend the known distribution of these structures by over 400 kilometers east across northern Saudi Arabia. And some have also been discovered for the first time in southern Iraq. These structures were previously well-known from eastern Jordan and surrounding regions in southern Syria.
The unexpected findings, which were reported in the journal The Holocene, may alter how we think about the Middle East's prehistoric links and ongoing climatic change. Evidence implies that a significant amount of resources would have been required over many generations to construct, maintain, and reconstruct the kites, in addition to hunting and bringing butchered bones back to towns or camps for additional preservation.
According to the researchers, their disproportionate size and form could be a means of expressing status, identity, and territoriality. The presence of kites in Jordanian rock art indicates that Neolithic inhabitants of the area valued them highly in both symbolic and ritual contexts. These constructions differ significantly in scale from any other early Holocene architectural evidence, from the shape of the kite heads to the meticulous runs of guiding walls over great distances.
According to the researchers, the people who built these kites resided in transient dwellings made of organic materials that aren't apparent in the most recent satellite photography data. These new sites imply an unprecedented degree of connectivity throughout northern Arabia at the time they were constructed. They bring up intriguing concerns regarding who constructed these complexes, who the hunted animals was intended to feed, and how the humans were able to not only survive but also invest in these enormous structures.
The distribution of the star-shaped kites now offers the first concrete proof that communication occurred through the Nafud desert as opposed to surrounding it. This emphasizes the significance that areas that are currently deserts had in facilitating human migration under more favourable climatic circumstances. It is believed that the kites were made between around 9000 and 4000 BCE, during the Holocene Humid Period, a wetter and greener climatic epoch.
The Al Labbah plateau in the Nafud desert is where the majority of kites were constructed. The lack of later Bronze Age burial monuments there suggests that some of these areas became too marginal to support the communities that once used these landscapes, and game species may have also been displaced by climate change.
It is still unknown if the patterns of kite building over time and location indicate the movement of people or ideas, or even the direction of that movement. To better understand these landscapes and the impact of climate change, the project—supported by the Arcadia Fund—is now expanding its survey work across these now-arid zones.
Fradley, M., Simi, F., & Guagnin, M. (2022). Following the herds? A new distribution of hunting kites in Southwest Asia. The Holocene, 095968362211142. https://doi.org/10.1177/09596836221114290