Scale drawings show Neolithic hunting corrals
Archaeologists in Jordan and Saudi Arabia have discovered the world’s oldest known blueprints. Dating to 8,000 years ago, the blueprints are precise scale carvings of nearby desert kites, mega-structures thousands of feet long that were used for hunting wild animals. Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, the team argued that these blueprints must have been made by the people who built or used the kites, as the structures are far too large for their overall shape and structure to be seen from the ground.
Discovered at two separate sites—Jibal al-Khashabiyeh in southeastern Jordan and Jebel az-Zilliyat in northwestern Saudi Arabia—the ancient blueprints depict nearby desert kites in exceptional detail. According to the international team of researchers led by Rémy Crassard, Wael Abu-Azizeh, and Olivier Barge, the kites themselves were made of multiple stone walls, sometimes extending for miles, that converged to a single point or enclosure. The walls functioned to funnel gazelle and other animals into the small area at the end of the kite, where hunters would be waiting.
The blueprint discovered at Jibal al-Khashabiyeh was uncovered in a small hunting camp dating to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (c. 8800–6500 BCE). It was carved in shallow relief into a large standing stone and depicts a desert kite measuring roughly 1.5 feet tall, with an enclosure over 1.5 feet in diameter. Comparing this to similar kites in the area, the team estimated that the carving was done at a scale of roughly 1:425.
While the Jibal al-Khashabiyeh carving depicts a single kite, the drawing from Jebel az-Zilliyat shows a pair of structures. Carved into a massive boulder found in a dry riverbed, the carvings are twice the size of the al-Khashabiyeh blueprint and closely match the shapes of two kites discovered about 1.5 miles away from the site. The researchers believe these drawings were made at a scale of 1:175.
“The extreme precision of these engravings is remarkable, representing gigantic neighboring Neolithic stone structures,” the team wrote. “They reveal a widely underestimated mental mastery of space perception, hitherto never observed at this level of accuracy in such an early context.”
While people have been reproducing images of their surroundings for 40,000 years or more, it was previously assumed that true-to-life depictions did not appear until at least the third millennium BCE in Mesopotamia and Egypt, while a few semi-representative models may have been produced for a millennium or two before then. This makes the kite carvings the earliest known realistic blueprints, a feat made even more remarkable given the massive size of the kites themselves. It is, however, not certain what purpose the carvings served, whether they were intended as construction plans, used to map out hunting strategies, or perhaps had a ritual or symbolic function. Non-schematic representations of desert kites are widespread, with some also including depictions of hunters and animals. A 9,000-year-old ritual complex also found at Jibal al-Khashabiyeh, features a drawing of a kite carved into an anthropomorphic stone figure.
Desert kites were a common type of hunting trap used throughout the arid and semiarid regions of prehistoric southwest Asia, with over 6,000 examples found from Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan. The kites functioned as giant funnels, forcing animals into an ever-smaller area until they reached a central corral outfitted with pit traps. The first kites were constructed as early as 7000 BCE, making them some of the oldest large-scale constructions from anywhere in the world. It was not until the early 20th century, however, and the advent of aerial photography that modern researchers became aware of the kites, as their massive size only allowed them to be discernable from above. Today, researchers identify them with satellite imagery before surveying them on the ground. These features would have required mass hunting strategy and wide-scale cooperation and resource mobilization, both for their use and construction. As researchers continue to learn more about them and the people responsible for their construction, the sophistication and advancement of Neolithic culture comes ever more into focus.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.
Dig into the world of Bible history with a BAS All-Access membership. Biblical Archaeology Review in print. AND online access to the treasure trove of articles, books, and videos of the BAS Library. AND free Scholar Series lectures online. AND member discounts for BAS travel and live online events.Subscribe Today