Evidence of prehistoric hunting discovered by Oxford archaeologists in Arabian desert - study

The discovery has "important implications in terms of the paleoenvironment of the region, faunal dispersals and human cultural connections." 

Amir Balaban's Playmates, Mountain Gazelle, The Checkpoint herd, Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amir Balaban's Playmates, Mountain Gazelle, The Checkpoint herd, Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Archaeologists from Oxford University may have discovered evidence of prehistoric hunting structures throughout areas of northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq that were not previously unknown.

Researchers write in the study that this discovery has "important implications in terms of the paleoenvironment of the region, faunal dispersals and human cultural connections." 

The peer-reviewed research was first published last month in The Holocene, where archaeologists used satellite imagery from remote sensing analysis by Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) to determine the structures. Researchers concluded that the new data "has important implications on the environmental viability of hunting and on possible settlement patterns during the early and middle Holocene."

The research has also identified star-shaped kites: "large stone-built features that are widely accepted to have functioned as a type of hunting trap," which were recorded being distributed through southern Syria and eastern Jordan. About 6,000 of them have been reported to date, and the Oxford remote sensing survey found over 300 new ones.

So what did prehistoric people hunt using the kites?

Hunting targets of the kites include "gazelles, ostrich, hartebeest, Arabian Oryx and onager," according to the study, as they're able to operate as a wild game drive or hunting trap. Many gazelles were successfully captured and hunted using the kites, the report stated.

 GAZELLE jumping, Reches Lavan. (credit: Courtesy) GAZELLE jumping, Reches Lavan. (credit: Courtesy)

"The structures we found displayed evidence of complex, careful design. In terms of size, the ‘heads’ of the kites can be over 100 meters wide, but the guiding walls (the ’strings’ of the kite) which we currently think gazelle and other game would follow to the kite heads can be incredibly long," said Dr. Frandley, the head researcher of this initiative.

"In some of these new examples, the surviving portion of walls run in almost straight lines for over four kilometers, often over very varied topography. This shows an incredible level of ability in how these structures were designed and built."

"The structures we found displayed evidence of complex, careful design. In terms of size, the ‘heads’ of the kites can be over 100 meters wide, but the guiding walls which we currently think gazelle and other game would follow to the kite heads can be incredibly long."

Dr. Fradley, head researcher of the study

Archaeological excavations showed how the kites were able to trap wild game to be slaughtered. Pits were found that were several meters deep, which would have allowed hunter-gatherers to trap animals. 

The structures are said to date as far back as 8,000 BCE during the Neolithic Period.