Sensation finds from Jordan and Saudi Arabia: carvings in stone are the oldest construction plans of humanity

The scale engraving in a bolder at Jebel az-Zilliyat in Saudi Arabia shows a nearby desert kite. Source: Oliver Barge, CNRS

The depictions describe so-called desert kites, which are long stone ramparts for catching animals in the former savannah

Until now, the oldest preserved construction plans of humanity came from the ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Now, researchers have found engravings in stones in Jordan and Saudi Arabia that show constructional drawings and are even a few thousand years older. They show so-called desert kites, which are kilometer-long stone walls that come together at one point and were used to catch animals.

Such structures can only be viewed as a whole from the air, so these scale plans were a necessary prerequisite for their construction.

Desert kites were first spotted by airplanes in the 1920s. They are sophisticated archaeological structures with walls up to 5 km long that converge in an enclosure to trap animals bordered by pits. Such structures are visible as a whole only from the air, yet this calls for the representation of space in a way not seen at this time.

Rémy Crassard of CNRS, Université Lyon, and colleagues report two engravings representing kites in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

In Jordan, the Jibal al-Khasabiyeh area has eight kites. There was found a bolder with a representation carved with stone tools measuring 80 cm long and 32 cm wide was found nearby and dated to around 7,000 years ago.

Zebel az-Zilliyat in Saudi Arabia has two pairs of visible kites 3.5km apart. Here a massive to-scale engraving measuring 382 cm long, 235 cm wide, was excavated, and the depiction was reportedly pecked rather than carved, possibly with hand picks, dated to around 8,000 years ago.

Extracts of satellite images from Google Earth and Bing of kites from the Harrat-al-Sham in Jordan (above left), Qaratein area in Syria (above right), Ustyurt Plateau in Kazakhstan (bottom left) and the mountains of Palmyre in Syria (bottom right). The variability in shape and in size can be observed on these extracts. Source: World History

The builders would have needed plans like these as the whole layout is impossible to grasp without seeing it from the air. Until now, evidence for plans of large structures has been seen only in rough representations, but these designs are extremely precise.

Although human constructions have modified natural spaces for millennia, few plans or maps predate the period of the literate civilizations of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. These examples are the oldest known plans to scale in human history.

The authors add: “The ability to transpose large space onto a small, two-dimensional surface represents a milestone in intelligent behavior.”


World History

(23.05.2023, USA: 05.23.2023)