Desert Kites are actually Ancient Abbattoirs

An interesting article written by Gawker reporter, Alasdair Wilkins, on some recent links between the mysterious “desert kites” which are located in what archaeologists call the Northern Levant – a swathe of land which is described on Archeowiki (that’s OK, I’m geeking out too!) as:

The Levant (Arabic الشام, Ash-Shām) is an approximate, imprecise geographical term that refers to an extensive region area of the Near East situated south of the Taurus Mountains, washed by the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on the west, and bordered by the northern Arabian Desert and Upper Mesopotamia to the south and the east.

It’s etymology is as follows:

The term Levant derives from the Middle French levant, the participle of lever “to raise”—as in le soleil levant “the rising sun”—from the Latin verb levare. It thus referred to the direction of the rising sun from the perspective of those who first used it. As such, Levant is broadly equivalent to the Arabic term Mashriq, “the land where the sun rises”. The term Levant is first attested in the English language in 1497, employed originally with the wider sense of “Mediterranean lands east of Italy”…..


Popular 19th century travel writing incorporated eastern regions under then current or recent governance of the Ottoman Empire, including Greece, under the term “Levantine”.

When the United Kingdom took over Palestine in the aftermath of the First World War, some of the new rulers adapted the term pejoratively to refer to inhabitants of mixed Arab and European descent and to Europeans (usually French, Italian, or Greek) who had “gone native” and adopted local dress and customs.

As a tangent, the term “gone native” has so much amusing imagery linked to it…but I digress.

What is interesting is that these geometric forms were first spotted from aeroplanes and their origins unknown. They are around 5,500 years old and are made of low stone walls which are arranged in these jellyfish-like/kite-like form. The term for these stone boulder arrangements is petroforms. Petroforms. Who else can’t wait to drop that word into a presentation one day?!

The article in io9 is a great overview of some of the recent findings concerning these desert kites. One speculation is tha they were not just pens for early domestic cattle, but were traps and subsequently abbattoirs where up to thousands of animals were slaughtered. It might also be a symbol of some of the earliest known examples of unsustainable farming.

The desert kites are sometimes located on key migration routes to make the capture and slaughter of the animals easier, and as Bar-Oz et al suggest, played a role in the sharp decline of some species during that period.

I’m still geeking out so here are some links for further reading. The academic journal is password protected but if you have a friend who has a JSTOR type library pass….

Mysterious desert kites were the ancient world’s slaughterhouses – io9

Petroforms – Wikipedia

Desert Secret Cracked: Ancient Hunting Techniques Revealed – Arutz Sheva Israel National News

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