20 April 2011

Ancient gazelle "killing zones" documented in Syria

As reported at the BBC:
It was slaughter on a huge scale. Hundreds of migrating gazelles would be funnelled into enclosures where they could be butchered en masse.

It has long been suspected that the enigmatic stone structures that dot the Syrian landscape were involved in harvesting gazelles. Built perhaps as far back as 10,000 years ago, these structures display converging pairs of low stone walls.

When British air force pilots first flew over them in the early 20th Century, they dubbed them "desert kites" because of their characteristic appearance from the air...

Drs Bar-Oz, Melinda Zeder and Frank Hole describe in PNAS the discovery of a large deposit of gazelle bones at the site of Tell Kuran, near the town of Hasseke in the Khabur Basin. This killing pit is very close to a number of desert kites and contains thousands of gazelle parts. "It is manifest that these remains are from a catastrophic hunting episode - a full herd was killed," said Dr Bar-Oz...

Whereas the limited activities of ancient hunter-gatherer societies may even have nurtured herds, preventing them from getting too big and damaging the landscape, this systematic removal of whole breeding groups would have rapidly reduced gazelle numbers in the Khabur Basin.

And with kites spread right across the Near East, with large arrays in Jordan in particular, the impact on what was once an abundant wild ungulate must have been profound.
More information at the link. I also found additional photos and descriptions of the structures here and here.  The "technology" is quite reminiscent of the North American "buffalo jumps" (see also here), which I've bookmarked for future blogging, and of the ancient fishing weirs found worldwide.


  1. One of the best-preserved buffalo jumps in the world is at Head-Smashed-In, Alberta. I remember visiting as a child and being enthralled as the guide described the vast numbers of animals being driven to their deaths. The carefully built (and periodically re-built) "lanes" corraled the animals into a smaller and smaller space, panicking them even further and assuring their willingness to throw themselves over the cliffs.

  2. Interesting article. It does remind me of the same methods used to herd in and kill onagers at various ancient Middle Eastern sites, especially around Ur. Kinda makes you wonder what large scale impact that had on not only the environment, but also on the society that depended on this kind of mass animal slaughter. Kinda hard to think about it in terms of stable sustainability in what is now a desert climate. However this was a part of what was known as the Fertile Cresent, am I incorrect in thinking that? Perhaps the ecology of that region was a far different one from what we see today.
    Sorry if it's not too much helpful.


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