Oxford archeologists find new hunting sites in Arabian desert dating back to 8000 BCE

The discovery also included sites in northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq.
Ameya Paleja
Kites .png
Prehistoric hunting sites in Arabian desert

Oxford University 

Archaeologists at Oxford University have used satellite imagery to study the area surrounding the present-day Nafud desert and found evidence of structures that helped in hunting during prehistoric times, a university press release said.

Early aircraft pilots have reported sightings of low stone wall structures leading to a head enclosure and guiding walls that often ran for miles. Called kites, these structures are known to date back to the Neolithic period, around the year 8,000 BCE, and were used to guide prey animals like gazelles into areas where they could be captured or killed.

Though they are large structures, kites are not easily visible from the ground. Archaeologists, therefore, rely on open-source information such as those available in commercial satellites or platforms such as Google Earth to find them. The structures have been documented in eastern Jordan and southern Syria before, but newly found evidence shows that they're prevalent nearly 250 miles (400 km) further east in northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq too.

The significance of kites

Evidence shows that there were significant resources needed to be dedicated to the construction and maintenance of kites. The process of hunting and returning the remains to the communities was also resource-intensive, and therefore, kites were more than just hunting grounds. Their scale and form were also meant to express identity and territoriality. Their appearance in rock art in Jordan is also proof that they were important symbols of the era.

At the new sites, the researchers found the stone walls ran in straight lines for over 2.5 miles (4 km), even when the topography varied. This is a mark of the incredible ability of the people considering the time these structures were built. Not only are kites markedly larger than any other constructions built during those times, but the lack of permanent structures around also suggests that the builders stayed in temporary settlements, which have left no trace of their existence.

What do the recent discoveries tell us?

Oxford archeologists find new hunting sites in Arabian desert dating back to 8000 BCE
Distribution Map

The existence of the kites suggests a connection across northern Arabia that likely occurred through the present-day Nafud desert rather than around it. This also means that the during the times the structures were built, the area offered better climate conditions that supported wildlife as well as human habitation. The kites were likely built between the years 9000 BCE and 4000 BCE, which archaeologists refer to as the Holocene Humid Period.

The largest number of kites were built on the Al Labbah plateau, which shows no evidence of the Bronze Age. This would mean that the climate in the region became drier, leading to the shifting of the communities and even wildlife from the region.

A large number of questions still remain unanswered, such as who built these structures, who invested in building them, how many people these structures would feed, and whether the construction sites demonstrate the movement of people or ideas over a period of time.

The answers to other questions can be found in the journal The Holocene.


Remote-sensing analysis of open-source satellite imagery has identified a major, new distribution of undocumented hunting kite structures in northern Arabia. This new data has important implications on the environmental viability of hunting and on possible settlement patterns during the early and middle Holocene. Running across the eastern side of the Nafud Desert in Saudi Arabia, this research has identified star-shaped kites in a distribution that continues on to southern Iraq. From a broader perspective, this new distribution appears to represent a continuation of the well-known arc of kites recorded running principally through southern Syria and eastern Jordan. As well as representing an important archaeological identification in its own right, this new distribution also has important implications in terms of the paleoenvironment of the region, faunal dispersals and human cultural connections.

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