Architects drew very accurate plans 9,000 years ago for vast stone-walled hunting traps, representing the oldest architectural plans known to scale in human history.
The plans were carved into massive stone tablets that were recently discovered near the elaborate traps, known as desert kites, which span such great distances that their shapes are only recognizable from the ground. sky. The results confirm that Neolithic humans had an “underestimated mental mastery” of landscapes and space, long before they were literate, says Rémy Crassard of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).
“There is no doubt that these Homo sapiens had the same degree of intelligence as us, but this is the first time that we have had concrete evidence of their spatial awareness – both in these gigantic kites and now also in their very precise corresponding planes”, says- he. “It shows how ingrained that way of thinking was in their culture.”
Kites in Saudi Arabia and Jordan feature funnel lines up to 5 kilometers long and up to 10 sharp branches leading to pits up to 4 meters deep. Named by airplane pilots who first saw them from the air in the 1920s and thought they looked like toy kites, the structures likely attracted gazelles or other wild prey in narrower parts of the structure where they would be cornered or fall, says Wael Abu-Azizeh at the French Institute of the Near East.
But despite the complexity of these Stone Age structures, the few artistic depictions found so far have only been crude abstract sketches. Scientists believed that the oldest true architectural plans that were at least meant to be to scale dated back to Mesopotamian civilizations 2,300 years ago.
In March 2015, Crassard and his colleagues stumbled upon an 80-centimetre-high, 92-kilogram limestone tablet at an excavated campsite near a 9,000-year-old kite in Jordan, with detailed architectural plans etched into it. above. They could hardly believe it, but, even more surprisingly, they came across a second kite plane just three months later, this time carved into a 3.8 meter high sandstone rock that had fallen from a cliff near a pair of 7500-year- old kites in Saudi Arabia.
“These were very emotional times for us in our scientific careers,” says Crassard. “Finding one was already exceptional, but finding two was even more so. We were shouting and dancing everywhere!
Recognizing the similarities to nearby kites, the researchers used computer modeling to mathematically compare the etched images with satellite images of 69 kites. They found the plans carved in stone to be “surprisingly realistic and accurate” representations of real kites at a distance of 1 to 2 kilometers, Crassard says. Both shots were created in 1:175 and 1:425 scales and even included three-dimensional pitting to represent kite pitfalls.
Blueprints may have helped build huge and complex structures, but they may also have guided hunters to understand how best to use them, says Abu-Azizeh.
This seems to be the most plausible explanation, says Sam Smith of Oxford Brookes University, UK, who was not involved in the study. Like football coaches drawing their tactics on a whiteboard, members of the Neolithic community may have used the scale images to communicate with each other about group hunting strategies. “I can easily imagine that these etchings would have been a vital part of the planning,” he says.
The fact that they were engraved on “such a durable medium” suggests that they may have been meant to last for future generations, he adds. “New members of the community, or hunting party, would have no real way of understanding kites without depictions like these,” Smith says.
How these ancient engineers achieved such geometric precision without modern tools like GPS or a tacheometer is perplexing, says Olivier Barge, also at the CNRS. “We don’t know how they did it.”