Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known architectural plans to scale in human history, which were engraved in stone some 8,000 to 9,000 years ago by Neolithic peoples in Jordan and Saudi Arabia that built giant megastructures to capture wild game, reports a new study.
The find represents a significant milestone in human cognition, as well as the development of megastructures. It may also have implications on the history of civilization.
The carvings show nearby structures called desert “kites”, named after their kitelike shape. These constructions served as huge animal traps made from stone walls. In some cases, they stretched for many miles. As the earliest examples of accurate blueprints, the items represent a cognitive breakthrough that would eventually give rise to skyscrapers, spacecraft, and all other real-world objects that are now built with the guidance of a schematic.
Humans have created captivating representations of the world for tens of thousands of years, including vivid scenes painted on cave walls and symbolic figures whittled into sculptures. Our species has also built megalithic architectural structures for at least 10,000 years, including the more than 6,000 kites that span the Middle East, Caucasia, and Central Asia.
Prior to the new discovery, the oldest evidence of accurate scale models dated back about 5,000 years to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. How earlier cultures built huge structures–including kites that can only be fully seen from the sky–has remained a mystery.
An international team of scientists has now pushed the timeline of this field back by several millennia with “the exceptional discovery of the up-to-now oldest realistic plans, engraved on stones, of some of these human-made archaeological mega-traps, from south-eastern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia, the oldest of which are dated to 9,000 years ago,” according to a study published on Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE.
” The discovery of these engravings is an incredible moment in archaeology,” Wael Aba-Azizeh said, an archeologist from the French Institute of the Near East, who was able to co-author the study. “All of us were extremely excited when we found them! The drawings were incredibly accurate and detailed.
The engravings first appeared in 2015 while pedestrian surveys were conducted on the Jebel al-Zilliyat area of Saudi Arabia and Jibal al-Khashabiyeh of Jordan. The Jordanian carving measures about 30 inches long 13 inches wide, and depicts a kite that was etched out with a stone hammer on a limestone block. The Saudi Arabian engraving is much larger, with dimensions of seven by 12 feet, and appears to have been pecked out, perhaps with a massive pick, on a sandstone boulder.
Both maps were found near desert kites that consisted of walled passages known as “driving line” which led to large enclosures in the shape of a kite. Neolithic hunters used these buildings to lure animals, such as gazelles, into confined spaces where they could be more easily killed. Abu-Azizeh, his co-workers and he knew that the carvings on the stones were of kites. However, computer verification revealed striking similarities between the representations and actual megastructures nearby.
“We very quickly understood the importance of these drawings, because we had knowledge about the nearby kites, their shape and organization, as well as their early dating,” Abu-Azizeh said. We were surprised at the similarities between the drawings and the structures of hunting desert kites. That’s how we realized that the engravings were actually accurate plans at scale” whereas “the quantitative comparison of the kite shape depicted on the drawings and the real kite plans confirmed this initial hypothesis.”
The unprecedented accuracy of these engravings differentiates them from earlier human proto-maps found in Spain, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic, which “are abstract representations, not scaled depictions of a landscape,” according to the new study.
The kite blueprints provide a glimpse into the Neolithic minds of those who created them, and raise new questions as to how they were able envision structures which can only be seen from an aerial perspective.
“These engravings reflect a way of perceiving and conceiving space,” said Olivier Barge, an archaeologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research who co-authored the study, in an email to Motherboard. “The engravings show human spatial representations that involve perceiving the world not by being ‘in the world’ but ‘above the world’ (even beyond).”
“This type of perception/representation is unusual if we consider civilizations over the long term,” he added. “It was thought until now that the first indication of this type of perception/conception dates back to the third millennium BC in Mesopotamia. These plans therefore bring it back much earlier… and this concerns populations of hunters, probably nomadic or semi-nomadic, and not necessarily literate societies as previously supposed.”
While the new discovery opens up many new research avenues, Abu-Azizeh, Barge, and their colleagues are most interested in learning more about the specific Neolithic peoples who pioneered stone blueprints to guide their construction projects some 8,000 years ago.
” For us, this discovery only encourages us to learn more about these people, their lifestyle, and how the large-scale hunting of gazelles fit into their economy, or as we say it today, economic model. “For this period, hunting gazelles beyond the subsistence needs of the group, as was probably the case, is already a big question. We have work!”
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