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New geoglyphs of the Jordanian Harrat
Past Horizons ^ | 5-15-2013 | Stephan F.J. Kempe, Ahmad Al-Malbeh

Posted on 05/15/2013 2:36:27 PM PDT by Renfield

Fig. 1. Map of the Harrat in Syria, Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia.

Fig. 1. Map of the Harrat in Syria, Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia.

Stephan F.J. Kempe1, Ahmad Al-Malbeh2

1: Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany; 2: Hashemite University Zarka, Jordan


The eastern “panhandle” of the kingdom of Jordan is partly covered by a vast and rugged lava desert, the Harrat, covering about ca. 11.400 km2 (Fig. 1). Scoured by wind in winter and scorched dry by the sun in summer, the surface is covered by black basalt stones, making this area seem as uninviting, hostile and inaccessible as is imaginable.

Nevertheless this modern day desolate desert proves to be as rich in archaeological heritage as one may wish.

Understanding the harsh landscape

Prior to the building of roads and the bulldozing of four-wheel-tracks the area could only be traversed on foot, by donkey or camel. Water was provided by scarce pools in the deeper parts of wadis that bought winter water from the higher ground of the Djbel al-Arab to the north in what is now Syria.

An important factor in understanding the ecology of the Harrat is the loess, which covers almost the entire area to a depth of 1 to 2 m. “Stone heaving” (a poorly understood process, possibly driven by freeze-thaw- cycles in the Glacials) has then brought loose lava blocks to the surface densely covering the loess. Infrequent rains washed the loess into the depressions of the hummocky lava plain, forming playas (mudflats or Qa‘ or Qa‘a in Arabic) that give the Harrat a mottled appearance from above. The loess serves to hold water and the stones prevent swift evaporation. Thus vegetation not only occurs along the wadis, but can also appear in winter and spring among the stones, providing an unexpected pasture. Formerly the Harrat would have been teeming with gazelle, ostriches and ibex. Petroglyphs of these wild animals are abundant in the area along with riders on horses and camels and hunts of lions and hyenas (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Petroglyph with Safaitic inscriptions and interpretation: In the center a hunter with spear and small round shield attacking an animal, most probably a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena). Below two and a half horses are outlined, above we see a herd of animals, either gazelle (with short horns) and ibex (with longer horns) or a herd of goats to be protected. The petroglyph is accompanied by a Safaitic inscription, transcribed and partly translated, dating to about 2000 aBP.

Fig. 2. Petroglyph with Safaitic inscriptions and interpretation: In the center a hunter with spear and small round shield attacking an animal, most probably a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena). Below two and a half horses are outlined, above we see a herd of animals, either gazelle (with short horns) and ibex (with longer horns) or a herd of goats to be protected. The petroglyph is accompanied by a Safaitic inscription, transcribed and partly translated, dating to about 2000 aBP.

Desert kites

This is the ecological and topographic background in which a characteristic set of archaeological features occur, known as “desert kites” (Fig. 3). Looking like a child’s kite, it consists of kilometre-long guiding walls (the tails of the kite) converging on a narrow gate leading into a hectare-sized enclosure (the kite’s body).

Due to its immense size it only became known to archaeologists, when the first regular postal flights from Baghdad to Cairo commenced in the 1920′s (Maitland, 1927; Poidebard, 1928). Today, a less arduous arm-chair archaeology is provided by Google Earth images and more than 550 kites can be identified in the areas available in high resolution (Fig. 4). Many more are seen on aerial images during airborne photographic sorties (e.g., Kennedy, 2011).

Further examination has shown the kites are not distributed randomly in the desert, but are – with a very few exceptions – arranged in chains, forming continuous barriers across the routes of migrating animals.

Because the Jordanian Harrat extends both into Saudi Arabia and Syria, these chains continue even further, both south and north.

Fig. 4. Map of about 550 kites discernible on Google Earth in the Jordanian Harrat. Their organization into continuous chains is clearly visible.

Fig. 4. Map of about 550 kites discernible on Google Earth in the Jordanian Harrat. Their organization into continuous chains is clearly visible. It is clear a degree of organisation went into the construction which currently is believed to have begun in the Neolithic.

Fig. 3. An example of a desert kite in the Jordanian Harrat at 32° 5'43.14"N/37° 6'31.50"E, showing a rich archeological stratigraphy (Google Earth picture). The final star-shaped kite (no. 18) supersedes an earlier, unfinished kite. In its enclosure an oval “circular path”, about 80 m long, is seen. To the right an older “meander wall trap” appears, the walls of which were breached when kite 18 was constructed. Various younger “dwelling” structures as seen as well (scale bar 161 m, N towards the upper left).

Fig. 3. A desert kite in the Jordanian Harrat showing a deep stratigraphy (Google Earth picture). The final star-shaped kite supersedes an earlier, unfinished kite overlying an oval “circular path”. To the right an older “meander wall trap”.

Dating the features

Fig. 5. Google Earth picture of a “wheel house” using a kite enclosure and destroying it, thus illustrating that the kites are stratigraphically older than the wheel houses in the Jordanian Harrat.

Fig. 5. Google Earth picture of a “wheel house” using a kite enclosure and destroying it, thus illustrating that the kites are stratigraphically older than the wheel houses in the Jordanian Harrat.

Dating the kites is difficult but they seem to have some degree of antiquity, based on relationships to other structures that cross them they may even date to as early as the late Neolithic (for review see Kempe & Al-Malabeh, 2010 and 2013, where also the detailed mode of hunting is discussed). The aerial imagery also provides information about the evolution of these structures: they may have started as meandering walls and small and simple bag-like traps. All in all the over 500 kites visible on Google Earth may represent a volume of stone moved equal to half of the volume of the Cheops pyramid (Kempe & Al-Malabeh 2013). It could be argues that collectively, the desert kites represent one of the largest examples of stone works from this period. Later the area was used by herders that left “wheel” and “jelly-fish” houses, possibly as corrals for sheep and goats, which continued to add to the rich stone wall heritage of the desert. Some of these destroyed or re-used kite walls (Fig. 5), thus providing for a relative chronological stratigraphy.

The circular path

However one feature that has not been recognized yet is a very strange “geoglyph” – the “circular path”. It is subtle and inconspicuous and if viewed individually may pass for a curious irregularity but when searched for, located and cross related, dozens of them appear on the high resolution areas (Fig. 6).

A circular path is a strip of land, 1 to 1.5 m wide, cleared of rocks so that the underlying loess appears. This light-coloured strip doubles back on itself, forming circles, ovals or (rarely) dumbbells (Fig. 3 and 7, 8, 9). On rare occasions, two paths are nested within each other (Fig. 10). Sizes vary from 18 m to the largest yet measured of 106×90 m in diameter.

A hundred paths have been evaluated along a high resolution strip following the eastern border of the Harrat (Kempe & Al-Malabeh, 2010). They average 42.9 ± 17.8 m in length and 31.4 ± 13.7 m in width.

Fig. 6. More than a 100 circular paths are marked on this Google Earth image, depicting the eastern border of the Harrat in Jordan.

Fig. 6. More than a 100 circular paths are marked on this Google Earth image, eastern limit of the Harrat in Jordan.

Fig. 7. A circular path almost 50 m wide (Google Earth image).

Fig. 7. A circular path almost 50 m wide is clearly visible from this satellite image (Google Earth image).

Fig. 8. An elongated oval-shaped circular path, 46 m long and 6 m wide (Google Earth image).

Fig. 8. An elongated oval-shaped circular path, 46 m long and 6 m wide (Google Earth image).

Fig. 9. A dumbbell-shaped circular path 45 m long. Next to it are two “wheel houses” (Google Earth image).

Fig. 9. A dumbbell-shaped circular path 45 m long. Next to it are two “wheel houses” (Google Earth image).

Fig. 10. Two nested circular paths, about 30 m across (Google Earth image).

Fig. 10. Two nested circular paths, about 30 m across (Google Earth image).

Fig. 11. The southern guiding wall of kite 36 of the Eastern Border Chain crosses a circular path, 36 * 29 m wide (Google Earth image).

Fig. 11. The southern guiding wall of kite 36 of the Eastern Border Chain crosses a circular path, 36 * 29 m wide (Google Earth image).

Fig. 12. Google Earth image of the situation of three circular paths next to the track of the former TAP (Trans-Arabian Pipeline; light blue line). The three circular paths visited are marked CP 1 to CP 3. Three more circular paths (CP) exist in the same vicinity. Kites 21 and 22 are situated at the left with their guiding walls extending through the picture. There are also several other walls (marked in yellow) that probably belong to an older generation of trap construction (“meander walls”). In the NE corner of the picture a modern sheik-tomb is located still visited by locals. It is adjacent of the old pilgrim road towards Damascus (marked in dark blue) which enters the Harrat here. On the playa visible at the right is (not visible here) “Mohameds Tree”, below which, as the tale goes, Mohamed already rested on his way to Damascus. It is the only tree far and wide in this area because it grows on a low spot of the playa, where it receives enough water.

Fig. 12. Google Earth image of the three circular paths next to the track of the former TAP (Trans-Arabian Pipeline.

Fig. 13. Close up of the three circular paths investigated on the ground (Google Earth image; color coding as in Fig. 12).

Fig. 13. Detail of three circular paths investigated on the ground (Google Earth image.

Fig. 14. View of a section of a circular path on the ground (CP1 in Figs. 12 and 13). (Photo S. Kempe)

Fig. 14. View of a section of a circular path on the ground (CP1 in Figs. 12 and 13). (Photo S. Kempe)

Their size and general shapes mark them as anthropogenic features however, stones removed from the paths are not stacked along the perimeter and no contemporary walls are associated with them. The interior is never cleared in any way, still full of the rough black basalt rocks that are difficult to walk over, thus the path itself carries the function not the area it encircles.

Some of the paths seem to encircle low lava knolls and there is no apparent association with the kites or any other anthropogenic feature. The paths are distinct from the countless small animal and migratory paths that criss-cross the Harrat like spider webs and these are not as wide and are linear and not circular.

Only a few clues have yet been detected that give any idea for the chronology of the circular paths. One of the most apparent is a path that is crossed by the guiding wall of a kite (Fig. 11), suggesting that this particular circular path is older than the kite.

Because most the circular paths are literally in the middle of nowhere, they have gone unnoticed until now. Even if one of the few ground based researchers of the Harrat encountered one of the paths during field studies, it would have been seen as a curious anomaly, as it is almost impossible to see the full shape and the widespread occurrence of these features prior to satellite imaging opened up the larger scale visual inspection of the landscape.

Looking for examples that were easily accessible, Dr. Stephan Kempe travelled with the archaeologist Dr. Bernd Müller-Neuhof from Berlin on October 29th, 2010 to three paths next to the track of the former Trans Arabian Pipeline (the straight line in Fig. 4 running from SE to SW) (Figs. 12, 13).

These paths have diameters of 42×40 m (CP1), 33×29 m (CP2) and 33×25 m (CP3). Figure 14 shows a section through CP1, showing that the path today has lost definition with stones having moved in from the rim.

Due to the relative evenness of the lava plain, it is difficult to take pictures of a path from ground level: In the panorama of Figure 15 two people are standing on the far side of CP 3.

A small animal path crosses the circle (yellow arrow) that is clearly visible on the Google Earth image (Fig. 16; yellow arrow; the red arrow indicates the direction of view of Fig. 15). The white box in both pictures shows a set of rocks, illustrating that Google Earth can resolve boulders less than half a metre in size.

Fig. 15. Panorama view of CP3 on Figs. 12 and 13 on the ground. The persons are standing on the far side of the path. The arrow marks an animal path crossing the circular path. The white box marks a set of stones clearly visible on Google Earth (see Fig. 16). (Photo S. Kempe)

Fig. 15. Panorama view of CP3 on Figs. 12 and 13 on the ground. The persons are standing on the far side of the path. The arrow marks an animal path crossing the circular path. The white box marks a set of stones clearly visible on Google Earth (see Fig. 16). (Photo S. Kempe)

Fig. 16. The same CP3 on Google Earth. The yellow arrow marks the animal path crossing the circle. The red arrow marks the direction of view of Fig. 15 and the white box marks the stones visible in the corresponding box on Fig. 15.

Fig. 16. CP3 on Google Earth. The yellow arrow marks the animal path crossing the circle. Red arrow marks the direction of Fig. 15 image and the white box marks the stones visible in the corresponding box.

But what are they?

These are the archaeological and geological facts; but what what could have been the purpose of these paths?

Were they used to train dogs for hunting? Was something planted there? Were they cleared for religious processions? Were they used over long periods or were they only cleared for a single usage and then abandoned? We may never find out for sure, at least until more detailed work is carried out on these enigmatic structures, and suggestions are definately welcomed. But one thing is for sure: The Harrat as it is now is a complex palimpsest representing the imprint of millennia of human activities.


TOPICS: History; Science
KEYWORDS: anthropology; archaeology; epigraphyandlanguage; godsgravesglyphs; israel; jordan

1 posted on 05/15/2013 2:36:27 PM PDT by Renfield
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To: SunkenCiv

Ping


2 posted on 05/15/2013 2:36:47 PM PDT by Renfield (Turning apples into venison since 1999!)
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To: Renfield

Mighty interesting. What are the paths? I don’t know either.


3 posted on 05/15/2013 3:10:02 PM PDT by Inyo-Mono (NRA)
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To: Renfield

Thanks for posting this. Very interesting.


4 posted on 05/15/2013 3:25:15 PM PDT by OldNewYork (Biden '13. Impeach now.)
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To: Renfield; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Renfield.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


5 posted on 05/15/2013 3:43:06 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (Romney would have been worse, if you're a dumb ass.)
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To: SunkenCiv

They better keep the location secret or they won’t last five minutes.


6 posted on 05/15/2013 4:38:56 PM PDT by Mmogamer (I refudiate the lamestream media, leftists and their prevaricutions.)
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To: Renfield
I believe I've read a 19th century book about these exact features, written by a Christian clergyman, and it is available online:

The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria's Holy Places

For anyone interested in this story, it is a fascinating read. A firsthand account of a journey through the mostly uninhabited plateau, the author detailed the more mundane Greco-Roman ruins, but he goes into a lot of detail about these ancient features, which he posits are remnants of cities built by the Biblical giants of Bashan, who are said to have lived in the area around the time of King David.

7 posted on 05/15/2013 4:41:40 PM PDT by Boogieman
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To: Inyo-Mono

Check my reply #7 to see a theory about them from a 19th century traveler.


8 posted on 05/15/2013 4:42:33 PM PDT by Boogieman
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To: Boogieman

Thanks, I will.


9 posted on 05/15/2013 4:45:12 PM PDT by Inyo-Mono (NRA)
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To: Inyo-Mono

“What are the paths?”

Proof that the Syrians are descendents of the Nazca?


10 posted on 05/15/2013 5:08:35 PM PDT by Grimmy (equivocation is but the first step along the road to capitulation)
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To: All

These angular features that lead into “enclosures” may have been used to herd antelope into corrals during hunts; or, later, to herd sheep or goats into corrals for...slaughter, milking, shearing, or whatever.


11 posted on 05/15/2013 6:05:47 PM PDT by Renfield (Turning apples into venison since 1999!)
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