Skip to comments.New geoglyphs of the Jordanian Harrat
Posted on 05/15/2013 2:36:27 PM PDT by Renfield
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.
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 Qaa 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).
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 childs 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 kites 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mighty interesting. What are the paths? I don’t know either.
Thanks for posting this. Very interesting.
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
They better keep the location secret or they won’t last five minutes.
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.
Check my reply #7 to see a theory about them from a 19th century traveler.
Thanks, I will.
“What are the paths?”
Proof that the Syrians are descendents of the Nazca?
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.
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