Giant stone designs in Middle East seen from the air

Enormous stone structures that can only be seen from the air, like Peru’s Nazca Lines, have been discovered in the desert lava fields of the Middle East. New satellite imagery and a program of aerial photography in Jordan have allowed archaeologists to locate thousands of these mysterious structures. They come in a variety of shapes, the most popular one being a spoked wheel, and can range in size from 82 feet to 230 feet.

According to University of Western Australia professor David Kennedy, whose team has been involved in the aerial photography project documenting ancient structures in Jordan, there are more of these giant figures in Jordan alone than in all of Peru. They also cover more surface area and they are older.

Kennedy’s new research, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, reveals that these wheels form part of a variety of stone landscapes. These include kites (stone structures used for funnelling and killing animals); pendants (lines of stone cairns that run from burials); and walls, mysterious structures that meander across the landscape for up to several hundred feet and have no apparent practical use.

The structures are remote and so difficult to see from the ground (even when you know they’re there), that thus far the wheels have not been excavated by archaeologists. That means we really don’t know how old they are. They look prehistoric but could be much more recent. Some wheels have been found on top of kites but never vice versa, so we know the kite shaped structures — which can be as much as 9,000 years old — predate the wheel shaped ones.

Cairns have been discovered on some of the sites, so perhaps those locations used the giant stonework as part of a cemetery ritual. There’s so much variety, though, discoveries at one wheel can’t be generalized to draw conclusions about the structures as a group.

Some of the wheels are found in isolation while others are clustered together. At one location, near the Azraq Oasis, hundreds of them can be found clustered into a dozen groups. “Some of these collections around Azraq are really quite remarkable,” Kennedy said.

In Saudi Arabia, Kennedy’s team has found wheel styles that are quite different: Some are rectangular and are not wheels at all; others are circular but contain two spokes forming a bar often aligned in the same direction that the sun rises and sets in the Middle East.

The ones in Jordan and Syria, on the other hand, have numerous spokes and do not seem to be aligned with any astronomical phenomena. “On looking at large numbers of these, over a number of years, I wasn’t struck by any pattern in the way in which the spokes were laid out,” Kennedy said.

You can browse a Flickrfull of pictures from the Jordan aerial photography program here.

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6 Comments »

Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-09-17 03:40:05

Thanks, LD! The APAAME flickr archive is full of really awesome stuff.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-19 00:01:16

My pleasure. I enjoyed a long, leisurely browse meself.

 
 
Comment by Jay Montanez
2011-09-18 21:36:27

Just wondering if those wheels are the settlements or stops Moses and the Israelites took near the Jordan. They seem to be the tribe divisions as set by Moses to each the tribes with Holy Tent in the middle. Just wondering :thanks:

 
Comment by tony in san diego
2011-09-19 14:18:57

It was obviously a bronze age cargo cult, trying to attract flying saucers to land!

 
Comment by Philip Coggan
2011-09-20 23:03:43

Um, not really, no. Biblical scholars are pretty sure the Book of Exodus and the story of Moses dates from no earlier than the late 6th century, though the figure of Moses himself, without any exodus, can be traced back to 8th century prophets.

 
Comment by faial alzamil
2012-07-13 04:17:24

those are to attract immgrating birds to land.They are bird traps,we found arrow heads around them and inside them.that is in saudi arabia.most are located in high mountains or in flat lava dry areas with no vegetation . the walls or tails are made for the hunters to crowl and get closed next to those walls with out being noticed by the birds.they are made to the east or west of the circles so the will not have a side shadow when they move . they also use thin net to strangle the bird feet when they land on it .the stones are placed on the edge of the net .that is why they differ in shape and size , according to the woven net size.

 
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