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Desert Kites: Evidence of Ancient Over-Hunting

— Filed under: People & Culture
Persian gazelle

Image by Ferdi's - World via Flickr

When we think of endangered species and over-hunting, we usually think of modern times. We generally assume that our ancestors knew how to treat animals and the ecosystem with a sort of inborn respect and caution.  It turns out that's not necessarily true.

Archaeologists working in Syria have uncovered evidence of mass-killing pits used by hunters up to 6,000 years ago.  The process involved an entire herd of gazelles being funnelled via stone walls into a pit where they would be slaughtered — every last one of them.  These structures are often called "desert kites" because of how they look when viewed from the air.

Khabur river, Syria, near Tell Sheikh Hamad

Image via Wikipedia

While at first blush this appears to be an example of the ingenuity of early man, upon closer inspection it reveals that even then humans were overreaching nature's ability to replenish itself.  The BBC article uses words like "catastrophic", "over-kill", and "disastrous" to describe the impact of these mass killings on the gazelle population:

"... this systematic removal of whole breeding groups would have rapidly reduced gazelle numbers in the Khabur Basin.

And with kites spread right across the Near East, with large arrays in Jordan in particular, the impact on what was once an abundant wild ungulate must have been profound."

Why did these hunters do this?  Was it ritualistic and/or spiritualistic, as some have suggested? Was it simple greed and a lack of foresight?  What do you think?  Post a comment below and let us know — seize the skull!

Anonymous's picture

I think this story buttresses

I think this story buttresses up what anthropologists have been trying to show for decades--there is no such thing as a "noble savage." 

Reminds me of the book "Ishmael," which, despite being popular with "back to the lander" types, does us a collective disservice because it tries to frame man's situation as a fall from grace.

Archeological evidence has shown that even the great Amazon was severely deforested and managed for crops and human endeavors in pre-Columbian times.

Hunter-gatherers have great knowledge about the uses of plants and animals.  This doesn't mean that they lived "harmoniously" with nature.  The lion even kills for pleasure sometimes...

Shasha's picture

That is very well said, but

That is very well said, but don't you think that overall, modern man has less respect for and understanding of nature when compared to ancient man?

Anonymous's picture

No, I don't.  I think it's

No, I don't.  I think it's just a matter of scope and scale...  almost every single ancient culture practiced human sacrifice...and most have moved beyond that now..