Desert kite

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Head of Samar west Desert Kite

Desert kites are constructions aimed at trapping game animals, found in the Middle East. Known to the local Bedouin as the Works of the Old Men,[1] are found across the deserts of Syria, Jordan, Southern Israel and Saudi Arabia.[2] They are believed to have been used for hunting wild animals and consist of long dry-stone walls converging on a neck which opens into a confined space which was used as the killing floor. The length of the walls can run to hundreds of metres and can be best seen from the air. They were given their name by pilots who first saw them from the air in the 1920s.[3] Almost 2,000 have been identified across Jordan and Syria. No research has been done across the Saudi Arabian Desert.[4][5] Modern research has proven that the "desert kites" were mainly used for hunting herds of migrating goitered or Persian gazelle, a species which became extinct in Southern Levant during the 19th century. Most desert kites have been dated through scientific methods to be between 3 and 5 thousand years old.[citation needed] The claim of older ages (8 to 9 thousand years) has been contradicted by more recent studies.[6][citation needed] Younger dates mean that the mass hunting did not occur in prehistory and was not done by hunter-gatherers, but during a later period, by agriculturalists who were already growing most of their food. Rock art in the vicinity of some of the kites indicates that the hunt could represent a large social effort, done together by people from several settlements, and showing religious connotations.[7]

One large example in Jordan has tails 4 km long and must have been crossed without comment by Gertrude Bell.[8]

Another explorer who did not recognize what he was seeing was T.E. Lawrence. In 1913, whilst on an archeological survey of the Negev, Lawrence wrote about the area around Ain el Guderat:

Starting above this Byzantine village, and running eastward along the hill-top, there is one of the long and puzzling walls which, like those elsewhere in the Negeb, appear to start and go on and end so aimlessly. It is a wall of dry stone, perhaps three-quarters of a mile long in all, and still perfectly preserved. It has been piled up very carelessly, from two to three feet thick, and from three to five feet high. It runs reasonably directly along the hill, never at the crest, but always a little way down the valley slope; it crosses gullies on the hill-side, without varying its height or taking any regard of them; in one place it is broken by plain openings, flanked internally by a square enclosure, a few feet each way, like a pound, or a temporary shelter. Its purpose is mysterious.[9]

He goes on to speculate that they may have been built to prevent camels straying.


  1. ^ Maitland, F (1927). "The 'Works of the Old Men' in Arabia". Antiquity. 1 (2): 197–203. doi:10.1017/s0003598x00000405. 
  2. ^ David Hatcher Childress (1989). Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of Africa & Arabia. Adventures Unlimited Press. pp. 46–. ISBN 978-0-932813-06-0. 
  3. ^ Helms, Svend (1981) Jawa. Lost City of the Black Desert. Methuen. ISBN 0-416-74080-4. p.39
  4. ^ Helms.p.47
  5. ^ "Desert Kites". The Megalithic Portal. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Holzer, A.; Avner, U.; Porat, N.; Horwitz, L. K. (2010-07-01). "Desert kites in the Negev desert and northeast Sinai: Their function, chronology and ecology". Journal of Arid Environments. 'Paleoenvironment' in Honour of Aharon Horowitz. 74 (7): 806–817. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.12.001. 
  7. ^ Guy Bar-Oz; Melinda Zeder; Frank Hole. "Role of mass-kill hunting strategies in the extirpation of Persian gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) in the northern Levant". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (18): 7345–7350. doi:10.1073/pnas.1017647108. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Kennedy, David and Bewly, Robert (2012) The Harret al-Shaam - From the Air and Space. Bulletin of the Council for British Research in the Levant 7. 2012. ISSN 1752-7260. p.60
  9. ^ Woolley, C. Leonard and Lawrence, T.E. (1914-1915) The Wilderness of Zin. Palestine Exploration Fund Annual (2003 Edition). ISBN 1-900988-291. p. 83