Well-preserved 9,000-year-old shrine discovered in Jordanian desert | Smart News
Archaeologists digging in the deserts of Jordan have unearthed a well-preserved Neolithic religious site thought to be around 9,000 years old, reports Omar Akour for The Associated Press (AP).
Located in the Khashabiyeh Mountains in the eastern basin of Al-Jafr, the shrine features two large standing stones carved with anthropomorphic figures, as well as an altar and hearth. The team also found nearly 150 marine fossils and a small-scale model of a ‘desert kite’, or trap used to capture and shoot wild gazelles.
“The site is unique, firstly because of its state of conservation,” Wael Abu-Azziza, co-director of the Southeast Badia Archaeological Project (SEBAP), told AP. “It’s 9,000 years old and everything was almost intact.”
According to a statement from the official Jordanian news agency, the shrine is part of a Neolithic campsite that contains several life-size desert kites. As Matthew Traver wrote for BBC Travel in 2020, V-shaped traps consist of two or more rows of stone walls that converge into an enclosure. Neolithic hunters probably worked in teams to round up the animals in the closed cells and slaughter them. An estimated 5,800 of these structures are scattered across the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
Desert kites can be over a mile long, SEBAP notes in a separate statement. Royal Air Force pilots flying over the area in the 1920s gave the structures their name because of their kite-like shape.
British archaeologist TE Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, spotted the stone kites while surveying the Negev desert in 1914, but was unsure of their purpose. Reflecting on the structures, he described “long, confusing walls that … seem to start and go on and end so aimlessly”, according to Paul Salopek of National geographic.
In the SEBAP statement, the researchers postulate that the Neolithic occupants of the site used the sanctuary’s altar and hearth for sacrificial offerings.
“The sacred symbolism and ritual performance highlighted was most likely devoted to invoking supernatural forces for successful hunts and an abundance of prey to capture,” the archaeologists explain. “It sheds a whole new light on the symbolism, the artistic expression as well as the spiritual culture of these hitherto unknown Neolithic populations.”
The people who built the sanctuary and the desert kites likely viewed the traps as “the center of their cultural, economic and even symbolic life in these marginal areas,” the statement said. Specialized hunters, they lived in semi-subterranean circular huts. By comparison, residents of the nearby Fertile Crescent survived largely on agriculture and ranching.
Dated to around 7000 BCE, the shrine predates Stonehenge by around 4000 years. But it’s far from the oldest known religious site: Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey dates to around 9,500 to 8,000 BCE, making it around 11,000 years old.
“It is the first man-made holy site,” said Klaus Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has spent more than a decade excavating Göbekli Tepe. Smithsonian magazine’s Andrew Curry in 2008.