Archaeological site older than Stonehenge discovered in Jordanian desert

Jordanian and French researchers have uncovered a sanctuary dating back some nine thousand years. Inside is a series of traps used for hunting gazelles. The site provides new information on the hunting strategies, defined as "sophisticated". For Amman's Minister of Tourism it is a "spectacular addition" to the country's "archaeological gems".



Amman (AsiaNews) - An even more ancient "Stonehenge" has emerged in the middle of the Jordanian desert: this is the sensational discovery made in recent days by a group of Jordanian and French archaeologists, who have found a sanctuary dating back some 9,000 years in a remote Neolithic site in the country's eastern desert. Amman's Tourism Minister Nayef Al Fayez told Reuters the discovery was a "spectacular addition" to Jordan's "archaeological gems" which already include such historic sites as rock-cut Petra, the Roman city of Jerash and medieval castles.

The ritual complex was found in a Neolithic encampment, near large structures known as 'desert kites' or mass traps, which are believed to have been used to corral wild gazelles for slaughter. These traps consist of two or more long stone walls converging on an enclosure and are found scattered across the deserts of the Middle East.

This is a unique site, where large quantities of gazelles were hunted in complex rituals. It has no rival in the world from the Stone Age," said Wael Abu Azizeh, the Co-Director of the French archaeological team. According to initial investigations, it should be about "9,000 years old and is almost intact". It is, he adds, 'unrivalled in the world' for sites dating 'back to the Stone Age'.

In the sanctuary there were two standing stones carved with anthropomorphic figures, one accompanied by a representation of the desert kite as well as an altar, a hearth, sea shells and a miniature model of a gazelle trap. The South Eastern Badia Archaeological Project (Sebap), which has been active at the site since 2013, points out that the discovery provides new information "about mass hunting strategies" using techniques that would be described today as "sophisticated" and "unexpected at such an early stage" of human history.

Researchers say the sanctuary - within which 250 artefacts also emerged - could provide "completely new light on the symbolism, artistic expression and spiritual culture" of Neolithic populations and "hitherto unknown". The proximity of the site to the traps suggests that the inhabitants specialised in hunting and that the traps were 'the centre of their cultural, economic and even symbolic life in this marginal area'.