Ancient walls reveal evidence of mass gazelle slaughters

April 19, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier report
Black-tailed, Goitered or Persian Gazelle. Photographed in Gobi Desert, southern Mongolia. Image: Wikipedia.

( -- A report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details the proof found that "desert kites" were used as slaughter structures for civilizations as long as 6,000 years ago in the Middle East. Scientists have long believed these structures had been used to herd and slaughter animals, but until now, no concrete evidence had been found to support that theory.

Desert kites were so named because of their triangular shape. They were low stone walls essentially creating a funnel to herd animals into what was assumed to be the slaughter pit. It is believed that animals were herded into the kites by a few dozen hunters and then slaughtered. This was basically just a theory as no other kites had revealed any skeletal remains.

Located at a site known as Tell Kuran in northeastern Syria, a team led by zoo archaeologist Guy Bar-Oz from the University of Haifa has found the remains of some 100 gazelles. The bones recovered were varied in age and gender, suggesting it was a normal migrating herd that had been driven into the pit. The bone findings were primarily the non-meat bearing lower legs and suggest the animals were slaughtered and butchered in the pits with the remaining carcasses and meat taken to another location. Estimates on the bones age date them back 6,000 years.

It is their belief that these slaughters happened on a yearly basis and probably held some sort of ritual or religious significance. Given the amount of meat that would have resulted from one of these mass slaughters, and the lack of refrigeration, a large assembly of people would have been necessary to consume the meat.

More than 90 desert kites have been located throughout northeastern Syria so this indicates it was a widely used practice at the time. The rocks on the walls of the structure also show religious art, again suggesting the killings were or religious or symbolic importance.
These mass killing of entire herds also explains the near extinction of these gazelles in the area.

Explore further: Evidence unearthed of possible mass cannibalism in Neolithic Europe

More information: Role of mass-kill hunting strategies in the extirpation of Persian gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) in the northern Levant, PNAS, Published online before print April 18, 2011, doi:10.1073/pnas.1017647108

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not rated yet Apr 19, 2011
Hmm.. I wonder if the neolithic Syrians realised that it was their annual slaughters that was reducing gazelle populations? If so, was the gazelle among the first to be protected, as an "endangered species"? :)
There would be a precedent for prehistoric people modifying their practices in light of such problems - the Australian aboriginals probably did it with their bush burning. Then again, maybe religion got in the way of common sense (as it so often does), who knows?
not rated yet Apr 19, 2011
I'm sure they knew how to dry and smoke meat to preserve it for later.
not rated yet Apr 20, 2011
Right, dollymop, but there is still the possibility that they were reducing gazelle numbers significantly, isn't there?
not rated yet Apr 24, 2011
I'm not convinced that it was a religious ceremony. I mean, it may well be a method to get them a lot of meat. That activity was afterwards invested with religious or other meaning.

You may make a group of gazelles to start running with just a few people. (But, how many are needed to direct them?). This means that it wasn't necessary for many people to gather in order to consume the meat. Then, what we have here might be an indication for relations between tribes on a wide area.

Village people are well aware of the environment in their activities. From a nest with five eggs they are only taking three. Houses are built with a south orientation, to have a face on the sun. Windows are small to keep the heat out.

If religious ideas are getting in the way of another activity, this only means that you have a society developed well enough for ideas to be de-attached from the conditions that gave them birth.

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