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It has become increasingly common in archaeology to utilise virtual globes for regions where few if any aerial photographs are available. Saudi Arabia is one such and it has proved especially useful for identifying and mapping the prolific structures commonly referred to as the 'Works of the Old Men', most prominently kites. These are now generally accepted as hunting traps for migratory animals. Although a few were known in Saudi Arabia, the increasing availability of high-resolution 'windows' on virtual globes has revealed them in ever-larger numbers. Such windows can be exploited to define and map archaeological remains and develop methodologies. One particular region with such potential is Harret Khaybar. Progressive additions of high-resolution windows for this harra have revealed 917 kites. Beyond mere counting, analysis allows the development of typologies and identification of locally distinctive forms-notably the 'barbed' form; mapping and the interpretation of patterns in relation to geology, soils, water sources and vegetation; and associations with other 'works', with scope for creating at least relative chronologies. The present study provides data and preliminary analysis, and guidance for such a holistic ground-based archaeological project should the opportunity arise.
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Kites in Saudi Arabia
It has become increasingly common in archaeology to utilise virtual globes for
regions where few if any aerial photographs are available. Saudi Arabia is one
such and it has proved especially useful for identifying and mapping the prolic
structures commonly referred to as the Works of the Old Men, most prominently
kites. These are now generally accepted as hunting traps for migratory animals.
Although a few were known in Saudi Arabia, the increasing availability of high-
resolution windowson virtual globes has revealed them in ever-larger numbers.
Such windows can be exploited to dene and map archaeological remains and
develop methodologies. One particular region with such potential is Harret Khay-
bar. Progressive additions of high-resolution windows for this harra have revealed
917 kites. Beyond mere counting, analysis allows the development of typologies
and identication of locally distinctive formsnotably the barbedform; mapping
and the interpretation of patterns in relation to geology, soils, water sources and
vegetation; and associations with other works, with scope for creating at least rel-
ative chronologies. The present study provides data and preliminary analysis, and
guidance for such a holistic ground-based archaeological project should the oppor-
tunity arise.
Keywords: kites, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, remote sensing, satellite imagery,
Arabia, prehistoric, stone-built structures
David Kennedy
, Rebecca
, Matthew Dalton
University of Western Australia,
M204, Stirling HWY, Crawley
WA 6009, Australia
University of Cambridge,
Division of Archaeology,
Downing St, Cambridge, CB2
Kites have been known to western scholarship in various
parts of Arabiasince their discovery and publication by
Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots in Transjordan during the
1920s. The articles by Maitland, Rees and Insall, all pilots
in the region, revealed a variety of stone-built site types
not previously known and apparently surviving in their
hundreds in the lava eld (harra) called Harret al-Shaam
of the Jordanian panhandle (Kennedy 2012a).
Kites were
soon being reported by French pilots in the continuation
of that lava eld in southern Syria, and soon after in cen-
tral and northern Syria well beyond lava elds. Although
the border was then unmarked, it would have been clear
that strings of kites seen in Harret al-Shaam in Jordan con-
tinued south into the Arabian Peninsula. It might have
been expected that kites would also be found in some of
the similar harrat along the western side of the Peninsula
andin the light of discoveries in Syriamore widely,
too, outside lava elds (Fig. 1).
The rst kite reported in the interior of Saudi Arabia
was recorded in 1951 (but not published until twenty-ve
years later; Ryckmans 1976) (Fig. 2). Soon after, ground
surveys of the Comprehensive Archaeological Survey Pro-
gram (CASP) recorded kites in Wadi Sirhan (Parr, Harding
& Dayton 196869: 39), although the number was not
specied and none were mapped; another survey noted
two more in the Northern Province (Adams et al. 1977:
pls. 8 & 9). There matters rested for a generation, so that
Echallier and Braemer published their tally of all
kites in what they called the Levant, they could still
report only a dozenkites in all of Saudi Arabia (1995:
36). Plainly there were more, but the eldwork had not
been done. More to the point, the ying and access to
aerial photographs that had been instrumental in the dis-
covery and the start of mapping in Jordan and Syria was
unavailable for Saudi Arabia.
The Arabic for a lava eld is harra; two or more is harrat; and
used in conjunction with a specic name it becomes harret
e.g. Harret Khaybar.
Arab. arch. epig. 2015: 26: 177195 (2015)
Printed in Singapore. All rights reserved
What we are here calling Arabiaextends from the
mountains of south-eastern Turkey to the Arabian Sea,
about 3 million km
. Of that, over two thirdssome
2.15 km
is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Those
engaged in the CASP during the 1970s (see above) noted
the limitations imposed by having few if any aerial photo-
graphs (Kennedy 2011: 3197; Kennedy & Bishop 2011:
1285). Indeed, the only practical and cost-effective way to
explore such an extensive and geologically and environ-
mentally challenging landscape is through aerial survey.
As we know from interpretation of old aerial photographs
of, and from eighteen years of aerial reconnaissance in,
Jordan kites that survive on the surface are exactly the
kind of site that is readily visible from above.
A few of the aerial photographs taken in the course of
the Arab Revolt in 191718 survive, but are very limited
in scope and show nothing archaeological. A few of use
for current purposes were published many years later
along with at least one sheet of the 1:250 000 geological
maps (Geoscience Map GM-131) of Saudi Arabia in 1991
(see below). Now we can add 476 vertical aerial survey
photographs among the c.1.5 million in Rhodes House in
Oxford, taken in 197476 for the Directorate of Overseas
Surveys (see below).
This last is a useful addition but still
woefully small by any standards and especially for such a
vast landscape. By comparison, just across the border in
what is now Yemen, the British aerial survey was exten-
sive and the same aerial photo archive in Rhodes House
includes 45,361 images of that country. This may be an
undercount and there may be more aerial photos of Saudi
Arabia (and Yemen) in the other huge collection of c.1.5
million images being catalogued in Edinburgh as part of
the National Collection of Aerial Photographs
It is known from reports that large numbers of aerial
photographs have been taken for mapping purposes in
Saudi Arabia and more still in connection with geological
prospection. Almost none were available to the archaeolo-
gists of the CASP and they are still rarely available. Such
archives must number in the hundreds of thousands.
Fig. 1.
A map showing the location of the major lava elds in the Arabian
Peninsula. Harret Khaybar is in the centre (drawing: Matthew Dalton).
(a) (b)
Fig. 2.
A sketch plan of a kite recorded in western Saudi Arabia in 1951 (from
Ryckmans 1976: 162).
Not 112 as on their spreadsheet.
To date (2 December 2014) only about 3500 (of mainly Kenya
and Tanzania) have been digitised and displayed online.
The major developmentto some extent allowing
scholars to bypass aerial photographshas been the publi-
cation online of virtual globes. Google Earth and Bing
Maps offer mosaicked satellite imagery covering the entire
planet, providing an immense photomap. The quality var-
ies but for several years the number of high-resolution
windowsbeing uploaded to Google Earth and Bing
Maps for Saudi Arabia has been increasing rapidly. The
results have been dramatic for the archaeology of Saudi
Arabia (Kennedy & Bishop 2011) and may be illustrated
very effectively by focusing on just this single site-type
B. Kites in northern Saudi Arabia
A generation ago, only about a dozen kites had been
reported in Saudi Arabia and none had been specically
located, much less mapped and recorded. By 2011, inter-
pretation of Google Earth had revealed sixty-seven, two
years later Kempe and al-Malabeh (2013) published a total
of forty-ve, but the Aerial Photographic Archive for
Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME) team had
already located 107. In May 2014 as a result of further
high-resolution windows being uploaded, we had a count
of 122, now increased (December 2014) to 136 (Fig. 3).
As Figure 3 shows, the kites in the north of Saudi Ara-
bia are largely the continuation of the chains of kites
recorded in the same lava eld in Jordan over a number of
years. In design they are very similar to those across the
frontier in Jordan, as one would expect. Furthermore, as
with many in the neighbouring part of Jordan, they are in
areas where light sand has largely covered them. This
Fig. 3.
A distribution map of kites in Harret al-Shaam as of 01/12/2014 (draw-
ing: Rebecca Banks and Matthew Dalton).
Fig. 4.
A kite in Jordan near the Saudi border, of a type visible on virtual globes
for northern Saudi Arabia but difcult to locate at ground level;
Nukheila Kites 4 and 5 (APAAME_20081102_DLK-0211).
Fig. 5.
Comparison of a kite in northern Saudi Arabia: 3731-12-Jabal Nuayj
Kite 2 on Google Earth (top) and Bing Maps (below).
makes their identication on the ground almost impossi-
ble, and thus very difcult, through satellite imagery.
Examples from the Jordanian side, where we have low-
level aerial photographs as well as satellite imagery, make
this point and underscore the vital role of the aerial and
space view (Fig. 4).
Also of signicance here is the opportunity and need to
utilise Google Earth alongside other virtual globes. There
are parts of this area, which are of low resolution in
Google Earth but high resolution in Bing Maps (see e.g.
Fig. 5). Moreover, sites may appear clearer on imagery of
different dates or types. A remote-sensing survey of the
region therefore can and should utilise more than one
source of imagery. The opportunity to do this freely is pos-
sible due to competing online virtual globes and maps
(Google Earth and Maps, Bing Maps, Nokias HERE).
From this varied source material locational data can be
transferred to Google Earth or into Geographical Informa-
tion Systems (GIS) for analysis.
C. Kites in Harret Khaybar
The geologists who prepared the Geologic Map of ...
the Harrats Khaybar, Ithnayn, and Kura ...(1:250 000
Geoscience Map GM-131) used aerial photographs and
would have known of the kites visible in this imagery.
These photographs have not generally been available to
archaeologists and it was only when the map (and the
accompanying notes) was published (Roobol & Camp
1991) that specic reference was made to kites and an
Fig. 6.
The rst high-resolution window for Harret Khaybar on Google Earth (dated 19 February 2007); (left) the windowin the context of Harret Khaybar
as a whole; (right) detail of the windowshowing the kite distribution (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Fig. 7.
A map of Harret Khaybar showing the location of high-resolution win-
dows available on Google Earth as of July 2013 for the oases of Khay-
bar and Al-Hait (drawing: Rebecca Banks). Cf. Figure 9 below for
signicant further extensions.
aerial photograph included. As the map had a restricted
circulation the discovery was not widely known.
The breakthrough came with the appearance online of
the rst high-resolution imagery of parts of Saudi Arabia
on Google Earth. In 2008 Dr Abdullah al-Saeed, a medi-
cal doctor in Riyadh with an interest in archaeology, drew
attention to an area of such high-resolution imagery (dated
February 2007; Fig. 6) near the town of Khaybar in west-
central Saudi Arabia and to the numerous stone structures
visible in it (Kennedy & al-Saeed 2009). Khaybar lies on
the western side of Harret Khaybar. Most striking were the
numerous kites.
A systematic interpretation in 2009 of that window,
which covered c.2000 km
, recorded an immensely rich
harvest of 239 kites, many of them of a form not encoun-
tered in the heartlands of kite discovery in Harret al-Shaam
in the far north (see Fig. 3). The boundaries of that rst
Khaybar window were the arbitrary ones determined by
the availability of high-resolution imagery that Google
had recently uploaded. Even at that time (2009) the num-
ber of kites recorded represented a greater density (one per
in the c.1200 km
section covered by the lava eld)
than found even in the thickly marked Safawi area of Jor-
dans Harret al-Shaam (with one kite per 4 km
It was likely that kites would be found in the areas to
the west and south of that initial window when high-reso-
lution imagery of those parts of the lava eld became
available. One such new window did indeed reveal more
kites taking the total to 297 by September 2011. By
2012 the total had been increased again from the upload of
Fig. 8.
Mapping kites and the growth in numbers; (left) high-resolution windows of the western part of Harret Khaybar around Khaybar town superimposed
on the 1:50 000 map grid of the area; (right) the same map grid showing the numbers of kites identied in each mapareathe number in each case
represents the number of kites in September 2011 and the number (in brackets) in July 2013 (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
further high-resolution windows by Google, including the
discovery of fty-ve around Al-Hait on the eastern side
of the harra (Kennedy 2012b: 147) (Fig. 7). A total over-
all in this harra is currently at least 917 (see Fig. 10, left).
The better quality of imagery now available for the initial
study window has meant that the kite total for that area
alone has risen to 311.
In undertaking a further and much more extensive inter-
pretation of the western part of the Khaybar lava eld, the
area around Khaybar town was gridded (as throughout
Arabiaas a whole in our wider research) on the basis of
the Saudi General Commission for Survey 1:50 000 map
sheets. This particular study extended over a grid of
twelve maps (Fig. 8) (NB: one of those maps is ofcially
3925-42 Khaybar Sheetand not to be confused with
Harret Khaybaras a whole).
Figure 8 (right) tells the story: the numbers in each
square represent the number of kites found in the area of
the Khaybar window when interpreted in September 2011.
Some squares contain zero kites because the area was not
covered at that time by a high-resolution window. The sec-
ond number (in brackets) is the number of kites recorded
by July 2013 after the interpretation of new high-resolu-
tion extensions. For example, sheet 3925-43 Al Wadi
had twenty-six kites in the original research in 2011 but
thirty-two in 2013. Much more noticeable, however, is that
the total number of kites in this group of squares rose from
297 to 575. Most striking of all is that the Khaybar sheet
3925-42 Khaybarrose from 75 to 291 kites. To
put this in context, previously by far the most densely pop-
ulated map sheet for any part of Arabiawas that for
Safawi in Jordan with exactly 200 kites. At a stroke, this
Khaybar sheet now has almost 50% more kites than its
nearest rival.
Much more high-resolution imagery has since been
uploaded, with several windows overlapping one another
in the vicinity of Khaybar and Al-Hait towns and much
of the entire harra now covered (Fig. 9). As of the 1
December 2014, our analysis of the imagery for Harret
Khaybar as a whole now counts 917 kites772 in the area
nearest Khaybar town and a further 145 on the eastern side
and especially around the Al-Hait oasis (Table 1; Fig. 10,
As in similar terrain elsewhere in Arabiaas a whole,
there were no visible kites in the mountainous northern
half of the original study window; more surprisingly there
were no kites (or any other structures) in the eastern part
of the window, towards the central area of the lava eld
(Fig. 6). The distribution of kites in Harret Khaybar is
very pronounced, with major clusters in the vicinity of the
oases of Khaybar and Al-Hait and a few outliers around
the south-eastern and south-western fringes of the lava,
but none in between (Fig. 10, left).
Although we do not have high-resolution imagery for
the entire area of Harret Khaybar, it is now very extensive
Table 1. Numbers of Kites in each part of Saudi Arabia as of 1 Decem-
ber 2014 (compiled by Rebecca Banks).
Saudi Arabia Kites
Harret al-Shaam 136
Harret Khaybar 917
Harret Rahat 19
Harret Kura 2
Other 17
Total 1091
Harret Khaybar
Khaybar East 145
Khaybar West 772
Fig. 9.
A pattern of high-resolution windows available on Google Earth as of
December 2014. Areas indicated in red are Al Huwayyit (right) and
Jabal Muzahim (left) (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Recently, Kempe and al-Malabeh have explored the same harra
but found considerably fewer kites and made some puzzling
observations about them (2013: 138139; see below).
(Fig. 9) and provides near certainty that there are indeed
no kites in the great central expanse. Nor is this lack of
kites due to their obliteration by recent Holocene volcanic
activity; the areas covered by more recent lava ows are
relatively restricted (see below).
Although there may well be some further kites revealed
in the area south-east of Khaybar and south of Al-Hait as
new windows are uploaded, it seems unlikely that any
kites exist in the entire central part of the harra between
the two areas currently plotted around Khaybar and
Fig. 10.
Maps showing (left) the distribution of kites in Harret Khaybar; (right) the distribution of pendants (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Fig. 11.
A chain of kites in the Jabal Muzahim area of Harret Khaybar (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Al-Hait. Analysis of this central area shows that other
types of stone structure (see Appendix below) are abun-
dant, not least pendantswhich are found in immense
numbers everywhere (Fig. 10, right).
The pattern as currently presented in both the eastern
and western zones of Harret Khaybar is common through-
out Arabia. Kites are often found close to seasonal water-
courses (wadis), and are frequently arranged in
interconnected chains (contra Kempe & al-Malabeh 2013:
138139). These chains are far shorter than many of those
in Harret al-Shaam (see Fig. 3 for an impression of these
networksimmense length in Jordan), but nonetheless
often have tails linked together (Fig. 11). These shorter
chains are probably a factor of different geographies and
seasonal water ow patterns. In Harret al-Shaam, several
major wadis run for very long distances. In Harret Khay-
bar, wadis radiate outwards from the high ground and the
volcanic cones and vents, which occupy its centre (see
wadis indicated on distribution maps: Figs. 6, 7, 10 & 27).
It may be no coincidence that kites are concentrated at the
points where various wadis come closer together or merge
at Khaybar and Al-Hait oases, perhaps reecting the
attractiveness of concentrations of water to the fauna of
the region. We may note, too, that the area where more
kites are beginning to appear on some very recent high-
resolution imagery is where another group of wadis con-
verges in the vicinity of Al Huwayyit (Figs. 9 & 10, left).
Of the kites analysed in the original study window
around Khaybar town, approximately 70% (n = 226) are
directly associated with a wadi. A similar pattern is
observed in the main Al-Hait windows, where 65%
(n = 47) of kites are built next to wadis. These characteris-
tics seem to stem primarily from the use of and adaptation
to local landforms, especially ridges (natural barriers or
tail walls) and passes (natural funnels) where a wadi has
cut through the landscape. The position of kitesfunnels
or tail walls in low-lying areas such as wadis and/or mud
pans is signicant: when dry, these features would have
provided an easier surface to traverse, and therefore a
more likely thoroughfare for migratory game. Further-
more, these wadis are far more richly vegetated than the
surrounding desert, and thus would have very likely
attracted grazing herbivorous animals. There is also a
strong tendency for kite heads to be positioned at higher
elevations in relation to their tails, especially above ridges
or behind low rises. This positioning would have advanta-
geously rendered any hunters waiting there invisible to
animals already inside the kite.
The Khaybar area includes a type of site not found in Har-
ret al-Shaam or further north; indeed, they seem to be
unique to west-central Saudi Arabia, though no longer just
to Harret Khaybar (see Kennedy 2011: 3193). These are
Fig. 12.
A diagram illustrating the direction of the opening of the kite funnelsin
the Harret Khaybar original study window (created by Rebecca Banks).
Fig. 13.
Abarbedkite (Samhah Kite 15) (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
the structures called gates, which consist of two short
thick walls or heaps of stones, between which one or more
connecting walls stretch. From above, these features
resemble an old-fashioned barred gate laid at. In the ori-
ginal study window at Khaybar, 106 gateshave been
recorded, but they tend to be concentrated in groups and
largely apart from kites (see Fig. 27).
The other category of structure found in abundance in
this harra is almost certainly funerarycairns, pendants
and the very remarkable keyholestructures (which seem
to be an elaborated form of pendant) (see Kennedy 2011
and Appendix below). The latter two types are often
aligned on tracks radiating outwards from these oases. As
we shall see, kites do appear in the same area but rarely
intersect (see Figs. 14, 19 & 2022), and these funerary
structures extend much further into the harra than kites do
(Fig. 10).
The direction in which the funnel of the kite opens may be
of signicance in some cases. It has been interpreted else-
where as an indicator of the direction from which migra-
tory herds would arrive (Betts & Yagodin 2000: 40). In
Harret al-Shaam, kite funnels overwhelmingly open to the
east and east-south-east; in the western zone of Harret
Khaybar it is to the west and west-south-west (Fig. 12).
The directional trend of the Harret Khaybar group from
the original study window is strongest in those kites net-
workedin chains across the landscape. The only charac-
teristicthat sees a departure from this preference appears
to be for those kites built alongside or associated with a
wadi or mud pans. Here the numbers show a weaker pref-
erence for a westerly funnel direction, indicating that the
placement of the kite in a particular landscape plays a
determining factor in its orientation. This correlates with
what is seen with the kites around Al-Hait. In this area,
kite chains also commonly share tail orientations, and here
this is also primarily a factor of their geographical place-
ment. Several chains of kites have been built on both sides
of the large wadi that runs into and then out of the oasis
itself. These kites are overwhelmingly positioned so that
their heads are hidden over ridges, while tails extend down
into wadi beds (see above). The mixed orientation of their
tails implies that they were intended to catch animals both
entering and exiting the oasis.
When they are not part of a chain, kites are more likely
to have distinctive characteristics: for example, they are
short; have fewer tails; have an irregularly formed head; or
the direction of their funnel is less likely to conform to the
strong orientation trends of the group.
The form of the kites in Harret Khaybar has some overlap
with those found in Harret al-Shaam, but most are distinc-
tive to this region. The most striking is the barbedhead
type already identied in 2009 (Kennedy & Al-Saeed
2009) (Fig. 13) but there are other types (contra Kempe &
al-Malabeh 2013: 139 who seem to regard them all to be
of this form).
The term barbedseemed especially apposite for the
rst kites identied in 2009, which had the form of a
barbed arrow or spearhead. Of the kites in the original
study window, 85% can be conceived of as having barbs
on the head similar to that of a typical arrow type: two
blinds extending back either side of where the tails meet
the head, often ending in one or more circular hides. A
universal grouping of all these kites as barbedor arrow
is not meaningful, however, when the variation in form
aside from this one feature is considered (see provisional
typology below; Fig. 15). Nevertheless, the term remains
valid. The feature extends from the head to the tails; blinds
can be located along the length of the guide-walls, where
they often appear at intervals as small triangular barbs. In
some cases the barbsare larger and almost act as second-
ary heads. It is occasionally difcult to discern where a
kites head nishes and its tails begins because of the
extent of the barbs along its guide-walls, as on Khaybar
Kite 12 (Fig. 14). Although kites with tail barbs are
characteristic of this region, the type is by no means the
Fig. 14.
A kite with tail barbs (Khaybar Kite 12); note also the proximity of the
pendant avenue (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Fig. 15.
Provisional typology of kite types in Harret Khaybar (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Fig. 16.
The average overall length of kites by type in the original Khaybar study window (created by Rebecca Banks).
majorityonly c.25% of the kites analysed from the origi-
nal study window have these barbs.
A provisional typology graphically sets out the kite
types encountered in the Khaybar study window (Fig. 15).
The Y-kiteunique to Saudi Arabia and prolic in this
study windowhas as one of its main features a profusion
of hides located at the tip of its head and at the end of its
barbs. Of note in this study group is the inclusion of
hides on kite tails as well; this is extremely uncommon in
the kites of other regions. Again, the Y-kite is the out-
standing example of this feature.
The size of kites in the region varies considerably (see
Kempe & al-Malabeh 2013: 139). The heads of the kites
can be large, c.5000 m
+ on average in the original
study window; the average length of kite tails is quite low
at c.350 m (Fig. 16), but the range extends from no tails
at all to a maximum of 1650 m in length. It is also impor-
tant to note that kite tails in Khaybar do not meander
across the landscape as they commonly do in Harret
al-Shaam, the latter beginning as a clearly dened kite
wall but often developing into a meandering wallor a
tangle of walls at its full extent (see Kennedy 2011: 3190).
Fig. 17.
Kites and associated structures in Harret al-Shaam (Safawi Kites 109
110, 120) (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Fig. 18.
A common pendant and wheel relationship in the Jordanian part of Har-
ret al-Shaam (Safawi Wheel 11 overlain by Safawi Pendant 4) (APA-
Fig. 19.
Al-Silsilah Kite 50 overlain by Pendant 6 on Google Earth (drawing:
Rebecca Banks).
The trend is for more structurally complex kites (barbed,
rectilinear, star and Y-kite) and those kites in chains and/or
with tail barbs to be longer.
The evidence for the dating of kites in general has been
summarised several times recently; overall, there is very
little secure evidence to work with (Kennedy 2012b: 145
with references; cf. Betts 2014; Zeder & Bar-Oz 2014).
In Harret al-Shaam, there are numerous instances of kites
close to or physically intersecting with other ancient struc-
tures. Especially common are kites overlain by wheels,
which seem in some cases to be purposefully placed over
the headof the kite, perhaps as a deliberate act to
decommissionit (Fig. 17) (see Kennedy 2012c: 80), or
possibly just to take advantage of a cleared space. Some-
times there are pendants in close association, but more
commonly one nds pendants overlying wheels, implying
they are frequently the most recent of the three kinds of
structure (Fig. 18). It is rare to nd kites overlying any
other ancient structure except for another kite. One may
infer that of all the stone-built ancient structures in that
particular landscape, kites are among the very oldest
wheels appear later and pendants last of all.
Such evidence is far less abundant in Harret Khaybar.
Despite the considerable number of stone-built structures
of several kinds, there are very few clear instances of a
kite intersecting with another structure apart from a
neighbouring kite. One reason may be the complete
Fig. 20.
Al-Wadi Kite 3 in the midst of monuments on a funerary avenue 5 km
west of Khaybar town (drawing: Rebecca Banks).
Fig. 21.
Samhah Kite 121 in a landscape of funerary monuments including a prominent avenue with several keyholes.
absence from this harra of the wheels which are found
in their thousands in Harret al-Shaam (see Kennedy
2012c). This lack of overlap is probably also due to the
different terrain favoured for kites and funerary features.
As has been seen, most kites are usually built near
wadis, often near the edges of the basalt lava eld (see
Fig. 26). In the immediate vicinity of the Khaybar and
Al-Hait oases, on the other hand, there are numerous
tracks radiating outwards, collectively anked by thou-
sands of pendants, keyhole structures and cairns. The
impression is of funerary avenues,with many of the
pendants and keyholes clearly oriented to these tracks.
Where they are built away from avenues, there is a
strong tendency for these structures to be built upon low
rises (as ascertained from the interpretation of geological
features through satellite imagery; such topography is
usually too small to be recognisable through freely avail-
able Digital Elevation Models). In both cases, it seems
that high visibility within the landscape is an important
factor in these features placement; the exact opposite of
what is likely to be true of kites. Nevertheless, several
rare juxtapositions of pendants and kites in this region
do provide a helpful indication of relative dating.
Two examples in Harret Khaybar may be illustrated; the
rst is As Silsilah Kite 50, which is overlain by As Silsilah
Pendant 6 (Fig. 19). The burial chamber of this very large
pendant might offer evidence allowing a terminus ante
quem for the kite. No pendant has yet been excavated and
dated in Harret Khaybar, but
C dates for three pendants
in the Yemen produced dates of 830, 630 and 60 BC (de
Maigret 2009: 32935).
The second example is Al-Wadi Kite 3 (Fig. 20), which
is located within an extensive network of other funerary
stone structures aligned to an avenuec.5 km west of
Khaybar town. It seems unlikely that a kite would be con-
structed among so many existing obstructions.
There is a similar association in the Samhah area, with
Samhah Kite 121 situated in the midst of a dense land-
scape of funerary monumentspendants and keyholes
(Fig. 21). It also seems likely here that the latter features
were built after the kite.
Also in the Samhah area (c.17 km north of Khaybar),
there is what seems to be a funerary avenue cutting
through the tail of Samhah Kite 62, again implying that
the kite is earlier (Fig. 22; note also Khaybar Kite 12,
Fig. 14). At the time these funerary landscapes were being
created, these kites were probably redundant.
Harret Khaybar is the major component of a group of three
coalesced lava elds, the other two being Harret Kura and
Fig. 22.
A tail of Samhah Kite 62 overlain (circled) by pendants of a funerary
avenue; (inset) detail of circled area.
Fig. 23.
The MeccaMedinaNafud volcanic line (from Roobol & Camp 1991:
Harret Ithnayn (Figs. 6 & 23). Together they cover an area
of 20,564 km
, with an estimated volume of c.1850 km
of lava (Roobol & Camp 1991: 2). They lie on the
c.600 km-long MeccaMedinaNafud volcanic line (Roo-
bol & Camp 1991; Camp, Roobol & Hooper 1991)
(Fig. 23). Harret Kura is the oldest at 105 million years
before the present (Ma); the other two are broadly coeval
at less than 5 Ma and less than 3 Ma respectively (Roobol
& Camp 1991: 2), but both contain lava ows that are sig-
nicantly younger, including potential dates into historic
Khaybar town is situated at around 750 m above sea
level (asl) and the land then rises gently eastwards to about
9001000 m asl. The vent zone itself has peaks and other
landforms rising to about 2000 m asl. The oldest ows
seem to be those that have travelled furthest and are found
Fig. 24.
Habir Flow revealed as black in the wider lava eld and showing the location of the kites discussed (Google Earth); (inset) Khaybar Kite 249 whose
tails may have originally terminated at the edges of the wadi.
Fig. 25.
A map of Habir Flow, Khaybar is on the left edge; the key area is Qb7 (pink) (extract from Roobol & Camp 1991).
around the periphery of the lava eld, where they have
been heavily eroded into a surface of rounded basalt boul-
ders. The youngest ows are those appearing darkest in
satellite imagery (Fig. 24). Most notable is the Habir
Flow, narrow bands of molten lava, which have followed
wadi courses westwards to c.1520 km south-east of
Khaybar town. Part of this ow has been dened geologi-
cally as Qb6and Qb7(Roobol & Camp 1991: 2123)
(Fig. 25), dated as post-Neolithicand historicrespec-
tively. Although they are visibly the most recent of the
lava ows in this harra (not eroded, lacking dust-bowls,
etc.), the dating for Harret Khaybar is derived from the
traces of archaeological sites that it overlays. The geolo-
gists who mapped this area noted places where what
looked like parts of kites remained close by, and also some
kites apparently partially covered by the lava ow (Camp,
Roobol & Hooper 1991: 368). Figure 24 shows ten kites,
parts of which seem to have been overlain by the Habir
Flow, that is, their tails originally terminated against the
edge of the wadis, the beds of which are now lled with
lava. One of these (Khaybar Kite 249; Fig. 24, inset) was
illustrated with a low oblique aerial photograph by the
geologists and cited as a clear example of an overlain
structure (Roobol & Camp 1991: g. 14).
Unfortunately, in this case the lava ow is being dated
by archaeological structures, the age of which is highly
controversial. Until this lava ow can be dated indepen-
dently, these examples from Harret Khaybar are potentially
interesting but in reality undated. They could be much
older than the Neolithic or indeed very much younger.
The two largest known groups of kites in Saudi Arabia are
those to the north in Harret al-Shaam and those in the
Fig. 26.
Distribution of kites and pendant features around the Al-Hait oasis
(drawing: Matthew Dalton).
Fig. 27.
Distribution of gates; (left) in Harret Khaybar; (right) with other principal sites in the Khaybar study window (as of 01/12/2014) (drawing: Rebecca
central west of Harret Khaybar. There are several others
which may be briey noted. First are ve probable kites
about 25 km north of Hail, the heads of which are invisi-
ble but the tails clear. None is on a harra. More signicant
are the eighteen kites in a single clustered group on the
lava eld along the north-eastern fringe of Harret Rahat.
Two features are noteworthy. Firstly, the wider landscape
of this harra is often available in high-resolution imagery
on virtual globes and numerous worksof other kinds
have been recorded, but no further kites. Secondly, the
form of these kites is very unusual and generally quite dif-
ferent from those in Harret Khaybar. They appear as
headswith hidesalong the edges of wadis but not one
has even a single tail. Such tailless kites are not unparal-
leledthere are a number of examples in Al-Hait (e.g.
Ash Shuwaymis Kites 2, 6?, 12, 16 and 21; Ar Rawd Kites
9, 14, 7 [and neighbours]; and al Hait Kite 1, etc). It is
notable that this small discrete group found in relative iso-
lation on the edge of a large lava eld are all of this type,
perhaps representing distinctive local hunting practices
and/or different fauna.
Despite the large number of kites identied in Harret
Khaybar, they are conned overwhelmingly to two loca-
tionsthe vicinities of the apparently long-inhabited oases
of Khaybar and Al-Haitand they are never found far
beyond the limits of the lava eld. We may also note that
very few kites are found on Harret Kura, the oldest part of
the lava eld, and these are concentrated on its eastern
edge, closer to the Khaybar oasis. The inference that may
be drawn from the patterning of other stone-built struc-
tures (see Figs. 10 & 27) is that people certainly operated
in the interior of the harra but never built kites there.
Although this may be because kites, pendants, cairns, etc.
are each of different periods, it is more likely that their
absence reects a lack of hunting opportunities in these
The overwhelming lack of visible stone structures on
the alluvial atlands adjacent to lava elds is unlikely to
reect any subsequent covering by water-borne sediments;
the few features that have been built in these areas are usu-
ally still very clear. More prosaically, it seems likely that
these patterns can be accounted for by the need for struc-
tures to be built on or near appropriate sources of building
stone in the basalt boulder-strewn lava elds. Of course,
there is no a priori relationship between lava elds and
stone-built structures. No kites have yet been located in
Harret Ithnayn north of Al-Hait, for example, in spite of
some high-resolution coverage. Indeed, Harret Ithnayn
insofar as it can be seenin satellite imageryis almost
completely devoid of any visible man-made structures,
apart from a few very simple small corrals and a sparse
scatter of small pendants along its eastern edge.
Although work on the mapping of kites in Harret Khay-
bar is probably almost complete, it is unlikely that many
more will be found as the remaining parts of the harra are
covered by new high-resolution uploads and mapping
worksof other kinds is incomplete. Pendants of various
kinds are extremely common and cataloguing is
labour-intensive; cairns are more numerous still (and
simultaneously more difcult to differentiate from natural
features). Nevertheless, some provisional observations can
be made about the relationship of kites to pendants both
for an incomplete map of the harra as a wholeas just
discussedand for the area around Al-Hait oasis where
mapping is complete. While they usually occupy very dif-
ferent terrain (see above), densities of kites and pendant
features are broadly interrelated (Fig. 26); kites seldom
exist in isolation, and even in the most remote cases are
never further than 1 km from the nearest pendant.
Like pendants, there is also a tendency around Al-Hait
for the densest kite agglomerations to be found closer to
the oasis, with numbers generally becoming sparser as dis-
tance increases. One exception is the chain of kites situ-
ated on the north-west and south-east anks of a basalt
spur c.1220 km north of the oasis; here it is especially
interesting to note that high kite densities mirror those of
an adjacent string of avenue-oriented pendants.
Taken together, the approximate correlation of these
features may indicate the more focused visitation of areas
closest to the oasis, and perhaps a decreasing willingness
to travel further from this point. The data for kites from
the original Khaybar window may also indicate this, with
kite concentration peaking at 48 km from the oasis, and
dropping drastically after 15 km. Could these patterns per-
haps indicate that ancient human occupation in this region
was centred on oases such as Khaybar and Al-Hait (as it
still is today)? The densely occupied mortuary landscapes
that radiate out from them certainly suggest a level of
inhabitation or at least important funerary signicance
over time.
One type of workfor which mapping in Harret Khay-
bar is probably complete (or nearly so) is the one we have
called gates. This type of structure is not attested any-
where else, including Harret al-Shaam which has been
researched extensively and own over in almost every y-
ing season of the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project
since 1998. They are found elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, but
the rst (and thus far largest) concentration is in Harret
Khaybar. In Figure 27 (left) it can be seen that gates occur
in the vicinity of the two towns but that there are also a
few in the harra interior, includingrather astonishingly
ve on the outer slopes of the bowl of one of the volca-
noes (Jabal al-Abyad). A total of 332 have been recorded.
In detail, when contrasting the pattern of kites with those
for gates and pendants (Fig. 27, right), it is evident that the for-
mer seldom mix with gates, while the latter occasionally over-
liethem.IntheareadenedbytheAlIshash map sheet
(3926-32; Fig. 27, left), there are no less than thirty-three gates
almost all of them on or just beyond the edge of the lava
eldbut only two kites (see Kennedy, in preparation).
As noted above, there is a correlation between kites and
watercourses (wadis), and it is no surprise that kites are
especially abundant in the vicinity of the oases of Khaybar
and Al-Hait. We can add, too, that a few kites (as in the
Al Ishash map area) are found off the lava in sandy areas
reminiscent of the southern part of Harret al-Shaam (see
Fig. 3, cf. Fig. 4).
The kites seen in Harret Khaybar are not only notable for
their distinctive forms (especially the barbedtype seen
above); types found elsewhere are absent. There are none
of the sock headtype reported in Syria (Kennedy 2012b:
152154) and south-west Jordan (Abu-Azizeh & Taraw-
neh, this volume), and perhaps that recorded by Ryckmans
(see Fig. 2). More striking is the absence of the immensely
complicated kites seen so frequently in Harret al-Shaam.
The latter are often kites that have been repeatedly modied
on essentially the same spot until the nal version appears
from above to have a complex headand multiple tails
(see Kennedy, Banks & Houghton 2014: passim). Like-
wise, the numerous examples in Harret al-Shaam of kites
that are plainly unnished are found in just four instances
in the Harret Khaybar initial study window. Once again, it
is clear that the sequence of construction would be head,
tails, then hides. As noted above, it is rare for any kite in
Harret Khaybar to overlie/be overlain by any other structure
except another kite.
It is likely that within the next ve years all of Harret
Khaybar will be covered by high-resolution imagery on
virtual globes. That will permit a nal tallying of kites,
although it is unlikely that many additional examples will
be revealed. Likewise, we can expect much more of Saudi
Arabia as a whole to receive such coverage and interpreta-
tion, allowing the presence and absence of kites across the
Peninsula to be determined. It is already apparent that kites
are not found in some harrat, or at least only in very small
numbers. Conversely, we may expect kites to be found
outside lava elds and perhaps to encounter kites of the
very unusual form found (so far) only in south-west
Yemen (Brunner 2009; cf. Kennedy 2011: 3193).
It remains the case that an effective and truly comprehen-
sive recording of kites and all of the other Works of the
Old Menvisible in Harret Khaybarand indeed, of Saudi
Arabia as a wholeshould involve the systematic explora-
tion of the satellite imagery available through virtual
globes. This is feasible and the imagery is freely available.
Alongside that, however, should be the equally systematic
interpretation of whatever aerial photographs are held by
the Saudi authorities and by oil and mining companies.
That many of the latter will be old will be a particular
advantage in a country where rapid development has seen
dramatic clearance of the landscape for sprawling cities,
towns and villages, for infrastructure such as roads and for
agricultural development. Finally, as experience from eigh-
teen seasons of Aerial Archaeology in Jordan has under-
scored, satellite imagery and old survey photographs are
just part of a troika; ideally, a programme of low-level obli-
que aerial photography and the exploration of sites and fea-
tures invisible on satellite imagery would form the nal
strand. That in turn should involveas is axiomatic for
programmes of aerial reconnaissance in Europeground
visits to explore the relationship between what is visible on
an image and what may be seen at ground level.
Following on from this last point would be a systematic
programme of eldwork by those with appropriate exper-
tise but guided by results and suggestions arising from this
preliminary exercise. Most obvious would be to investigate
those places where the juxtaposition of a kite and other
ancient structures may clarify and rene chronology. It may
be possible to obtain absolute dates for sand deposits
beneath and against these structures by using the technique
of Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating. It would be
useful, too, as has been done in the Negev (Nadel et al.
2010) and now in south-east Jordan, to conduct exploratory
excavation on a kite (Abu-Azizeh & Tarawneh, this
volume) (cf. Brochier et al. 2014 and Crassard et al. 2014
for excavation on kites in Armenia and Kazakhstan).
Other places where specic kites should be investigated
on the ground are where they are associated with recent lava
ows. The current programmes of research on the volcanic
activity and lava elds of Arabia may clarify dating of ows
and sites affected by them (Moufti & N
emeth 2014; Moufti
et al. 2013; Murcia et al. 2014). It seems clear that the Ha-
bir Flow is relatively recent, Qb6 seems to overlie some of
these stone structures and Qb7 is younger still. There is
research in progress on such ows through cosmogenic dat-
ing in Harret Rahat (just south-east of Medina), on ows
previously dated by Camp and Roobol on the basis of asso-
ciated archaeological sites (Karoly N
emeth, personal com-
munication, 2 June 2014).
Finally, distribution maps of the type illustrated above
here should show kites within their environmental con-
texts of geology, soils, rainfall patterns and vegetation.
Appropriately high-resolution data probably already exist
but are not yet readily available.
Appendix: the other worksin the Arabian lava elds
In addition to the large and familiar kites, other stone-built
ancient structures are:
wheel: a circular or roughly circular enclosure with a
central stone hub and radiating stone spokes. Some have an
external ring of small stone heaps; 2050 m in diameter;
pendant: a substantial stone cairn from which stretches
out a tail, most commonly comprised of a line of small
stone heaps, or an elongated triangular enclosure. These
tailsof stone heaps can be as little as 1015 m or as
large as 100 m or more;
keyhole: a type of pendant found only thus far in Harret
Khaybar, but in large numbers. From above they appear to
have the outline of an old-fashioned keyhole. The larger
can be as much as 50 m long, and often they are found
joined together in a series;
gate: a site type found only in Harret Khaybar and a
few other nearby areas. From above it resembles a fallen
barred gate. The longest is over 500 m but most are much
cairn: a heaped or constructed pile of stones. Function
can vary, but larger structures are associated with burials.
We are grateful to the Packard Humanities Institute, which
funded a pilot study of high-resolution imagery of
Harret Khaybar revealing the immense richness of this
lava eld.
Fig. 28.
Examples of the other worksof the Arabian lava elds. From left to right, top to bottom: wheels, a pendant, keyholes and a gate (Google Earth).
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... Cette concentration de kites se prolonge au sud, dans le Nord de l'Arabie Saoudite (Kennedy 2011 ;Kempe et Al-Malabeh 2013 ;Kennedy et al. 2015) où ils sont de plus en plus espacés. Sur cet espace de 200 km sur 100 environ, la présence des kites est continue mais la densité est moindre. ...
... Toujours en allant vers le sud, après un hiatus de 300 km environ, on rencontre une nouvelle et ultime concentration, divisée en deux parties de part et d'autre du Harrat Khaybar en Arabie Saoudite (Kempe et Al-Malabeh 2013 ;Kennedy et al. 2015). La partie occidentale présente des densités très importantes, comparables à celles du Harrat al-Shaam. ...
... Il en va différemment à l'autre extrémité de l'aire de répartition, en Arabie Saoudite. Les kites du Harrat Khaybar ne sont pour l'instant connus que par leur observation aérienne (Kempe et Al-Malabeh 2013 ;Kennedy et al. 2015). Les barbed kites, les plus nombreux, se singularisent par l'emboîtement de plusieurs unités souvent triangulaires ( fig. ...
Résumé. Depuis une dizaine d’années, la mise en ligne libre des images satellitaires à haute résolution a permis la découverte de très nombreux desert kites, constructions en pierre de très grande taille qui jalonnent les marges désertiques du Croissant fertile. Leur nombre et l’étendue de leur répartition géographique laissent soupçonner un phénomène dont la portée était jusqu’à présent sous-estimée. On connaît par ailleurs beaucoup mieux leur diversité morphologique qui se manifeste de façon régionalisée. Cet article a pour objectif de faire un bilan de ces nouvelles connaissances. La question d’un processus de diffusion culturelle de la construction et de l’usage des kites – et d’autres constructions qui peuvent éventuellement leur être apparentées – est discutée en mettant en relation les données spatiales acquises à distance et la connaissance issue des travaux de terrain qui ont permis, ces dernières années, des avancées significatives sur les questions d’âges et de fonctions. Abstract. For the past ten years the free online availability of high-resolution satellite images has led to the discovery of numerous “desert kites” or very large stone constructions dotting the desert margins of the Fertile Crescent. Their number and the extent of their geographic distribution suggest a phenomenon whose scope has been hitherto underestimated. We also have a better understanding of their morphological diversity, which is expressed in a regionalised manner. The aim of this article is to show the state of the art of desert kite research. The question of the cultural dissemination process of kite construction and use—and other potentially related constructions—is discussed by relating the remote sensing data to the knowledge resulting from fieldwork, where significant progress was made in recent years in issues concerning dating and functions.
... Desert kites are convergently shaped stone structures built by people ( Fig. 1), often of a vast size, known to occur between at least northern Arabia and western Central Asia (e.g. Maitland, 1927;Reese, 1929;Helms and Betts, 1987;Betts, 1981;Holzer et al., 2010;Nadel et al., 2010;Kempe and Al-Malabeh, 2013;Zeder et al., 2013;Abu-Azizeh and Tarawneh, 2015;Arav et al., 2015;Betts and Burke, 2015;Barge et al., 2015aBarge et al., , 2015bBarge et al., , 2018Brunner, 2015aBrunner, , 2015bKennedy et al., 2015;Malkinson et al., 2018;Hill et al., 2020). Around 6,000 of these structures have been reported (Barge et al., 2018;Malkinson et al., 2018). ...
... 1,2). In contrast, kites located in the Saudi Arabian lavafield of Harrat Khaybar are less characterised by distal enclosures and tend to feature various barbs that protrude from the converging walls (Kennedy et al., 2015). In the Negev/Sinai, kites tend to be small and isolated, characterised by walls that converge to a simple pit/enclosure (Holzer et al., 2010;Nadel et al., 2010). ...
... Further south, we identified 20 kites between Medina and Harrat Kishb. They differ from the above described forms and forms known from Harrat Khaybar (Kennedy et al., 2015). This Medina/Kishb group are morphologically varied, but are often characterized by a shallow angle to the guiding walls. ...
Full-text available
Over 6,000 ‘desert kites’—mass-kill stone hunting traps constructed at various times over the last 10,000 years—have been identified from northern Arabia to western central Asia. It has been proposed that kites had a significant impact on animal demography, leading to changes in ecology and human societies. While there has been considerable discussion regarding the function and chronology of kites, their spatial distribution is poorly understood. Here we report over 300 desert kites from several areas of the Arabian Peninsula, including ~ 500 km further south than previously suggested. Using satellite imagery, we studied their super-imposition revealing an extended chronology of kite-construction, including multiple phases of rebuilding in some cases and kites built relatively recently. This shows that desert kites were significantly more spatially and temporally widespread than previously believed, suggesting that they played a role in transforming Late Quaternary ecosystems and offering insights into the behaviour of human societies in challenging environments.
... ; Barge et al. 2015aBarge et al. , 2015bBetts and Burke 2015;Brunner 2015;Kennedy et al. 2015;Nadel et al. 2015;Abu Azizeh et al., this volume). ...
... In terms of types, the Negev and Sinai groups differ from those in adjacent regions. For example, long kites with several walls leading toward the enclosure are common in south-east Jordan (Abu-Azizeh and Tarawneh 2015) and a wide variety of shapes is common in Saudi Arabia (for example, Kennedy 2011; Kennedy et al. 2015), not to mention the huge chains and enclosures in Jordan and beyond (for example, Helms and Betts 1987;Kempe and Al-Malabeh 2013). Compared with these, the Negev and Sinai stand out as areas with a low density of kites, most of which are small and isolated. ...
The kites in the Negev and Sinai deserts1 (n = 57) are the most western of the large game traps in Asia in general, and the Middle East in particular (Plate 8.1). This area is distinctive in having almost exclusively only one relatively small kite type (Bar-Oz and Nadel 2013). The kites here can be divided into two geographical groups: a northern group in the Negev and north-east Sinai, and a southern group in south Sinai. The aims of this chapter are to a) describe the ecology of the region, b) present the general setting, architecture and dates of both kite groups, c) provide a general comparison between the two, and d) place them within the wider cultural and geographical context of the desert kite phenomenon.
... L. Kennedy, 2011: 3186). Constructed primarily from local basalt or sandstone, and ranging in size and form from small cairns and tower tombs through to monumental mustatil and "desert kites"; these structures have been dated as early as the eighth-seventh millennia BCE (Athanassas et al., 2015: 10; D. L. Kennedy, Banks, & Dalton, 2015;Thomas et al., 2021a). However, due to their prominence in the landscape, these structures have frequently suffered from disturbance and reuse, both ancient and modern. ...
... Although only two mustatils are known in the immediate vicinity of the oasis, a further 58 are located within a 20 km radius; this suggests that the oasis and its surrounds were home to a sizeable population during the Late Neolithic. This assertion is further supported by the identification of numerous "desert kites" in and around the oasis, with more than 900 identified across the Harrat Khaybar (D. L. Kennedy, Banks, & Dalton, 2015). Although the earliest construction date for the "desert kites" of Arabia remains unknown, studies across the Middle East indicate that they were erected from the Neolithic onwards (eighth-seventh millennia BCE; Betts and Burke, 2015;Crassard et al., 2015). ...
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The monumental stone structures of the Arabian Peninsula have been notoriously difficult to date. Due to their visibility in the landscape, they have suffered from extensive robbing and later reuse, which has compromised dating methodologies. In particular, our understanding of when the elaborate “pendants” (also known as “tailed cairns” or “tailed tower tombs”) of north-west Arabia were first constructed has remained incomplete. Recent work undertaken by the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Khaybar project provides some of the first radiometric dates for the pendants of Saudi Arabia. These structures can now be dated as far back as the third millennium BCE, revealing for the first time a hitherto undocumented, large-scale, monumental funerary landscape dating to the Early Bronze Age. These radiocarbon dates bring the advent of the pendant building tradition in line with funerary developments across the wider Arabian Peninsula, and may mark a profound reconfiguring of the wider Harrat Khaybar landscape during the third millennium BCE.
... In the south of Harrat al-Shaam, star-shaped kites with long antennae (cluster 2/0, Betts and Burke 2015;Kempe and Al-Malabeh 2010) are spread over a large and relatively homogeneous area and their northern extension overlaps with other groups in the central zone. In the far south, in western central Arabia, the kites of Harrat Khaybar (Kennedy et al. 2015) consist of two groups (clusters 5/1 and 7/1/4), which are essentially distinguished by the size of their kites (Barge et al. 2020). ...
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Desert kites are very large archaeological constructions discovered in large numbers during the last decade thanks to their identification on satellite images. The geographical area where they are present is considerable, from the Aralo-Caspian zone to central-western Arabia. Always present, several elements make up the layout of the kites, which makes them singular constructions and identifies them. However, variations in shape or size are observed throughout their extension area. Using qualitative and quantitative variables obtained by observing a sample of kites (10% of the total identified) on high-resolution satellite images, we propose a combination of exploratory statistical analysis, unsupervised machine learning approaches (PCA, clustering and association rules) and spatial analysis (neighbourhood) to establish a clustering of kites based on their morphological descriptions. This work allows to identify groups of kites sharing similar features, each of which is relatively circumscribed in geographic space. This regionalisation of morphologically homogeneous groups of kites could explain the temporality of the constructions while, despite recent fieldwork, dating is still rare.
... Here, we present a much more complete inventory. Many of these new discoveries are open kites, and their numbers have increased considerably, especially in basaltic plateau areas (harrat is the Arabic word to describe these lava fields; Kennedy et al. 2015), such as in Harrat Nawasif, Harrat Kishb and Harrat Rahat. New open kites have also been identified in Harrat Khaybar and Al-Hait region, albeit in a more limited way. ...
New desert kites have been discovered over the past two years during the observation of satellite images of north-western Arabia. Great numbers of these large archaeological traps were known prior to this from the Aralo-Caspian zone to the Arabian Peninsula. Many of these recent discoveries are constructions without the same closed enclosures as kites, but which are nonetheless clearly related to kites as, like them, they comprise pit-traps. The study of all these ‘open kites’, based on the observation of satellite images, focused on the characterisation of their morphology, topographical location and comparisons of their geographical distribution with that of kites in the region. The analysis of these data was confirmed by a field study in Khaybar, Saudi Arabia, of a sample of open kites in the spring of 2021, during which elements of relative chronology were observed. Open kites are more rudimentary and less systematically organised than kites and represent a ‘mega-trap’ form that pre-dates the desert kites. Groups of kites were identified on the basis of morphological resemblances, using two different methods, resulting in the overall mapping of mega-traps in the southern part of the kite distribution range. These localised morphological variations probably reflect the evolution of the hunting technique using these traps. They provide new information, which, combined with chronological data from excavations, aims to record the spread of the kite phenomenon.
... From this perspective, the case of Harrat al-Shaam is exemplary, where the almost exclusive opening of kites towards the east was underlined very early on (Helms & Betts, 1987). The same constancy is observed in the north of the Ustyurt Plateau, where constructions are oriented towards the north (Barge et al., 2016a), whereas they are generally west-facing in the centre-west of Saudi Arabia in the Harrat Khaybar (Kennedy et al., 2015), or in Central Syria near Tell al-Rawda (Barge & Moulin, 2008). For kites in southern Syria, we observe a dual east-southeast and west-northwest distribution (Échallier & Braemer, 1995), whereas orientations seem to be more varied in the region of Palmyra (Morandi Bonacossi, 2014), where the relief is more marked. ...
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For almost a century there has been debate on the functional interpretation of desert kites. These archaeological structures have been interpreted as constructions for animal hunting or domestication purposes, sometimes for both, but with little conclusive evidence. Here, we present new evidence from a large-scale research programme. This unprecedented programme of archaeological excavations and geomatics explorations shows the unequivocal and probably exclusive function of kites as hunting traps. Considering their gigantic size, as well as the signifcant energy and organization required to build them, these types of traps are called mega-traps. Our research is based on fve diferent feld studies in Armenia, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia, as well as on satellite imagery interpretation across the global distribution area of kites throughout the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. This hunting interpretation raises questions about the transformation of the landscape by human groups and the consequent anthropogenic impacts on local ecological equilibrium during different periods of the Holocene. Finally, the role of trapping in the hunting strategies of prehistoric, protohistoric and historic human groups is addressed.
... Other subsistence-related motivations for accessing these hinterlands could have ranged from collecting wild plant resources (e.g. firewood) to hunting, including the use of kite animal traps common in surrounding areas (Kennedy et al., 2015; for stratigraphic evidence that kite construction spanned pendant timeframes see Groucutt and Carleton, 2021). However, such movement cannot account for evidence of broaderscale avenue linkages between many water sources. ...
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The desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula and Levant are criss-crossed by innumerable pathways. Across large areas of north-west Arabia, many of these pathways are flanked by stone monuments, the vast majority of which are ancient tombs. Recent radiometric dating indicates that the most abundant of these monuments, elaborate and morphologically diverse ‘pendant’ structures, were constructed during the mid-to-late third millennium BCE. Thousands of kilometres of these composite path and monument features, ‘funerary avenues’, can be traced across the landscape, especially around and between major perennial water sources. By evidencing routes of human movement during this period, these features provide an emerging source for reconstructing important aspects of ancient mobility and social and economic connectivity. They also provide significant new evidence for human/environment interactions and subsistence strategies during the later Middle Holocene of north-west Arabia, and suggest the parallel existence of mobile pastoralist lifeways and more permanent, oasis-centred settlement. This paper draws upon the results of recent excavations and intensive remote sensing, aerial and ground surveys in Saudi Arabia to present the first detailed examination of these features and the vast cultural landscape that they constitute.
... Of particular interest for earlier periods are forms known as desert kites and, as focussed on in this paper, mustatils which have previously been described as 'gates' (Kennedy, 2017). Desert kites are generally seen as mass-kill hunting traps, and although common in northern Arabia, no detailed work has yet been conducted on them in the peninsula, so their chronology remains unclear (Crassard et al., 2015;Kennedy et al., 2015). Further north, in Jordan, as discussed below, a single desert kite was recently dated to an estimated ca. 8000 BC (Al Khasawneh et al., 2019), indicating the considerable antiquity of large-scale stone structures. ...
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Between 10 and six thousand years ago the Arabian Peninsula saw the most recent of the ‘Green Arabia’ periods, when increased rainfall transformed this generally arid region. The transition to the Neolithic in Arabia occurred during this period of climatic amelioration. Various forms of stone structures are abundant in northern Arabia, and it has been speculated that some of these dated to the Neolithic, but there has been little research on their character and chronology. Here we report a study of 104 ‘mustatil’ stone structures from the southern margins of the Nefud Desert in northern Arabia. We provide the first chronometric age estimate for this type of structure – a radiocarbon date of ca. 5000 BC – and describe their landscape positions, architecture and associated material culture and faunal remains. The structure we have dated is the oldest large-scale stone structure known from the Arabian Peninsula. The mustatil phenomenon represents a remarkable development of monumental architecture, as hundreds of these structures were built in northwest Arabia. This ‘monumental landscape’ represents one of the earliest large-scale forms of monumental stone structure construction anywhere in the world. Further research is needed to understand the function of these structures, but we hypothesise that they were related to rituals in the context of the adoption of pastoralism and resulting territoriality in the challenging environments of northern Arabia.
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Northwestern Arabia is marked by thousands of prehistoric stone structures. Of these, the monumental, rectilinear type known as mustatils has received only limited attention. Recent fieldwork in AlUla and Khaybar Counties, Saudi Arabia, demonstrates that these monuments are architecturally more complex than previously supposed, featuring chambers, entranceways and orthostats. These structures can now be interpreted as ritual installations dating back to the late sixth millennium BC, with recent excavations revealing the earliest evidence for a cattle cult in the Arabian Peninsula. As such, mustatils are amongst the earliest stone monuments in Arabia and globally one of the oldest monumental building traditions yet identified.
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Although kite structures are known from several areas of the southern Levant and the Near East (e.g. Sinai, Negev, Syria, Saudi Arabia), their distribution in Jordan was thought to be restricted to the north-eastern basalt harra landscape. From the point of view of arid peripheries settlement dynamics, the gap left in southern and south-eastern Jordan was puzzling in view of the clear continuity in human occupation evidenced by recently intensifying research in this region. This paper presents the first occurrences of kites identified in this hamada landscape in the framework of the joint French-Jordanian South Eastern Badia Archaeological Project (SEBAP). Despite obvious similarities with the examples known from the harra, the two distinct sets of kites uncovered show clear local specificities in their layout and use of topography, which will be emphasised through the description of survey and excavation results. The evidence clearly supports a function of hunting structures and some clues regarding dating, although still preliminary, are expressed as well. Some lines of investigation to grasp the diversity and regionalism of the kite phenomenon are also explored, as different kite-building traditions seem to emerge from the growing body of evidence available.
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Archaeological investigations of ‘desert kites’ in south Israel show them to have been animal traps of considerable sophistication and capacity, constructed in the Early Bronze Age or earlier. Extensive stone-wall arms gather in gazelles from their habitual trails and canalise them into a sunken enclosure, cunningly hidden from view of the galloping herd until it was too late…
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This paper argues that the wide geographical distribution of desert kites, which are huge archaeological structures of stone visible from satellite images, must be more broadly acknowledged as a momentous factor in the study of their variability and function. This is important so that researchers can more accurately understand and interpret their impact on biodiversity, landscapes and subsistence patterns. The first results and perspectives of the Globalkites research project are discussed and presented. Often considered as hunting traps, the kites could have also been used for animal husbandry. In a broader archaeological context, where kites seem to have been oper-ating from the Neolithic to recent historical times, we propose an interdisciplinary approach at the crossroads of anthropology (archaeology and ethnology), geomatics and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), geostatistics, mathematics and computer-ized data processing and geoarchaeological and bioarchaeological sciences (isotope studies, paleoclimatology, archaeozoology…). The principal aims of the project are to clearly articulate the variability of the structures and their relationship with the function and chronology of the kites. It is also crucial to discuss the wide distribution of these structures across the Middle East and Central Asia as a global phenomenon and the ideas that explain the dispersal and movements of people and/or traditions must be addressed.
Aerial photography is so fundamental an instrument of modern archaeology that we often take it for granted. But its methods are surprisingly specific and its most important experimental theatre was probably the territory of the Levant - and especially the rocky terrain of Jordan. The author, a prominent aerial archaeologist of our own day, takes time off to review the achievements of the pioneers, serving officers who established routes over the desert to deliver mail between Egypt and Iraq. The fabulous ancient landscape they discovered could only be appreciated through the lowlevel window provided by these slow-moving rickety machines and their intrepid pilots. In these days of jet travel, the precious basalt landscape is in danger of slipping off the agenda again - both for researchers and conservers.
Exercise 5-1: Navigating Google Earth's Interface, and the Planet Exercise 5-2: Create a Polygon and Edit Its Properties Through Google Earth's Form Menus Exercise 5-3: Edit the Gardens Polygon Using KML
In her critique of our 2013 article in Quaternary International ( Zeder et al., 2013), Alison Betts defends the Neolithic temporal assignment of kite structures in the Harra and Hammad regions of eastern Jordan calling our attention to the final report on the survey and excavation project in this region ( Betts, 1998). A review of this work, however, finds that this assignment remains open to question on several grounds. Although it is possible that the construction and use of these structures in this region may date back to the Neolithic, the case for this determination is far from incontrovertible, and there are alternative plausible arguments that can be made for a much more recent temporal placement. The open nature of the question of the dating of these structures does not, as Betts says in her critique, undermine the major substantive conclusions of our paper. Moreover, the unresolved temporal placement of these enigmatic structures speaks to the difficulty of dating kites, and not to the competency of this pioneering research. The Betts study stands as a landmark that has inspired all subsequent work on the function and dating of these structures across the Levant and beyond.