5,000-year-old leopard trap discovered in Israel


Share post:

Archaeologists have unearthed a 5,000-year-old leopard trap in the Negev Desert in Israel. The trap, which was found along with a 1,600-year-old trap, was originally thought to be just a few hundred years old, and is nearly identical to traps that have been used by desert-dwelling Bedouins in the area in the last century.

5,000-year-old leopard trap discovered in Israel
The trap is designed to lure leopards in through the front with some bait, before
slamming shut behind it [Credit: Naomi Porat]

“The most exciting thing is the antiquity of these carnivore traps, which is totally unexpected,” said study co-author Naomi Porat, a geochronologist with the Geological Survey of Israel.  

The findings, described in the September issue of the journal Antiquity, suggest this technology has been used to lure carnivores since people first domesticated sheep and goats in the region.

Ancient traps

At least 50 of the simple traps are scattered throughout the Negev Desert in the southern part of Israel. But they don’t stand out in the landscape.

“They look like a pile of stones, like a cairn, and you need a good eye and also some digging around to realize what it is,” Porat told LiveScience.

To set the traps, people would have attached a tasty piece of meat at the end of a rope to lure the leopards or other carnivores. 

“When the carnivore pulls at the bait the rope is attached to a slab door and it just closes, so the animal is trapped inside this carnivore box trap,” Porat said, referring to a door made from a slab-shaped rock.

5,000-year-old leopard trap discovered in Israel
The trap, seen here from behind, was found in the Negev
desert in Israel [Credit: Naomi Porat]

Many researchers had assumed the traps were fairly modern, but Porat’s colleagues were curious about their provenance and asked her to analyze the traps.

Porat used a technique called optical dating to measure the amount of radiation that had been absorbed from the environment in two of the leopard traps. By comparing that with background levels of radiation in the area, which have changed very little over the millennia, the team could determine when the traps were created.

One of the traps was about 5,000 years old, while the other was 1,600 years old. That suggests this same technology was used for thousands of years. The traps were likely used to lure leopards, but also other predators, such as foxes, wolves, hyenas and caracals, long-eared cats that are common throughout the Middle East.

The traps are near ancient enclosures used by the first sheep and goat herders around 6,000 years ago, Porat said. The herders probably used them to keep their flocks safe from hungry competitors.

From the earliest times, “this is part of their defense system against the elements, which in this case is leopards and other carnivores.”

Nowadays, leopards are no longer a menace: Hunting and habitat loss destroyed their populations and the last one was spotted in the region about 10 years ago, making the wild cats extinct in Negev and virtually extinct in Jordan, Porat said.

Author: Tia Ghose | Source: LiveScience [September 24, 2013]



Related articles

Scientists have discovered an ancient lake bed deep beneath the Greenland ice

Scientists have detected what they say are the sediments of a huge ancient lake bed sealed more than...

Mobile archaeology research lab acquired by Cyprus

Cyprus has acquired STARLab, a self-contained, mobile laboratory for archaeological analysis and investigation, after a Memorandum of Cooperation...

Fossil ancestor shows sharks have a bony past

Most people know that sharks have a distinctive, all-cartilage skeleton, but now a fossil from Western Australia has...

Arrests in Greek antiquities smuggling ring

Greek police Sunday said they had arrested 44 people and recovered thousands of ancient coins after busting a...

Iraq's National Museum put online by Google

Its collections have still not recovered from wartime looting, and security remains a big concern in light of...

Sasanian loom discovered in Northern Iraq

A team of Frankfurt-based archaeologists has returned from the Iraqi-Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah with new findings. The discovery...

Ancient theatre of Assos set for return

Antalya’s famous Aspendos Theatre may soon have some competition from the north Aegean, as cultural authorities in Çanakkale...

New explanation for Alexander the Great’s death

It may have happened more than 2,300 years ago, but the mystery of Alexander the Great's death could...