LiveScience wrote earlier this week that archaeologists have discovered a 5000-year-old-leopard trap in the Negev Desert, a region in Israel. The study is to be published in the British archaeology journal Antiquity.
Initially believed to be made earlier due to the trap’s proximity to more recent sites, the technology used is almost identical to the kind of traps used by Bedouin herders and nomads. The traps were found near ancient animal enclosures believed to hold the first sheep and goats herded by Bedouins. The traps would be placed to ward off predators such as leopards, wolves, foxes, hyenas, and caracals.
Naomi Porat, a co-author of the study and a geochronologist with the Geological Survey of Israel, said of the find that “The most exciting thing is the antiquity of these carnivore traps, which is totally unexpected.”
The traps shed new light on humanity’s technological progress. Right around the time the Bedouin nomads would have first begun domesticating animals, they also would have been creating traps to lure carnivores away from their livestock.
Recognizing an ancient predator trap is not easy. Scattered throughout the Negev Desert, they are deliberately constructed to blend into 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 said to LiveScience.
The trap’s design was rather ingenious: a piece of meat was placed inside attached to a rope, which was creatively fastened to a stone slab. Porat describes the function: “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.”
Because a similar trap nearby was dated to about 1600 years ago, researchers initially assumed the ancient trap was just another modern innovation. The similarity in design tells researchers that the same technology was used for thousands of years.
The traps’ ages were determined by a process called optical dating, which measured the radiation that the traps absorbed from their environment. Those radiation levels are compared to the background radiation in the area, and because the background radiation endures relatively no change over the last thousand years, an age could then be pinpointed.
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