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7 Nov, 2014 21:22

Mystery circles in hi-res: New aerial images help to unravel secrets of ancient MidEast structures

Mystery circles in hi-res: New aerial images help to unravel secrets of ancient MidEast structures

Ten identical stone circles so huge they cannot be seen from the ground have been captured in perfect detail by archeologists flying over Jordan. The purpose of the structures, built thousands of years ago, has stumped academics.

“These are not natural things. Occasionally we have found artifacts nearby…. They can’t just be a coincidence. There’s some purpose behind it. But we can’t figure out what it is,” said an email to the media by David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, who has led a research project that has extensively photographed ancient Levant sites from the air since 1997.


"There seems to be some overarching cultural continuum in this area in which people felt there was a need to build structures that were circular."

The circles are known by the local Bedouin as “the work of old men,” and were first spotted from above by British RAF pilots in the 1920s, before being neglected, as wars broke out and Britain lost its Empire.

Kennedy, who published a paper on the circles last year, estimates that they are at least pre-Roman, and “could even be pre-historic.” Clearer data cannot be obtained until the structures are excavated, however.

The remains of the circles are hard to spot from the ground (Photo: APAAME)

The circles appear to be of the same 400-meter diameter, “too similar to be an accident” according to Kennedy. He believes technically they would not have been difficult to build, perhaps requiring a man to tie down a long rope and then walk around in a circle to set down the markings for the future grooves.

But there had to be a reason for doing the extra work.

"In the case of those circles that are near-precise circles, it would have required at least one person as architect," wrote Kennedy.

Kennedy has rebuffed the suggestion that the circles are remains of houses or burial sites.

According to scientists from Durham University, who found and studied an identical circle several hundred miles away in Homs, Syria, before it was destroyed by the war, the circles may have played a symbolic role.

Rituals are central reasons for the circles, the researchers found in their 2012 paper – to commemorate the dead, as a display of social status, and even a simple celebration of ancient humans’ power to control and alter the environment around them.

Most fascinatingly, the circles are just one type of pattern found in the area, with kites, pendants and rectangles. Some may have served a function, such as funneling animals during hunts, while others appear ritualistic, and even impractical.

"In Jordan alone we've got stone-built structures that are far more numerous than the Nazca Lines [the world-famous giant grooves of animals and objects in Peru] far more extensive in the area that they cover, and far older," wrote Kennedy.

“You can't not be fascinated by these things. The question is – what was the purpose? I can’t even pretend to know what the answers are.”