Archaeologists have discovered a 9,000-year-old ritual shrine deep in the Jordanian desert.
The find is believed to be the oldest known large man-made structure in the world.
The ritual complex was found in a Neolithic encampment near large structures called “desert kites” or mass traps.
The Stone Age sanctuary site that was discovered features carved stone figures, an altar and a miniature model of a large-scale hunting trap.
Wael Abu-Azziza, Jordanian archaeologist and co-director of the project, said: “The site is unique, firstly because of its state of conservation.
“It’s 9,000 years old and everything was almost intact.”
Mass traps are believed to have been used to encircle wild gazelles for slaughter thousands of years ago.
Similar structures of two or more stone walls, some of which are several kilometers long, have been found in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Kazakhstan.
Research teams also found campsites with circular dwellings and a large number of gazelle bones.
The site was discovered inside a larger campsite by a French-Jordanian team called the Southeast Badia Archaeological Project (SEBA) last October.
A statement from Project SEBA said: “The desert kites near Jibal al-Khashabiyeh in Jordan are the first large-scale man-made structures in the world known to date.”
The Franco-Jordanian researchers added that the sanctuary “sheds a whole new light on the symbolism, the artistic expression as well as the spiritual culture of these hitherto unknown Neolithic populations”.
The decade-old research project aims to study “early nomadic pastoral societies as well as the evolution of specialized subsistence strategies”.
The French Ambassador to Jordan, Véronique Vouland-Aneini, hailed the “result both for the scientific world and for Jordan”.
She said: “It provides us with invaluable testimony to historical life in the Middle East, its traditions and rituals.”
The team included archaeologists from Jordan’s Al Hussein Bin Talal University and the French Institute of the Near East.
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