In the deserts of the Middle East are huge ancient stone circles. Their purpose is more mysterious than the superficially similar objects in northern Europe, but archaeologist David Kennedy hopes images taken from the sky will solve the puzzle.
From the ground, the circles don't have the impressive height of Stonehenge. However, with diameters of up to 400 meters (1,312 feet), they would have required perhaps a hundred worker days to build, as well as some planning.
David Kennedy/APAAME. The details of the shapes can often only be recognized from the air.
Yet many lack the symmetry that might be expected of something constructed for religious or astronomical purposes.
Kennedy, a professor at the University of Western Australia, has turned to Google Earth to help identify these circles, as well as to get better images in the hope of understanding them. “Once you get out in the desert areas, where you wouldn't expect to find much at all; they are absolutely littered with archaeological sites," he said. Finding them in areas that are largely untraveled is not so easy, however.
Airplanes allow the locating of circles that might otherwise have been missed. “As soon you go up a few hundred feet, it all comes into focus and you can see the shape of what you have been looking at,” Kennedy says. However, aerial archeology outside of Jordan is banned or involves venturing into war zones. Google Earth has allowed Kennedy to identify ancient structures in Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He recorded the discoveries at the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archeology in the Middle East (APAAME) and reported them in the journal Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie.
David Kennedy/APAAME. After thousands of years some circles remain astonishingly well preserved.
The number and spread of these constructions has made the challenge of explaining them more important. Whatever civilization built them must have been substantial and widespread. However, aside from knowing that they are at least 2,000 years old, we have no idea how ancient these objects are, let alone who made them. They may predate writing.
The fact that some circles have been destroyed in the last few decades after surviving for thousands of years gives the quest urgency.
Kennedy's findings bring the number of ruins in the deserts of Jordan and its neighbors into the thousands, but he is particularly puzzled by the 11 “Big Circles” he has photographed.
The walls of these are too low to have been useful for keeping livestock, he told Live Science. Some appear to have involved an effort to make them circular, perhaps by tying a rope to a post and marking out a boundary. Others, however, show less planning, making their purpose even more puzzling.
David Kennedy/APAAME From ground level, many circles are barely visible.
One, now destroyed circle near Homs in Syria, provided a view of the basin that may, in a different climate, have been filled with crops. However, why such a wide circle was needed to survey the area is unclear, since such a low circle would have been useless for defense.
H/T Huffington Post
David Kennedy/APAAME. The height of some circles can only be seen with excavation.