5,000-Year-Old Leopard Trap Discovered in Israel
Scattered throughout the Negev Desert in the southern part of Israel are around 50 small constructions that look very much like piles of stones but which are in fact animal traps. Researchers had assumed they were fairly modern constructions, however an analysis on the traps surprised scientists when results came back showing that at least one of the traps is 5,000 years old.
Naomi Porat, a geochronologist with the Geological Survey of Israel, used a technique called optical dating to measure the amount of radiation that had been absorbed from the environment in two of the traps. By comparing that with background levels of radiation in the area, which have changed very little over the millennia, she and her team could determine when the traps were created.
One of the traps was dated at 5,000 years old, while the other was dated at 1,600 years old. The constructions are also remarkably similar to traps that have been used by desert-dwelling Bedouins in the area in the last century, showing that the same technology has been used for thousands of years.
Five thousand years ago, the people living in the region had just started domesticating sheep and goats so it seems likely that they developed the traps to protect their livestock from predators. The leopard was particularly prevalent during this era and is likely to have been their main target, though the trap could have also been used to catch foxes, wolves, hyenas and wild cats.
"This is part of their defence system against the elements, which in this case is leopards and other carnivores," said Porat.
To set the traps, people would have attached a piece of meat at the end of a rope to lure the predator. When the animal took the bait, a rope attached to the meat would pull on a slab door which would trap the animal inside the stone box.
Sadly, the leopard is now considered extinct in Negev due to hunting and habitat destruction.