Archaeologists believe they’ve found a 5,000-year-old leopard trap in Israel’s Negev desert, providing evidence of a simple yet effective defense system used by shepherds thousands of years ago.
A 1,600-year-old trap was also discovered but was at first believed to be only a few hundred years old, Live Science reports citing a study published in the September issue of the journal Antiquity.
"The most exciting thing is the antiquity of these carnivore traps, which is totally unexpected," says Naomi Porat, a geochronologist (studies the age of rocks and fossils) with the Geological Survey of Israel who co-authored the report.
Archaeologists believe the traps were used to capture not only leopards but other predators including foxes, wolves, hyenas, and caracals - long-eared cats - reports Live Science.
According to Porat, some 50 such traps can be found in the Negev Desert, but they don’t easily catch the eye.
"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," she told LiveScience.
The mechanism worked much like a simple animal trap that is used today. A chunk of meat would likely have been tied to a rope, setting the bait. Then, Porat says, "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."
Live Science reports:
Many researchers had assumed the traps were fairly modern, but Porat's colleagues were curious about their provenance and asked her to analyze the traps.
Porat used a technique called optical dating to measure the amount of radiation that had been absorbed from the environment in two of the leopard traps. By comparing that with background levels of radiation in the area, which have changed very little over the millennia, the team could determine when the traps were created.
Porat explains that sheep and goat herders roaming the area thousands of years ago most likely used the traps to protect their flocks from carnivores. They are nearly identical to traps used by Bedouins over the last century, says the report.
"This is part of their defense system against the elements, which in this case is leopards and other carnivores," Porat said.
In 2007, an Israeli man single-handedly wrestled a leopard and pinned it to the ground after it somehow got into his bedroom and tried to devour his cat on Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. Experts believe that there are fewer than a dozen wild leopards living in Israel.
Samson slayed another kind of ferocious cat with his bare hands, as told in the book of Judges. If the dating of the new archaeological discovery is correct, Samson’s famous battle would have occurred thousands of years after the placing of the first leopard traps.
(H/T: Times of Israel)