5,000-year-old leopard trap discovered in Negev
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5,000-year-old leopard trap discovered in Negev

New study suggests ancient enclosure technology was used by the first regional sheep and goat herders around 6,000 years ago

A leopard at the Hannover Zoo in Germany. (Photo credit: Ralf Schmode/Wikimedia)
A leopard at the Hannover Zoo in Germany. (Photo credit: Ralf Schmode/Wikimedia)

Archaelogists working in the Negev desert have uncovered a 5,000-year-old leopard trap alongside one that is estimated to be 1,600 years old.

According to a report in Live Science this week based on a study published in the September issue of the journal Antiquity, the traps were found to be similar to those used by Bedouins in the area in the last century.

“The most exciting thing is the antiquity of these carnivore traps, which is totally unexpected,” said Naomi Porat, a geochronologist (a scientist who determines the age of rocks, fossils and such) with the Geological Survey of Israel, who is a co-author of the study.

The findings suggested that this technology was used to trap carnivores since sheep and goats were first domesticated in the region about 6,000 years ago.

A landscape view of the Negev desert. (Photo credit: Shay Levy/ Flash90)
A landscape view of the Negev desert. (Photo credit: Shay Levy/ Flash90)

Several dozen traps mark the landscape of the desert but “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,” said Porat.

The traps are believed to have lured mainly leopards, but also other animals such as wolves, foxes and long-eared felines common in the Mideast, by attaching a piece of meat to the end of a rope.

“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,” Porat described.

She suggested they were probably used by herders to keep their flocks safe from predators.

Nowadays, leopards are probably extirpated from the Ein Gedi area, but several individuals persist in the Negev. In 2007, after six leopards were spotted near Kibbutz Sde Boker, a man clad only in his underwear pinned down a leopard that had jumped into his house, holding the predator for 20 minutes until authorities arrived.

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