194 — Trapping or tethering stones (TS): A multifunctional device in the Pastoral Neolithic of the Sahara

Gallinaro & di Lernia (10.1371/journal.pone.0191765)

Read on 02 March 2018
#archaeology  #anthropology  #paleoanthropology  #neolithic  #stone  #rock  #desert  #sand  #domestication  #hunting  #symbolism  #cattle 

“Trapping stones,” or “tethering stones,” are a type of peculiar artifact found commonly in desert environments dating from 6000–3000 BC. It’s unclear what their actual everyday use was, but according to 19th century Arabic oral legend, the mythical Ben Barour dragged these stones behind caravans to mark the primary transit “highways” of the Sahara.

In the modern day, similar stones are used to control grazing animals: By tying the stone to one leg of the animal it’s possible to let the herd graze freely without worrying about straying.

The researchers look to a very large database of 837 TS incidence, size, weight, and shape to learn more about the nature of these artifacts.

The weight of the stones does not vary with material or find-location, suggesting that they are calibrated instead to the strength of the tethered animals.

The stones are also found in carved rock art scenes (even giraffes and ostriches are shown with stones around their legs!) and ceremonially slaughtered cattle were commonly buried with the stones in later periods. The authors hypothesize that the stones were first used for hunting; then were later used for domesticating or herding already-domesticated animals;and then were finally used symbolically or ritually.