Archaeologists Discover Picnic And Feasting Site In Israel That Dates Back Half A Million Years

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While working on the development of a new neighborhood in central Israel, archaeologists stumbled upon the ancient remnants of a picnic and feasting site dating back to approximately half a million years ago.

Deep beneath the remains of what was once a river bed, researchers discovered a large collection of intricately designed flint tools which showed just how advanced this civilization was.

Since the initial discovery in November 2016 of this archaeological site located near Jaljulia, an enormous amount of artifacts have been recovered from the scene and it is estimated that there are now hundreds of thousands of items that are associated with the group of people who once lived in this area.

Considering the immense history of this region, it is perhaps not surprising that before any new construction can begin archaeologists are first called in to examine the area before any building begins, according to Haaretz.

Lena Brailovsky, who works for the Israel Antiquities Authority, explained that even though the usual routine is to dig a meter or two before leaving most sites, when archaeologists are examining areas close to river beds like this one they tend to scrutinize the area much more intensely.

“Usually in these surveys, you dig down a meter or two and go home. But we knew that in open fields that are close to a river, we could expect to find prehistoric sites. We knew there was something here and we didn’t give up.”

It wasn’t until after digging down more than 5 meters that archaeologists first discovered the flint tools and animal remains that had been quietly lying in wait for half a million years to be discovered.

After this initial find, researchers from the IAA and Tel Aviv University worked as hard and as fast as they possibly could to unravel the mystery of this feasting spot before permission was given to build upon the site.

As archaeologist Ran Barkai elaborated, this location situated so close to the banks of a river would have been the ideal location for the different communities that once resided there.

“It was a perfect spot for humans. The water brought flint nodules from the hills, which were used to make tools on the spot, and it attracted animals, which were hunted and butchered here. They had everything that prehistoric people needed.”

Given the flourishing locale of the area, Barkai hypothesized that there were probably quite a lot of other areas near the Qana river which may have similar remnants of past civilizations, with different groups of people returning to the same area for their feasts and celebrations.

“Over time, the water changed course and the people moved with it. That’s why there are so many different sites. It was like a prehistoric picnic spot, which people would return to over and over again.”

Featured image credit: Ariel SchalitAP Images

Based on research of the various artifacts discovered at this site, archaeologists believe that those occupying the region were most likely members of the Homo erectus species. The Homo erectus is purported to be the first hominid to have taken leave of Africa 1.8 million years ago after which they began their slow migration toward Eurasia.

At the moment, further testing is being conducted on the different layers of sediment around Jaljulia to verify these Homo erectus claims.

A large amount of the artifacts that have been uncovered have been bifacial handaxes, a tool that Ran Barkai has half-jokingly referred to as being the “Swiss army knife of the Paleolithic.” However, quite a few flint tools were also found, and these were created using something known as the Levallois technique, a highly advanced technique which would have required great skill, as Barkai asserted.

“It requires a conceptual leap that allows you to envision the desired tool in the flint core before you even start shaping it. There is a big discussion on the Levallois technique, when it was invented and whether there is a connection between physical evolution and technological evolution.”

In December this archaeological site was officially closed to allow new construction to begin, but archaeologists in Israel will continue to study the artifacts discovered at this old picnic site which dates back half a million years to determine whether it was in fact the Homo erectus species who would have once lived and feasted here.