Israeli Archaeologists Unearth 300,000-Year-Old Pebbles That Prehistoric Hominins Collected For Their Beauty

Archaeologists have discovered that prehistoric hominins collected 17 beautiful pebbles 300,000 years ago and brought them back to Qesem Cave in Israel to beautify their surroundings.

Bell cave at Tel Maresha. Geological an historical National park, Israel.
Protasov AN / Shutterstock

Archaeologists have discovered that prehistoric hominins collected 17 beautiful pebbles 300,000 years ago and brought them back to Qesem Cave in Israel to beautify their surroundings.

Hidden at the site of Qesem in a cave in Israel, archaeologists have discovered 17 pretty pebbles which date back 300,000 years that prehistoric hominins once collected for their beauty and striking good looks.

As Haaretz reported, some of the pebbles in the Israeli cave that were found are oval-shaped and white, while others are a bold red. These pebbles have captivated archaeologists for close to a decade as their purpose was not known up until now.

Archaeologists have now concluded that the pebbles that prehistoric hominins collected and placed in Qesem Cave were originally picked up and taken home simply because they looked so very beautiful.

Ella Assaf, a Ph.D candidate at Tel Aviv University and the author of the new study on the ancient pebbles that were collected, explained that archaeologists noticed the collection of 17 pebbles as soon as they stepped inside the cave, and that it only makes sense that the hominins who first discovered them would have noticed them immediately, too, and in their case brought them back to their cave, perhaps to beautify their surroundings.

“When we were digging through the sediments of the cave these stones immediately caught our attention, and surely something similar happened back then. There is something very special about them because of their small size, the variety of color, and their round or symmetrical shape.”

Qesem Cave in Israel, where the treasure trove of 300,000-year-old pebbles was found, was first discovered very close to Tel Aviv in the year 2000. At this site, archaeologists have also uncovered numerous animals bones, flint tools, and other ancient artifacts that prehistoric hominins left behind from between 420,000 and 200,000 years ago.

The 17 pebbles that were found at the site, which were originally unearthed between 2009 and 2016, showed no signs of having been used to create tools with, and further investigation through microscopic analysis did not yield any residue on these pebbles which might have suggested they were used to crush soft materials with if residue had been found.

After years of trying to discover what these shiny pebbles had been used for, Assaf finally reached the conclusion that they had been collected purely for aesthetic reasons.

“A sense of aesthetics is part us from the dawn of our history, it’s a very basic human trait. Today, when I take a walk in nature with my children and some special stone catches their eye, they will hold it up and say ‘Mommy, look what I found’ – there is no reason to believe this was not the case with prehistoric humans.”

It is still unclear who once occupied Qesem Cave as anthropologists have found very few teeth here, but the ones they have found look very much like teeth from both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, which demonstrates that they were still not anatomically modern at this point.

Yet even if they weren’t, Assaf points to the pebbles that were found as an indication that these ancient people had their own cultural and aesthetic tastes, even if we don’t currently understand them now.

“We shouldn’t assume that their lives were just about hunting, eating and making tools: they had a rich cultural life, of which we know almost nothing. While we don’t know the specific significance of these finds, they certainly reflect part of this cultural world.”

The new study which documents the dazzling pebbles that were found in Qesem Cave in Israel has been published in the Journal of Lithic Studies.