Stone Age Tour

Holy Land Unearthed

On Our Stone Age tour, we will start with Qesem Cave which is literally a time capsule to the distant past! In the year 2000, during salvage excavations near Tel Aviv, Qesem Cave was discovered. The cave is a time capsule to the distant past. Luckily it got preserved for hundreds of thousands of years without being touched. Since its discovery, it did not stop turning up amazing finds for the archaeologists that are digging there. Today without a doubt it’s one of the most important prehistoric caves in the world. 

The site is a little more than 400,000 years old, and the preservation state of the cave is extraordinary. Also, it seems that the ones that were populating the cave so long ago were revolutionists; since whatever they did was not found anywhere else in the world. Everything that did is exactly the opposite of what we knew about the human race till then. For example, their hunting methods, technologies that they used for their tools, and the use of fire. 

To elaborate a bit more, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University found knives from flintstone in the excavations. The blades they made from flintstone are officially the oldest ever found in the world. In Europe, the earliest blades from flintstone that were found are dated about 30,000 years ago. So it seems what was found in Qesem Cave predates the rest of the world by hundreds of thousands of years.  

Stone Age Tour: The Earliest BBQ in the World

One of the most fascinating things about this cave is that it is one of the earliest sites for the usage of fire for roasting meat. Till then man probably ate raw meat and did not cook the food since he did not yet gain control over fire. But why do things change here? The answer might be related to elephants! The Home Erectus used to eat mostly elephants. Such a huge animal can supply an infinite amount of calories. But when the Homo Erectus reached an area that there were no elephants. Either for being hunted down or simply they were not populating that area. so the cave dwellers had to adjust.   

One of the interesting finds was a 300,000-year-old hearth in a central part of the cave. Moreover, layers of ash were discovered in a pit.  And burnet animal bones and flint tools used for carving meat were found near the hearth; suggesting it was used repeatedly and was a gathering place for the population living. “In our study, we suggest the recycled items were used to butcher smaller animals and make the best out of the hunt. They made precise and delicate cuts — to make use of every possible piece of meat and fat,” says Prof. Barkai leading the excavations. 

Stone Age Tour: Long Term Use of the Cave

According to Barkai, the long-term use of the cave is an indication that this early human species adapted in the face of adversity. Following the disappearance of the prehistoric elephant, the previous main food source of the region, the early humans who lived in Qesem Cave would have had to scramble to survive and were in many ways more capable than humans today, he said. It was a change as significant as taking away whales from the diet of the Inuit.

Earlier studies showed the people made habitual use of fire to cook food and generated other innovations following the “significant challenge” of the disappearance of elephants and the need to hunt smaller animals, such as the Persian and Red deer, whose bones were discovered in the cave.

Stone Age Tour: The Earliest Evidence for the Homo-Sapiens

According to Prof. Ran Barkai, the people discovered in the cave represent a stage of human evolution between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. Bones from 4,700 prey animals have been identified, mostly fallow deer. But research shows that the cave dwellers ate a varied diet, which includes turtles, wild ass; red deer; wild goat; wild pig. These animal bones show marks of butchery, marrow extraction, and burning from fire. 

The deer remains are limited to limb bones without remains of vertebrae, ribs, or feet, suggesting that butchery was selective regarding the body parts that had been carried to the cave following the initial butchery of the animal carcass elsewhere. Moreover, fetal bones and the absence of deer antlers imply that much of the hunting took place in late winter through early summer. At that time, the need for additional fat in the diet would have made those animals, particularly important prey. The excavators described this as “prime-age-focused harvesting, a uniquely human predator-prey relationship”.

New Theories About The Origins of the Homo sapien

The standard theory is that about 400,000 years ago, Homo sapiens left East Africa and started to spread out of the continent, populating other parts of the world. But now, after finding several human teeth dated 400,000 years ago in Qesem cave, this theory was challenged by Prof. Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher. Now they point towards the Land of Israel as a possible location for the cradle of Humanity. Or, for the very least, it represents a crucial stage in the evolution of the Homo sapiens.

Stone Age Tour: Gesher Bnot Yaakov

Let’s face it; the Human race is not blessed with many skills. And to be completely honest, we do not match up with other species that share this planet. For example, we do not run as fast as the Chitta. Or swim as fast as a dolphin; Even if we need to save our own lives, we can’t climb a tree as fast as monkeys. Moreover, we don’t have horns, fangs, or even a tail. So what is our great advantage? At the end of it all, Now we humans, the unshakable ruler over the planet? Our large brains, our cognitive capabilities. And these, according to the Gesher Bnot Yaakov site, had existed for hundreds of thousands of years.

The Dating of the Site Gesher Bnot Yaakov

The first excavations at the site were dated according to bones that were found; belonging to a long-extinct water snail. And according to the stone tools found at the site, they were identified as Acheulean Culture. During the excavations, a unique fossil assemblage of the extinct freshwater water snail (Viviparus apameae galileae) was found. This water snail was extinct over 250,000 years ago, thus setting the upper limit regarding the site’s chronology.

A real breakthrough that was able to date the site was a method called Paleomagnetism. And in a nutshell, it means the study of the record of the Earth’s magnetic field in rocks; sediment, or archaeological materials. Certain minerals in rocks lock in a record of the direction and intensity of the magnetic field (which is not stable and changes) when they form.

The reversal of Earth’s magnetic field (sometimes a full 180 degrees) is used to estimate the age of sites bearing fossils and hominin remains. The last reversal of Earth’s magnetic field happened about 780,000 years ago. Prof. Kenneth L. Verosub from U.C Davis was able to recognize this reversal in planet Earth’s polar magnetic fields. In other words, he was able to see this change among the geological layers found at the site. That is to say, he was able to see the exact point on the site that on top of it you can see the magnetic field point south. And the layers on top of those ones show the magnetic field points north again (that is the normal situation).

Stone Tools From the Acheulean Industry

One of the finest expressions of the human mind is the tools we make and the ways we use them. Just one example like our iPhones could not express it better. In many ways the stone tools that were found at Gesher Bnot Yaakov, dated about a million years ago; are one of the very first steps towards the iPhone XV. The stone tools that were found here belong to the Acheulean Culture. The amount of different tools that were found on site has no parallel in the Land of Israel. A relatively small excavation site had yielded hundreds of tools like a biface, handaxes. But in the tools found here, you can see that there is a great thought invested in the making of those tools. 

Firstly, they are flaked tools, which means the tool was made from a bigger piece of rock, and then slowly it was carved and chipped according to the maker of the tool. The tools are characterized by careful planning and designing of tools. This knowledge had to be passed from generation to generation. How did they coming to ace it? Did they already have some kind of language? Surprisingly the tools that were found here were made from Basalt, not flintstone which is usually the material found in later Acheulean sites. 

Stone Age Tour: How Many Humans Came Out of Africa?

The Syrian-African Rift is considered to be one of the main exit routes that the Hominidae used to get out of Africa. Now it’s common to believe that there wasn’t one wave but multiple ‘waves’ of different types of Hominidae coming out of Africa. And those waves were spanning on a timeline of two million years. The site Gesher Bnot Yaakov and the site Ubeidiya (which is dated about 1.4m years ago) might substantiate that theory. The two sites show very different styles of stone tools that can represent two different waves of Hominidae coming out of Africa.

The Diverse Fauna Found on the Site: Including an Elephant Skull 

 Because the site was waterlogged, very little oxygen could penetrate through. The Flora and Fauna were preserved in very good conditions. Different types of animal bones were found. For example, mice, fish, birds, turtles. Also, midsize animals were found, like deer, horses—and even large animals like Elephants and Rhinoceros. One of the most impressive finds was a butchered elephant skull. It was a skull of a straight-tusked elephant. The skull is closely associated with stone and wood artifacts and is integral to an Acheulian living floor. 

Since the specimen was positioned and damaged in such a way as to suggest deliberate breakage for brain extraction. Also, A basalt core, a boulder, and an oak log were found underneath the skull. So these may have been used to invert the cranium. A possible hunting and dismemberment scenario is described, drawing on modern and archaeological parallels. These finds corroborate other evidence from the site, which points to sophisticated behavior by the inhabitants of this region some 500,000 years ago.

One of the Earliest pieces of Evidence for the Usage of Fire

During the excavations concentrations of burnt flintstone and carbonized seeds in multiple archaeological layers dated 690,000-790,000 thousand years ago. Such high concentrations can only be evidence for the usage of fire, probably by the Homo erectus or Homo ergaster.

Stone Age Tour: Ubeidiya

Ubeidiya is one of the most important sites in the world for the understanding of human evolution. The site is dated about 1.5 m.y.a. The prehistoric site was discovered in May 1959 near the tell, south of the Yavne’el stream (Wadi Fidjdjas), by a member of Kibbutz Afikim who was preparing the ground for agriculture. Excavations at the site began in 1960, led by Moshe Stekelis, assisted by zoologist Georg Haas, geologists Leo Picard and Nachman Shulman, and several archaeology students, including Ofer Bar-Yosef and Naama Goren-Inbar. After Stekelis’ death in 1967, Bar-Yosef and Goren-Inbar conducted the excavations.

Stone Age Tour: Findings 

Prehistoric remains from about 1.7 million years were discovered in the excavations, within about 60 layers of soil within which were found human bones and remains of ancient animals. These include some of the oldest remains found outside Africa and more than 10,000 ancient stone tools.

The site also features rock surfaces in which prehistoric man lived during the Pleistocene period. As a result of geologic breakage and foldage activity, the rock surfaces are now inclined at an angle of 70 degrees. It is thought that the area used to feature a pristine lake along which Homo erectus lived after his exodus from Africa. The finds discovered at the site validate this theory. Today, the findings are preserved in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem


Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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