Israeli archaeologists have uncovered next to one of the country’s busiest roads the site of an extraordinarily well preserved prehistoric “paradise” used by stone age hunter-gatherers over half a million years ago, who left behind evidence of hundreds of knapped flint hand-axes.
The discovery at about a five-metre depth at Jaljulia, near the town of Kfar Saba, suggests that an extinct species of early human – homo erectus – may have returned to the site repeatedly, perhaps attracted by a water source and abundant game, leaving behind evidence of their primitive stone tools.
Archaeologists believe the site, north-east of Tel Aviv, was regarded as a sort of “paradise” for prehistoric hunter-gatherers – with a stream, vegetation and an abundance of animals encouraging them to return.
The site’s extended area was uncovered in recent months in a joint dig conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the archaeological department in Tel Aviv University.
The most striking find was evidence of a well-developed lithic industry – referring to elaborately worked stone tools – including hundreds of flint hand-axes typical of the ancient Acheulian culture that existed in the Lower Paleolithic era from about 1.5 million to 200,000 years ago.
Acheulian axe-making culture – associated with homo erectus and early homo sapiens – is characterised by distinctive oval and pear-shaped flint hand tools used by early humans.
The dating of finds of Acheulian hand-axes – which scientists now believe were used for a variety of purposes from butchering to digging – has been used to trace the early human migration out of Africa into Asia and Europe.
Archaeologists have long believed that the presence of good quality stone including jasper and flint attracted early humans to certain sites.
Researchers believe that the fact that the site appears to have been occupied repeatedly indicates that prehistoric humans possessed a geographic memory of the place, and could have returned there as part of a seasonal cycle.
Maayan Shemer, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “Coming to work in Jaljulia, nobody expected to find evidence of such an ancient site, let alone one so extensive and with such impressive finds.
“There are only two sites [in Israel] whose estimated age is close to Jaljulia in the Sharon, or central Israel: one in Kibbutz Eyal, approximately 5km to the north, and the other, dated to a slightly later cultural phase, at Qesem Cave located approximately 5km to the south.
“The findings are amazing, both in their preservation state and in their implications about our understanding of this ancient material culture.”
Ran Barkai, of Tel Aviv University, added: “This extraordinary site will enable us to trace the behaviour of our direct prehistoric ancestors, and reconstruct their lifestyle and behaviour on the very long journey of human existence.“