Photo by Erez Ben Simon/TPS on 8 February, 2024

Israeli Archaeologists Resolve Paleolithic Mystery in the Galilee

Public By Pesach Benson • 26 March, 2024

Jerusalem, 26 March, 2024 (TPS) -- Israeli archaeologists have resolved a mystery surrounding extensive Paleolithic stone quarrying and tool-making sites scattered across the Upper Galilee region, providing insights into the behavior of early humans and their relationship with the environment.

These sites, characterized by large nodules of flint ideal for crafting tools, have long perplexed researchers. However, the answer to why early humans revisited these locations for hundreds of thousands of years lies in an unexpected revelation recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Archaeologies: the migration routes of elephants.

The study was led by Dr. Meir Finkel and Professor Ran Barkai, both of Tel Aviv University.

“Ancient humans required three things: water, food, and stone. While water and food are necessities for all creatures, humans relied on stone tools for hunting and butchering animals. We found that these quarrying sites were not merely utilitarian but held a deeper significance for early humans, akin to spiritual pilgrimage sites for indigenous groups,” said Barkai.

For nearly 20 years, Barkai and his colleagues researched flint quarrying and tool-making sites in the Upper Galilee, and all are located within walking distance of the major Paleolithic sites of the Hula Valley — Gesher Benot Ya’akov and Ma’ayan Baruch. These sites boast thousands of quarrying and extraction localities where, until half a million years ago, in the Lower Paleolithic period, prehistoric humans fashioned tools and left offerings, despite the presence of flint in other geological formations in various places.

Because elephants were the primary dietary component for these early humans, the Tel Aviv University researchers cross-referenced the database of the sites’ distribution with the database of the elephants’ migration routes, and discovered that the flint quarrying and knapping sites were situated in rock outcrops near the elephants’ migration paths.

Through meticulous analysis, the researchers correlated the distribution of flint quarrying sites with the migration paths of elephants, which were the primary prey for early humans. Elephants, with their substantial water consumption, followed fixed routes dictated by the availability of water sources such as lakes, rivers, and streams. Consequently, the quarrying and tool-production sites were strategically positioned near these migration paths, facilitating the preparation of cutting tools in advance of hunting expeditions.

“The proximity of quarrying sites to elephant butchering locations suggests a strategic approach adopted by early humans to exploit the limited window of opportunity for hunting and processing elephant prey. It was a symbiotic relationship dictated by the necessity of survival,” Finkel explained.

Furthermore, the researchers applied their model to Paleolithic sites across Asia, Europe, and Africa, where similar patterns emerged. Whether elephants, mammoths, or other megaherbivores were the prey, the association of water, elephants, and stone tools remained consistent.

“For hundreds of thousands of years, humans and elephants coexisted along these migratory routes, shaping each other’s behaviors. However, with the eventual extinction of these majestic creatures, the world underwent a profound transformation,” Barkai said.