Information page on the Prehistoric Stone Age sites in Israel.
This page reviews the early man history and sites in Israel, from the early human spies up to the end of the Stone Age.
(1) Evolution of the Human man
The evolution of the modern human specie has some notable milestones. One of the important events is the split of the Hominines (pre human subfamily) to a human branch and to chimpanzee branch, which occurred at about 4 Million years ago. The oldest form of human man (named Australopithecus) had evolved by the Early (Lower) Pleistocene period, spanning 2.588 to 0.781 Million years ago. The archaeologists classify the cultures at this time as Paleolithic (meaning: old stone age).
Homo Erectus (“Upright Man” – illustration below) evolved in Africa at 1.8 Million years ago (Ma). This early human specie is similar to modern humans, but with 74% of the modern human brain size. They controlled fire by about 1.5 Ma ago. This specie lived more than a million years and was the first to live in a hunter-gather society.
Homo Sapiens (our species) evolved in Africa in about 250,000 years ago (0.25 Ma). They moved through the Levant to Europe only at about 120,000-100,000 (0.12-0.10 Ma) years ago. The cave of Gedi (es-Skul) on Mount Carmel has remains of that period. In the Middle Paleolithic period (80,000-40,000 years ago) they knew how to make knives, scrapers and points out of flint. They coincided with another specie – Neanderthal (a specie that eventually disappeared about 30,000 years ago). Another site with remains of this period was on Mt Precipice near Nazareth.
Few out-of-Africa early Hominine sites were found to date, such as Ubeidiya-Israel (1.6-1.2 Ma) and Dmanisi-Georgia (1.7-1.9 Ma remains). Therefore, this rare site was a major research of archaeology, history, geology, faunal (animals) and environment studies. The site is a key to understand the exact time this early man migrated from Africa to Europe.
In the prehistoric site of Ubeidiya the excavators identified 60 layers, Homo Erectus bones, mammal bones (120 types) and more than 10,000 ancient tools. Use of fire was not identified at the site. The findings, starting from 1.4 Million years ago (Ma), is the earliest site of Homo Erectus found outside Africa.
The following sections detail later periods that are found in the caves of Israel.
(2) Old Stone Age History:
The Paleolithic period means:”old stone”, from the Greek words: Paleos-old, Lithos-stone. These are the sub divisions:
- Early Paleolithic 150,000 – 80,000 BC
- Middle Paleolithic 80,000 – 40,000 BC
- Upper Paleolithic 40,000 – 16,000 BC
(a) Early (Lower) Paleolithic period
The gorge of the Amud stream was inhabited by the Early Man (Homo Heidelbergensis and Neanderthal species) who dwelt in the four caves in this area. A section of a skull, dated to the end of the Lower Paleolithic period, was discovered in a cave (Skull (Zuttiyeh) cave), on the lower Amud stream.
In the Carmel region, based on the majority of excavations, most scientists believe early man has been in this area over the last 150,000 years. Only a few sites in the Carmel region were populated during this period, starting from 250,000 years ago.
(b) Middle Paleolithic period:
In the Middle Paleolithic period (80,000-40,000 BC) there were the majority of the settlements in the Carmel. These people knew how to make knives, scrapers and points out of flint. The popular areas of the the sites of the source of the flint stones, and there were many workshops that prepared these tools. There were two types found in the Carmel: Homo Sapiens (our ancestors) and the Neanderthaloids (Neanderthal, the specie that eventually disappeared about 30,000 years ago). Note that this time coincided with the last Ice age (100,000 to 10,000 BC), and so the climate was wet and cold.
(c) Upper Paleolithic period:
In the Upper (late) Paleolithic period (40,000-16,000 BC) the Homo Sapiens were the only species left, after the disappearance of the Neanderthals at the first part of this period.
(3) New stone age periods
These are the sub divisions of the periods following the old stage ages:
- Epi-Paleolithic 16,000 – 8,300 BC
- Neolithic Period 8,300 -4,500 BC
- Chalcolithic period 4,500 – 3,150 BC
(a) Epi Paleolithic period:
The Epi-Paleolithic period (16,000 – 8,300 BC) is based on the words: Epi – After. Epi-Paleolithic- after the “old stone” (Paleolithic) period. At these times, early man already domesticated plants and animals, and manufactured stone tools. It was the last stage of cave dwelling, and the end of the ice age.
The type of early man that was found from this period was the archaic Mediterranean type, with average height of 160-165 cm.
The large caves along the western edge of the Carmel were the major settlements. Most of the other 210 sites in this region were either: seasonal, used for a hunting bases (in the entrance of the creeks, along the Carmel shore), or flint workshop sites (most of the sites in the top of Mount Carmel).
The Natufian culture, first identified in the Natuf valley cave in Western Samaria, lived between 12,500-9,500 BC. These were the times of transition from the caves to permanent settlements outside the cave and the beginning of agriculture. They lived mostly outside the cave in round huts, and were hunters-gatherers. The Natuf culture differed from the other Epipaleolithic cultures in their tools, the location and size of their sites, in the type of housings, their social structure, and their burial practices.
Tools: The culture used microlithic stone tools for their hunting tools, which was previously unknown to the excavators. These tools are about 1cm long and 1/2 cm wide, and used in spears and arrowheads. The tools, made of flint and bones, included “lunates” (tools that have a blunt straight edge, and a sharpened crescent shaped back) and sickle-blades.
The Natufians made tools of stone (either limestone or Basalt) or animal bones, but they did not have pottery. They traded with sea shells and jewelry made of animal bones.
Locations: Natufian settlements were found in other caves in the Levant. During the early phase of the culture they occupied caves north of Beersheba and south of the Lebanon mountains. In the late phase, the Natufian population expanded to the south Negev area (Mt. Harif) and to northern Syria.
Housings: During the period of the Natufian culture these hunter-gatherers built a village on the area in front of the cave. Each such village consisted of several families, with 80-160 persons in the larger sites.
Burial practices: The Natufian burial sites were located on the terrace in front of their caves. A common practice was to decorate the skull by small bones.
(3) Neolithic Period
This period (8,300 -4,500 BC) is based on the words: “new” stone age (neo=new, Lithos- stone). During this time frame there were beginning in building of cities, and the production of ceramics. These humans farmed and raised animals.
(4) Chalcolithic period
This period (4,500 – 3,150 BC) is based on the word:Chalcos – copper in Greek. The tools were made of stone, ceramics and copper. During this time frame there were establishments of many fortified cities.
The following sites are reviewed in Biblewalks. Click on the header of the site to read more about it.
- On top of a limestone cliff, above the lower Amud stream canyon, is the “Skull” cave. The cave is also known as Mugharet el-Zuttiyeh (Arabic: “Cave of the Robbers”).
- In 1925 the archaeologists, headed by Francis Turville-Petre, unearthed a fossilized skull of a prehistoric Galilean man , dated to 200,000-300,000 years ago, at the end of the Lower Paleolithic period. The skull was the first fossilized archaic human found in Western Asia. The species is known as Homo Heidelbergensis, which had brains as large as modern humans, and is regarded as pre-Neonderthal.
- Mount Carmel and the shore of Carmel have more than 210 prehistoric known sites, spanning from 150,000 years ago. One of the famous prehistoric site is the Kebara cave – the southern most cave along the western cliffs of the Mt. Carmel.
- The most significant finding was a complete Neanderthal skeleton, with his head missing, except for the lower jaw.
- In the Golan heights area there are hundreds of dolmens (prehistoric megalith tombs), which were erected at the early bronze period (about 30th century BC). The tombs may have been of nomad tribes who buried their dead in central holy places.
- Some of the dolmens were reused for secondary burials long after they have been erected.
Ubeidiya is a major archaeological site located near the Jordan River, 3KM south west of the Sea of Galilee. Remains of Early Man were identified near the mound, and are one of the earliest settlements of Homo Erectus (an early Human specie) outside of Africa.
A nature reserve on the western edge of Beit-Hakerem valley, with a cluster of caves with remains from prehistoric settlements.
The site is located at the western edge of the Oren valley. In the hills there are a series of prehistoric caves where Early Man dwelt.
A famous prehistoric cave above the bank of the Natuf valley. The archaeological findings in this cave (1928) were the base of a new Early Man prototype culture – the Natufian culture (12,500-9,500 BC). These ancestors lived in a permanent place before the introduction of agriculture.
“Lower Hilazon cave” (or “Hilazon Tachtit”) is a small prehistoric cave, where remains of 12,000 year civilization were found in recent excavations. Most notable of these excavations is the grave of a shaman (a tribal witch doctor), a Netufian woman who was buried with animals. This unique cave is therefore nicknamed “the witch’s cave”, and is one of the earliest known in archaeological record.
A large natural cave that overlooks the Bezet creek, a famous rappelling place. The caves around the site are prehistoric sites and were in use also in later periods.
The large set of caves is located at the western slopes of Mount Carmel, in Nahal Maarot. A UNESCO World heritage site.
* External links
- Human Evolution – Encyclopædia Britannica
- Seven Million years of human evolution (Youtube; American Museum of Natural history)
- Human Origins 1010 (Youtube, National Geographic, 3:47minutes)
* Internal links:
- Dolmens (Bronze age)
Etymology – behind the name:
- Lithic – Stone
- Paleolithic period means:”old stone”, from the Greek words: Paleos-old, Lithos-stone.
- Epi-Paleolithic period means: “After old stone”; Epi – After. Epi-Paleolithic- after the “old stone”.
- Neolithic period is based on the words: “new” stone age (neo=new, Lithos- stone).
- Chalcolithic period is based on the word:Chalcos – copper in Greek.
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This page was last updated on Mar 12, 2020 (New)