New in the Galleries Elephant Tale

Elephant Tale
Curator: Debby Hershman


When did people become hunters and what animal was the favorite dish?
A rare archaeological discovery, which sheds light on these questions, was uncovered at the prehistoric site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov near the banks of the Jordan river, south of the Hula Basin.

During the course of excavations at the site, which has been dated to 780,000 years before the present, archaeologists uncovered the skull of a prehistoric elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). In terms of its general appearance and dimensions, this elephant seems to have resembled the African elephant of present times. The skull, which belonged to a young male or a female, is regarded as the most complete ancient remains of an elephant discovered at an archaeological site in the Middle East. Near the skull, the excavators found a log, a large, worked basalt core, and a variety of tools used by the hunters for the hunting and butchering of the elephant. The skull indeed bears signs of blows that were inflicted in the course of the attempts to butcher the animal and break open the skull. It is likely that these finds are among the earliest evidence of hunting.

The remains of elephants uncovered at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov and other Early Stone Age sites (2.4 million to 200,000 years before the present) indicate that then these massive beasts were a common feature of the landscape of the Land of Israel. The evidence further suggests that until the elephant’s extinction at the end of this period, elephant meat formed part of the diet of the prehistoric societies of our region.

These elephant hunters were hominids - namely, human ancestors of the Homo erectus species. They were the first to leave Africa, the cradle of humanity, and arrive in the Middle East, from where they migrated to Asia and Europe. Finds indicate that these hominids possessed clearly human characteristics. Their living floors bear the preserved remains of their meals - the bones of elephants, rhinoceroses, horses, deer, and other animals, as well as a wealth of wild vegetation. Also unearthed were assorted stone tools, including basalt handaxes and cleavers, typical of the Acheulian culture, a prehistoric culture of the Early Stone Age.

This discovery, which provides a glimpse into the animal life of the Land of Israel in prehistoric times, has also enriched our knowledge of the way of life, skills, and abilities of the first human beings.

For additional information on the prehistoric site of Gesher Benot Ya'akov, and to sign the petition against the damage that was caused to the site recently, please click here.

למאגר התערוכות , מוזיאון ישראל | מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים | כל הזכויות שמורות © מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים 1995-
To The Israel Museum Exhibition Online | The Israel Museum, Jerusalem | Copyright © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 1995-