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