Remains from Ice Age discovered in Israel

Ohalo II near Sea of Galilee already in area of great interest among researchers
/ New Delhi
Remains from Ice Age discovered in Israel

A gazelle horn core in situ (scale arrow 5 cm) discovered in camps believed to date from Ice Age (Photo: Dani Nadel)

Remains from the Ice Age were recently discovered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. A research paper on remains of a submerged camp of fisher-hunt-gatherer humans along the shores of Sea of Galilee was recently published in Israel.
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A team of researchers of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) says that a camp of humans, dating back to Ice Age, been discovered near the coast of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Their report has been published on January 26 by PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science since 2006.

The paper focused on the remains of a previously submerged fisher-hunter-gatherer camp along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. The remains are believed to be from about 23,000 years ago. Through closer analysis of the abundance, variety and thorough use of animal remains, the team concluded that these survivors of the latest Ice Age thrived, whereas most of their companions in other parts of the world were nearly starved due to the Earth’s extremely cold temperatures.

The study was led by HU doctoral student Tikvah Steiner

The site, called Ohalo II, was occupied at the end of the last Ice Age (“Last Glacial Maximus”), between 23,500-22,500 years ago. The Ohalo II is also known for its excellent preservation of the brush huts and botanical remains. The study was led by HU doctoral student Tikvah Steiner, under the supervision of HU Professor Rivka Rabinovich and University of Haifa archaeologist Prof. Dani Nadel who excavated the site examined the diet and extensive use of animal parts to determine the welfare and lifestyle of these archaic inhabitants, says a press release by Israel Government Tourist Office in India.

During the Last Glacial Maximus, ice sheets covered much of North America, Northern Europe and Asia, profoundly affecting Earth’s climate by causing drought, desertification and a large drop in sea levels. Ironically enough, Ohalo II was discovered in 1989, following drought conditions that lowered the water level of the Sea of Galilee by several metres. Excavations were conducted between 1989-1991, and again between 1998-2001. The site covers 2000 sqm and is located near the southern tip of the modern Sea of Galilee, about 9 km south of Tiberias. The site contains the remains of six oval-shaped brush huts, open-air hearths, the grave of an adult male, and a multitude of installations and refuse heaps. Abundant organic and organic materials found in the region provided a wealth of information about the lifestyle of fisher-hunter-gatherers during that period, says the press statement.

From a close analysis of 22,000 animal bones found at the site, including gazelles, deer, hares, and foxes, as well as previous documentation regarding the number of charred plants remains, flint tools, cereal grains found there which signify a robust diet and lifestyle, the team concluded that Ohalo II presents a different picture of subsistence than most other early Epipaleolithic sites.

Left: Brush hut 1 at beginning of excavation. The dark oval shape is distinct on the surface. Right: Brush hut 1 during the excavation of the upper floor (Photos Dani Nadel)

Climatic oscillations during the Last Glacial Maximus had minimal effects on the Upper Jordan Valley, specifically near Ohalo II, enabling those people to utilise a broad ecological niche comprised of varied edible plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish. “Despite their ability to hunt large animals, these inhabitants also hunted a wide range of prey and had tools and time enough to fully exploit animal carcasses down to the marrow,” said Steiner, the research team leader.  “Likewise, tortoises were seemingly selected for a specific body size, which may suggest that their shells for use as bowls and not their meat were the main target.  Hare and fox were possibly hunted for their pelts,” she added.

The study also focused on reptiles, birds and mammal remains found in one of the huts during its three consecutive occupations. Identification and quantifications were also carried out of different animal species, bone sizes were measured, and the bone surfaces were subjected to spectroscopic examination to identify signs of cutting and wear. In addition, Rebecca Biton, a post-doctoral student at the Hebrew University and expert in herpetology, discovered that the turtles were of all uniform size, which might indicate conscious selection by the hunters for a specific size of the turtle shell.

Steiner and her colleagues also believe that the findings from the site do indicate a decline in the availability of food during this period but rather a rich diversity of food sources. In this way, Ohalo II is a wonderful example of a true broad-spectrum economy during the latest Ice Age, at the very beginning of the Epipaleolithic period.

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