Ancient Israeli Implements: Out of Africa

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, March 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Ancient Israeli Implements: Out of Africa


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Situated about 6 miles north of the Red Sea, an approximately 600,000-year-old Israeli archaeological site has yielded a trove of stone tools made in a style generally thought to have existed only in Africa. The new finds support the theory that human ancestors carried African cultural traditions to the Middle East in a series of population movements, according to Naama Goren-Inbar and Idit Saragusti, both archaeologists at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Sharp-edged artifacts found at the largely waterlogged site, known as Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, share crucial features with stone tools of similar age from Olduvai Gorge and Olorgesailie in East Africa, Goren-Inbar and Saragusti assert.

Moreover, stone implements found at the nearby Israeli site of Ubeidiya, which dates to about 1 million years ago, closely resemble a different, simpler brand of tools found at several African sites of about that same age, the two archaeologists argue.

"The new evidence is a good indication of African affinities at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov," holds Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard University and director of the Ubeidiya excavations.

"Mental templates for tool making apparently lasted for a long time and were carried from one region to another by ancient hominids [members of the human evolutionary family]." Homo erectus, whether a single species or a set of distinct hominid lineages, made many treks from Africa to the Middle East and often met death in unfamiliar environments, Bar-Yosef theorizes. But the Israeli sites lie in the Jordan Rift Valley, where the mix of lakes and woodlands would have resembled the African ecology familiar to the ancient travelers, he contends. Initial excavations at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov were undertaken in the 1930s. In the 1960s, investigators at the site first speculated that the stone tools they had found bore signs of African influence.

Renewed work at the Israeli location began in 1989 and has since uncovered enough stone artifacts to make possible a thorough comparison with the African material, Goren-Inbar and Saragusti assert. …

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