TAU NEWS – Archeology
Preserved Fortification, Donkey Stables Dating to King Solomon Discovered at TAU's Timna Valley Excavations
Intact defensive structure, livestock pens provide insight into complexity of Iron Age copper production
Some believe that the fabled mines of King Solomon were located among copper smelting camps in Israel's Timna Valley. The arid conditions at Timna have seen the astonishing preservation of 3,000-year-old organic materials, which have provided Tel Aviv University archaeologists with a unique window into the culture and practices of a sophisticated ancient society.
An advanced military fortification — a well-defined gatehouse complex — unearthed recently at Timna, including donkey stables, points to the community's highly-organized defense system and significant dependence on long-distance trade. The research was recently published in The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
The fortification dates to the reigns of Kings David and Solomon in the 10th century BCE.
"While there is no explicit description of 'King Solomon’s mines' in the Old Testament, there are references to military conflicts between Israel and the Edomites in the Arava Valley," says Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of TAU's Institute of Archaeology and one of the leaders of the Timna research and excavation team, along with his colleagues Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen and Dr. Dafna Langgut. "According to the Bible, David traveled hundreds of miles outside of Jerusalem and engaged in military conflict in the desert — striking down '18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.' Now, having found evidence of defensive measures — a sophisticated fortification — we understand what must have been at stake for him in this remote region: copper."
"Copper was a rare product and very challenging to produce," Dr. Ben-Yosef continues. "Because copper — like oil today, perhaps — was the most coveted commodity, it landed at the very heart of military conflicts. The discovery of the fortification indicates a period of serious instability and military threats at that time in the region."
In the remarkably intact two-room fortification, located in one of the largest smelting camps in the Timna Valley, the researchers also found evidence of a complex long-distance trade system that probably included the northern Edomite plateau, the Mediterranean coastal plain and Judea. The complex featured pens for draught animals and other livestock. According to precise pollen, seed, and fauna analyses, they were fed with hay and grape pomace — high-quality sustenance that must have been delivered from the Mediterranean region hundreds of miles away.
"The gatehouse fortification was apparently a prominent landmark," says Dr. Ben-Yosef. "It had a cultic or symbolic function in addition to its defensive and administrative roles. The gatehouse was built of sturdy stone to defend against invasion. We found animal bones and dung piles so intact, we could analyze the food the animals were fed with precision. The food suggests special treatment and care, in accordance with the key role of the donkeys in the copper production and in trade in a logistically challenging region."
Archaeology and the Old Testament
The site was discovered in 1934 by the American archaeologist Nelson Glueck. He called the copper smelting site "Slaves' Hill," because he believed it bore all the marks of an Iron Age slave camp, complete with fiery furnaces and a formidable stone barrier that seemed designed to prevent escape. But in 2014 Dr. Ben-Yosef and colleagues debunked this theory, revealing that the diets and clothing of the smelters — perfectly preserved by the desert conditions — pointed instead to a hierarchical, sophisticated society.
"The historical accuracy of the Old Testament accounts is debated, but archaeology can no longer be used to contradict them," Dr. Ben-Yosef observes. "On the contrary, our new discoveries are in complete accordance with the description of military conflicts against a hierarchical and centralized society located south of the Dead Sea."
Dr. Ben-Yosef and his team plan to continue exploring the ancient societies that worked in these remote copper mines. "The unique preservation of organic materials in Timna, coupled with 21st century research methods including ancient DNA and residue analyses, bear the potential for additional significant discoveries in the future," says Dr. Ben-Yosef.
The excavations at the ancient mines of Tinma continue every winter as part of the Central Timna Valley (CTV) Project of Tel Aviv University.
Photo caption: The entrance complex with a two-room gatehouse flanked by animal pens and piles of dung. Courtesy Erez Ben-Yosef et al.
Inscriptions dating to 600 BCE suggest widespread literacy at the time, say TAU researchers
Scholars have long debated how much of the Hebrew bible was composed before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE. While scholars agree that key biblical texts were written starting in the 7th century BCE, the exact date of the compilation of these books remains in question.
A new Tel Aviv University study published today in PNAS suggests that widespread literacy was required for this massive undertaking and provides empirical evidence of that literacy in the final days of the Kingdom of Judah. A profusion of literate individuals in Judah may have set the stage for the compilation of biblical works that constitute the basis of Judahite history and theology, such as the early version of the books of Deuteronomy to Second Kings, according to the researchers.
"There's a heated discussion regarding the timing of the composition of a critical mass of biblical texts," said Prof. Israel Finkelstein of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, who led the research together with Prof. Eliezer Piasetzky of TAU's School of Physics and Astronomy. "But to answer this, one must ask a broader question: What were the literacy rates in Judah at the end of the First Temple period? And what were the literacy rates later on, under Persian rule?"
The interdisciplinary study was conducted by Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, Arie Shaus and Barak Sober, under the supervision of Prof. Eli Turkel and Prof. David Levin, all of TAU's Department of Applied Mathematics. Other collaborators included Prof. Nadav Na'aman of TAU's Department of Jewish History and Prof. Benjamin Sass of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations.
Literacy in the First Temple period
Using cutting-edge computerized image processing and machine learning tools, the TAU team analyzed 16 inscriptions unearthed at an excavation in the remote fort of Arad, and deduced that the texts had been written by at least six authors. The content of the inscriptions disclosed that reading and writing abilities existed throughout the military chain of command, from the highest echelon all the way down to the deputy quartermaster of the fort.
"We designed an algorithm to distinguish between different authors, then composed a statistical mechanism to assess our findings," said Sober. "Through probability analysis, we eliminated the likelihood that the texts were written by a single author."
The inscriptions found at Arad consisted of instructions for troop movements and the registration of expenses for food. The tone and nature of the commands precluded the role of professional scribes. Considering the remoteness of Arad, the small garrison stationed there, and the narrow time period of the inscriptions, this finding indicates a high literacy rate within Judah's administrative apparatus — and provides a suitable background for the composition of a critical mass of biblical texts.
Literacy more widespread than previously believed
"We found indirect evidence of the existence of an educational infrastructure, which could have enabled the composition of biblical texts," said Prof. Piasetzky. "Literacy existed at all levels of the administrative, military and priestly systems of Judah. Reading and writing were not limited to a tiny elite."
"Now our job is to extrapolate from Arad to a broader area," said Prof. Finkelstein. "Adding what we know about Arad to other forts and administrative localities across ancient Judah, we can estimate that many people could read and write during the last phase of the First Temple period. We assume that in a kingdom of some 100,000 people, at least several hundred were literate.
"Following the fall of Judah, there was a large gap in production of Hebrew inscriptions until the second century BCE, the next period with evidence for widespread literacy. This reduces the odds for a compilation of substantial Biblical literature in Jerusalem between ca. 586 and 200 BCE."
Photo caption: Ostraca (ink inscriptions on clay) from the Iron Age fortress of Arad, located in arid southern Judah. These documents are dated to the latest phase of the First Temple Period in Judah, ca. 600 BCE. The texts represent correspondence of local military personnel. The research engaged new document analysis algorithms aimed at identifying different writers. It detected at least six contemporaneous authors within a corpus of 16 inscriptions. This indicates a high literacy level within the Judahite administration and provides a possible stage-setting for compilation of biblical texts. Image courtesy of Michael Cordonsky (photographer), Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The Neanderthal rib-cage and pelvis expanded to adapt to a high-protein diet in Ice-Age Europe, researchers say
Homo sapiens, the ancestor of modern humans, shared the planet with Neanderthals, a close, heavy-set relative that dwelled almost exclusively in Ice-Age Europe, until some 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals were similar to Homo sapiens, with whom they sometimes mated — but they were different, too. Among these many differences, Neanderthals were shorter and stockier, with wider pelvises and rib-cages than their modern human counterparts.
But what accounted for these anatomical differences? A new Tel Aviv University study finds that the Ice-Age diet — a high-protein intake of large animals — triggered physical changes in Neanderthals, namely a larger ribcage and a wider pelvis.
According to the research, the bell-shaped Neanderthal rib-cage or thorax had to evolve to accommodate a larger liver, the organ responsible for metabolizing great quantities of protein into energy. This heightened metabolism also required an expanded renal system (enlarged bladder and kidneys) to remove large amounts of toxic urea, possibly resulting in a wide Neanderthal pelvis.
Seeing evolution from a new angle
"The anatomical differences between the thoraxes and pelvises of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals have been well-known for many years, but now we're approaching it from a new angle — diet," said Prof. Avi Gopher. Prof. Gopher, Prof. Ran Barkai and PhD candidate Miki Ben-Dor, all of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, co-authored the study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
"During harsh Ice-Age winters, carbohydrates were scarce and fat was in limited supply. But large game, the typical prey of the Neanderthal, thrived," said Ben-Dor. "This situation triggered an evolutionary adaptation to a high-protein diet — an enlarged liver, expanded renal system and their corresponding morphological manifestations. All of these contributed to the Neanderthal evolutionary process."
"In a 2011 paper, which dealt with the demise of Homo erectus in the Levant, we had already tapped into the notion that diet played a major role in human evolution," said Prof. Barkai. "We argued then that high fat consumption was one of the most important solutions to the predicament presented by human evolution. Humans are limited in the amount of protein they are able turn into energy — protein provides just 30 percent of their overall diet. The solution, therefore, was to consume more fat and more carbohydrates when they were seasonally available.
"We found that, in the case of the Neanderthals, an acute shortage of carbohydrates and a limited availability of fat caused their biological adaptation to a high-protein diet."
The proof in the dietary pudding
Numerous animal experiments have already demonstrated that a high-protein diet is likely to produce enlarged livers and kidneys. "Early indigenous Arctic populations who primarily ate meat also displayed enlarged livers and the tendency to drink a lot of water, a sign of increased renal activity," said Ben-Dor.
According to the researchers, the total dependence of Neanderthals on large animals to answer their fat and protein needs may provide a clue to their eventual extinction, which took place at the same time as the beginning of the demise of giant animals or "Megafauna" in Europe some 50,000 years ago. The team is now researching this subject.
Textiles found at Timna Valley archaeological dig provide a colorful picture of a complex society
The ancient copper mines in Timna are located deep in Israel's Arava Valley and are believed by some to be the site of King Solomon's mines. The arid conditions of the mines have seen the remarkable preservation of 3,000-year-old organic materials, including seeds, leather and fabric, and other extremely rare artifacts that provide a unique window into the culture and practices of this period.
A Timna excavation team from Tel Aviv University led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef has uncovered an extensive fabric collection of diverse color, design and origin. This is the first discovery of textiles dating from the era of David and Solomon, and sheds new light on the historical fashions of the Holy Land. The textiles also offer insight into the complex society of the early Edomites, the semi-nomadic people believed to have operated the mines at Timna.
The tiny pieces of fabric, some only 5 x 5 centimeters in size, vary in color, weaving technique and ornamentation. "Some of these fabrics resemble textiles only known from the Roman era," said Dr. Orit Shamir, a senior researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority, who led the study of the fabrics themselves.
"No textiles have ever been found at excavation sites like Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor, so this provides a unique window into an entire aspect of life from which we've never had physical evidence before," Dr. Ben-Yosef said. "We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes and cords.
"The wide variety of fabrics also provides new and important information about the Edomites, who, according to the Bible, warred with the Kingdom of Israel. We found simply woven, elaborately decorated fabrics worn by the upper echelon of their stratified society. Luxury grade fabric adorned the highly skilled, highly respected craftsmen managing the copper furnaces. They were responsible for smelting the copper, which was a very complicated process."
A trove of the "Seven Species"
The archaeologists also recently discovered thousands of seeds of the Biblical "Seven Species" at the site — the two grains and five fruits considered unique products of the Land of Israel. Some of the seeds were subjected to radiocarbon dating, providing robust confirmation for the age of the site.
"This is the first time seeds from this period have been found uncharred and in such large quantities," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "With the advancement of modern science, we now enjoy research options that were unthinkable a few decades ago. We can reconstruct wine typical of King David's era, for example, and understand the cultivation and domestication processes that have been preserved in the DNA of the seed."
The power of copper
Copper was used to produce tools and weapons and was the most valuable resource in ancient societies. Its production required many levels of expertise. Miners in ancient Timna may have been slaves or prisoners — theirs was a simple task performed under difficult conditions. But the act of smelting, of turning stone into metal, required an enormous amount of skill and organization. The smelter had to manage some 30 to 40 variables in order to produce the coveted copper ingots.
"The possession of copper was a source of great power, much as oil is today," Dr. Ben-Yosef said. "If a person had the exceptional knowledge to 'create copper,' he was considered well-versed in an extremely sophisticated technology. He would have been considered magical or supernatural, and his social status would have reflected this."
To support this "silicon valley" of copper production in the middle of the desert, food, water and textiles had to be transported long distances through the unforgiving desert climate and into the valley. The latest discovery of fabrics, many of which were made far from Timna in specialized textile workshops, provides a glimpse into the trade practices and regional economy of the day.
"We found linen, which was not produced locally. It was most likely from the Jordan Valley or Northern Israel. The majority of the fabrics were made of sheep's wool, a cloth that is seldom found in this ancient period," said TAU masters student Vanessa Workman. "This tells us how developed and sophisticated both their textile craft and trade networks must have been."
"'Nomad' does not mean 'simple,'" said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "This discovery strengthens our understanding of the Edomites as an important geopolitical presence. The fabrics are of a very high quality, with complex designs and beautiful dyes."
Photo caption: A fine wool textile dyed red and blue, found at Timna. The textile used the various colors of natural animal hair to create black and orange-brown colors for decorative bands. Photo by Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
New discovery at TAU excavation of Qesem Cave reveals tortoises played a supplementary role in the diets of early humans 400,000 years ago
Grilled, boiled or salted? Turtles, or tortoises, are rarely consumed today, but a select few cultures, primarily those in East Asia, still consider turtle soup, made from the flesh of the turtle, a delicacy.
According to a new discovery at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major findings from the late Lower Paleolithic period, they are not alone in their penchant for tortoise. Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain and Germany, have uncovered evidence of turtle specimens at the 400,000-year-old site, indicating that early man enjoyed eating turtles in addition to large game and vegetal material. The research provides direct evidence of the relatively broad diet of early Paleolithic people — and of the "modern" tools and skills employed to prepare it.
The study was led by Dr. Ruth Blasco of the Centro Nacional de Investigacion Sobre la Evolucion Humana (CENIEH), Spain, and TAU's Institute of Archaeology, together with Prof. Ran Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. Other collaborators include: Dr. Jordi Rosell and Dr. Pablo Sanudo of Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Spain; and Dr. Krister T. Smith and Dr. Lutz Christian Maul of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Germany. The research was published on February 1, 2016, in Quaternary Science Reviews.
"Culinary and cultural depth" to the Paleolithic diet
"Until now, it was believed that Paleolithic humans hunted and ate mostly large game and vegetal material," said Prof. Barkai. "Our discovery adds a really rich human dimension — a culinary and therefore cultural depth to what we already know about these people."
The research team discovered tortoise specimens strewn all over the cave at different levels, indicating that they were consumed over the entire course of the early human 200,000-year inhabitation. Once exhumed, the bones revealed striking marks that reflected the methods the early humans used to process and eat the turtles.
"We know by the dental evidence we discovered earlier that the Qesem inhabitants ate vegetal food," said Prof. Barkai. "Now we can say they also ate tortoises, which were collected, butchered and roasted, even though they don't provide as many calories as fallow deer, for example."
According to the study, Qesem inhabitants hunted mainly medium and large game such as wild horses, fallow deer and cattle. This diet provided large quantities of fat and meat, which supplied the calories necessary for human survival. Until recently, it was believed that only the later Homo sapiens enjoyed a broad diet of vegetables and large and small animals. But evidence found at the cave of the exploitation of small animals over time, this discovery included, suggests otherwise.
Open questions remain
"In some cases in history, we know that slow-moving animals like tortoises were used as a 'preserved' or 'canned' food," said Dr. Blasco. "Maybe the inhabitants of Qesem were simply maximizing their local resources. In any case, this discovery adds an important new dimension to the knowhow, capabilities and perhaps taste preferences of these people."
According to Prof. Gopher, the new evidence also raises possibilities concerning the division of labor at Qesem Cave. "Which part of the group found and collected the tortoises?" Prof. Gopher said. "Maybe members who were not otherwise involved in hunting large game, who could manage the low effort required to collect these reptiles — perhaps the elderly or children."
"According to the marks, most of the turtles were roasted in the shell," Prof. Barkai added. "In other cases, their shells were broken and then butchered using flint tools. The humans clearly used fire to roast the turtles. Of course they were focused on larger game, but they also used supplementary sources of food — tortoises — which were in the vicinity."
The researchers are now examining bird bones that were recently discovered at Qesem Cave.
Photo caption: Cut marks on tortoise bone from Qesem Cave. Courtesy Prof. Ran Barkai.
Monolith found on island submerged by flood nearly 10,000 years ago
Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, Italy, have discovered a mysterious Stonehenge-style monolith in the sea off the coast of Sicily, shedding new light on the earliest civilizations in the Mediterranean basin.
The 3.2-foot-long, 15-ton monolith is broken in two parts and features three holes of similar diameter. The holes leave little doubt that the monolith was human-made some 10,000 years ago. The once single large block required cutting, extraction, transportation, and installation.
"There are no reasonable known natural processes that may have produced these elements," writes Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham of TAU's Department of Earth Sciences and Emanuele Lodolo of the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics, in a study published in the most recent Journal of Archaeological Science.
The monolith was found 131 feet underwater on what was once an island in the Sicilian Channel called Pantelleria Vecchia Bank. The island was located some 24 miles north of the volcanic island of Pantelleria and was submerged during a massive flood about 9,500 years ago. According to the study, "The Sicilian Channel is one of the shallow shelves of the central Mediterranean region where the consequences of changing sea-level were most dramatic and intense."
<p<"This discovery reveals the technological innovation and development achieved by the Mesolithic inhabitants in the Sicilian Channel region," Prof. Lodolo said. The monolith's function is not known, nor whether it was part of a larger complex.
For more, read the story in Discovery News: "Underwater 'Stonehenge' Monolith Found Off Coast of Sicily"
International collaboration uncovers proof of earliest small-scale agricultural cultivation
Until now, researchers believed farming was "invented" some 12,000 years ago in the Cradle of Civilization — Iraq, the Levant, parts of Turkey and Iran — an area that was home to some of the earliest known human civilizations. A new discovery by an international collaboration of researchers from Tel Aviv University, Harvard University, Bar-Ilan University, and the University of Haifa offers the first evidence that trial plant cultivation began far earlier — some 23,000 years ago.
The study focuses on the discovery of the first weed species at the site of a sedentary human camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was published in PLOS ONE and led by Prof. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University in collaboration with Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences and Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University, among other colleagues.
"While full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, our study shows that trial cultivation began far earlier than previously believed, and gives us reason to rethink our ancestors' capabilities," said Prof. Sternberg. "Those early ancestors were more clever and more skilled than we knew."
Evidence among the weeds
Although weeds are considered a threat or nuisance in farming, their presence at the site of the Ohalo II people's camp revealed the earliest signs of trial plant cultivation — some 11 millennia earlier than conventional ideas about the onset of agriculture.
The plant material was found at the site of the Ohalo II people, who were fisher hunter-gatherers and established a sedentary human camp. The site was unusually well preserved, having been charred, covered by lake sediment, and sealed in low-oxygen conditions — ideal for the preservation of plant material. The researchers examined the weed species for morphological signs of domestic-type cereals and harvesting tools, although their very presence is evidence itself of early farming.
"This uniquely preserved site is one of the best archaeological examples worldwide of the hunter-gatherers' way of life," said Prof. Sternberg. "It was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants."
"Because weeds thrive in cultivated fields and disturbed soils, a significant presence of weeds in archaeobotanical assemblages retrieved from Neolithic sites and settlements of later age is widely considered an indicator of systematic cultivation," according to the study.
The site bears the remains of six shelters and a particularly rich assemblage of plants. Upon retrieving and examining approximately 150,000 plant specimens, the researchers determined that early humans there had gathered over 140 species of plants. These included 13 known weeds mixed with edible cereals, such as wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats.
The researchers found a grinding slab — a stone tool with which cereal starch granules were extracted — as well as a distribution of seeds around this tool, reflecting that the cereal grains were processed for consumption. The large number of cereals showing specific kinds of scars on their seeds indicate the likelihood of those cereals growing in fields, and the presence of sickle blades indicates that these humans deliberately planned the harvest of cereal.
The new study offers evidence that early humans clearly functioned with a basic knowledge of agriculture and, perhaps more importantly, exhibited foresight and extensive agricultural planning far earlier than previously believed.
New discovery at TAU excavation of Qesem Cave reveals early prehistoric "balanced" diet and presence of respiratory irritants
Most dentists recommend a proper teeth cleaning every six months to prevent, among other things, the implacable buildup of calculus or tartar — hardened dental plaque. Routine calculus buildup can only be removed through the use of ultrasonic tools or dental hand instruments. But what of 400,000-year-old dental tartar?
Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain, the U.K. and Australia, have uncovered evidence of food and potential respiratory irritants entrapped in the dental calculus of 400,000-year-old teeth at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major discoveries from the late Lower Paleolithic period. The research, published in Quaternary International, led by Prof. Karen Hardy of ICREA at the Universitat Autònoma, Barcelona, Spain, together with Prof. Ran Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, in collaboration with Dr. Rachel Sarig of TAU's School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Stephen Buckley of the University of York, Anita Radini of the University of York and the University of Leicester, U.K., and Prof. Les Copeland of the University of Sydney, Australia, provides direct evidence of what early Palaeolithic people ate and the quality of the air they breathed inside Qesem Cave.
Possible respiratory irritants, including traces of charcoal — manmade environmental pollution — found in the dental calculus, may have resulted from smoke inhalation from indoor fires used for roasting meat on a daily basis. This earliest direct evidence for inhaled environmental pollution may well have had a deleterious effect on the health of these early humans.
"Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque," said Prof. Gopher. "However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well."
In what Prof. Barkai describes as a "time capsule," the analysed calculus revealed three major findings: charcoal from indoor fires; evidence for the ingestion of essential plant-based dietary components; and fibers that might have been used to clean teeth or were remnants of raw materials.
"Prof. Karen Hardy published outstanding research on the dental calculus of Neanderthals from El Sidron cave in Spain, but these dated back just 40,000-50,000 years — we are talking far earlier than this," said Prof. Barkai.
Burned animal bones from Qesem Cave. Photo: Ruth Blasco
"This is the first evidence that the world's first indoor BBQs had health-related consequences," said Prof. Barkai. "The people who lived in Qesem not only enjoyed the benefits of fire — roasting their meat indoors — but they also had to find a way of controlling the fire — of living with it.
"This is one of the first, if not the first, cases of manmade pollution on the planet. I live near power plants, near chemical factories. On the one hand, we are dependent on technology, but on the other, we are inhaling its pollutants. Progress has a price — and we find possibly the first evidence of this at Qesem Cave 400,000 years ago."
The researchers also found minute traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, and small particles of starch in the analysed calculus. "We know that the cave dwellers ate animals, and exploited them entirely," said Prof. Barkai. "We know that they hunted them, butchered them, roasted them, broke their bones to extract their marrow, and even used the butchered bones as hammers to shape flint tools. Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed.
"We have come full circle in our understanding of their diet and hunting and gathering practices."
Within the calculus, the researchers also discovered small plant fibers, which they suspect may have been used to clean teeth — prehistoric tooth picks.
"Our findings are rare — there is no other similar discovery from this time period," said Prof. Barkai. "The charcoal and starch findings give us a more comprehensive idea of how these people lived their lives — and this broader view came directly from their teeth."
The research was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and Pharos Research sponsored the dental calculus work. The Qesem Cave excavations are supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the CARE Archaeological Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Thyssen Foundation, and the Dan David Foundation.
TAU discovers first direct evidence early flint tools were used to butcher animal carcasses
Some 2.5 million years ago, early humans survived on a paltry diet of plants. As the human brain expanded, however, it required more substantial nourishment — namely fat and meat — to sustain it. This drove prehistoric man, who lacked the requisite claws and sharp teeth of carnivores, to develop the skills and tools necessary to hunt animals and butcher fat and meat from large carcasses.
Among elephant remains some 500,000 years old at a Lower Paleolithic site in Revadim, Israel, Prof. Ran Barkai and his graduate students Natasha Solodenko and Andrea Zupanchich of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures recently analyzed "handaxes" and "scrapers," universally shaped and sized prehistoric stone tools, replete with animal residue.
The research, published recently in PLOS One, represents the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Paleolithic stone tools: to process animal carcasses and hides. The research was done in collaboration with Drs. Stella Ninziante Cesaro and Cristina Lemorini of La Sapienza, University of Rome, and Dr. Ofer Marder of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Putting the puzzle together
"There are three parts to this puzzle: the expansion of the human brain, the shift to meat consumption, and the ability to develop sophisticated technology to meet the new biological demands. The invention of stone technology was a major breakthrough in human evolution," Prof. Barkai said. "Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone.
"At the Revadim quarry, a wonderfully preserved site a half-million years old, we found butchered animal remains, including an elephant rib bone which had been neatly cut by a stone tool, alongside flint handaxes and scrapers still retaining animal fat. It became clear from further analyses that butchering and carcass processing indeed took place at this site."
Through use-wear analysis — examining the surfaces and edges of the tools to determine their function — and the Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) residue analysis which harnesses infrared to identify signatures of prehistoric organic compounds, the researchers were able to demonstrate for the first time direct proof of animal exploitation by flint tools.
"Archaeologists have until now only been able to suggest scenarios about the use and function of such tools. We don’t have a time machine," Prof. Barkai said. "It makes sense that these tools would be used to break down carcasses, but until evidence was uncovered to prove this, it remained just a theory."
A prehistoric Swiss army knife
While the question of their function and production remained unanswered until now, there was little doubt that the handaxe and scraper, found at prehistoric sites all around the world, were distinct, used for specific purposes. By replicating the flint tools for a modern butchering experiment, and then comparing the replicas with their prehistoric counterparts, the researchers determined that the handaxe was prehistoric man's sturdy "Swiss army knife," capable of cutting and breaking down bone, tough sinew, and hide. The slimmer, more delicate scraper was used to separate fur and animal fat from muscle tissue.
"Prehistoric peoples made use of all parts of the animal," said Prof. Barkai. "In the case of the massive elephant, for example, they would have needed to use both tools to manage such a challenging task. The knowledge of how to make these tools was precious, and must have been passed along from generation to generation, because these tools were reproduced the same way across great territorial expanses and over hundreds of thousands of years.
"In this thousand-piece puzzle called archaeology, sometimes we find pieces that connect other pieces together. This is what we have found with the stone tools and animal bones."
TAU discovery also indicates modern humans coexisted, interbred with Neanderthals in the Levant
While it is widely accepted that the origins of modern humans date back some 200,000 years to Africa, there has been furious debate as to which model of early Homo sapiens migration most plausibly led to the population of the planet — and the eventual extinction of Neanderthals. While fossil records prove that some anatomically modern human groups reached the Levantine corridor (the modern Middle East) as early as 100,000 years ago, genetic testing indicates that human populations inhabiting the globe today descended from a single group that migrated from Africa only 70,000 years ago — an unexplained gap of 30,000 years. Little evidence has emerged to bridge the contradictory theories.
Until now. The discovery in the Manot Cave of Israel's Western Galilee of an almost complete skull dating back 55,000 years provides direct anatomical evidence that fills the historic time gap of modern human migration into Europe. It is also the first proof that anatomically modern humans existed at the same time as Neanderthals in the same geographical area.
The finding, by Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, the Tassia and Dr. Joseph Meychan Chair for the History and Philosophy of Medicine at the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Head of The Dan David Laboratory for the Search and Study of Modern Humans at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and National Research Center, was published in Nature this week.
A new light on our ancestors
"The morphology of the skull indicates that it is that of a modern human of African origin, bearing characteristics of early European Upper Palaeolithic populations. This suggests that the Levantine populations were ancestral to earlier European populations," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "This study also provides important clues regarding the likely inbreeding between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals."
The Manot Cave, where the skull was unearthed, was discovered accidentally in 2008 when a bulldozer struck the cave roof, revealing a time capsule tens of thousands of years old. "This is a goldmine," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "Most other caves are 'disturbed caves,' but this is untouched, frozen in time — truly an amazing find. Among other artefacts found there, the skull, which we dated to 55,000 years ago using uranium thorium methods, was astonishing. It provides insight into the beginnings of the dispersal of modern humans all over the world."
According to Prof. Hershkovitz, the skull disproves two major narratives: that all modern human populations are linked to migrations out of Africa 100,000 years ago, and that early European Upper Paleolithic populations interbred with local European Neanderthals. Instead the skull indicates that modern humans met and interbred with Neanderthals in Israel, only to later pass on their genes to the rest of the world. Considering Europe was in the last Ice Age period, its harsh climate rendered it generally inhospitable, so humans from the Levant moved first to Asia, and only later (45,000 ago) to Europe.
Sorting out the contradictions
"This was a wonderful scenario, but there was one problem," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "Geneticists discovered that present-day human populations were linked to a group of African modern humans who started migrating 70,000 years ago. Accordingly, all previous migrations of modern humans out of Africa were presumed to have reached a dead end, contributing nothing to present-day human life. But this was a prediction based on genetic studies only. No fossils to be found anywhere to back it up."
The first physical evidence that modern man left Africa 70,000 years ago, stopped in Israel, then moved afterward to Europe came in the form of the newly discovered Manot skull. "This skull dates back 55,000 years, a critical time period," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "If modern humans indeed moved from Africa 70,000 years ago to Israel, this skull means they settled in the Levant for a long period of time, before moving to Europe (45,000 years ago).
"When we analysed the morphology of Manot skull, we made two important discoveries. First, we found African affinities, confirming that the Manot population originated in Africa. Second, we noted many morphological peculiarities akin to early Upper Paleolitic populations in Europe, which suggest ancestral connections to earlier European populations. All of this confirms that people in Manot came from Africa, stayed in Israel for several thousand years, and later, when weather conditions improved, moved to Europe. The Manot people are indeed the ancestors of European populations."
A further critical finding was the apparent communication and interbreeding between the local Neanderthals and the Manot Homo sapiens in the Levant — not in Europe, as some anthropologists previously hypothesized. "When the Manot people came to Israel, they encountered a flourishing population of Neanderthals, with whom they must have communicated, shared tools and interbred with," said Prof. Hershkovitz. "According to our analysis of the skull, which bears a complex mix of archaic and modern characteristics, this was probably the only place on earth where Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans lived side by side for a long period of time."
TAU researchers believe that corridors of massive 5,000-year-old temple were used for ritual discarding of bones
The identity of the gods worshipped at Tel Megiddo 5,000 years ago remains shrouded in mystery. But the ceremonies that took place at the vast Great Temple, unearthed in 2010 by Tel Aviv University's Megiddo Expedition, evidently involved animal sacrifice. Two long, narrow corridors in the main structure of the massive temple were discovered to be full of bones, as was a third corridor which served as the corridors' access path.
In an article published in April in The American Journal of Archaeology, Prof. Israel Finkelstein, Prof. David Ussishkin, and Dr. Matthew J. Adams of TAU's Megiddo Expedition, now say that the corridors were used to ritually discard bones after animal sacrifices. They suggest that the deliberate arrangement of the remains "lends support to the sanctity of the process and suggests that there was a ritual dimension to the discard process."
Prof. Finkelstein of TAU's Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Prof. Eric H. Cline of George Washington University currently co-direct the Mediddo Expedition.
More than 80 percent of the recently discovered remains were found to be those of young sheep and goats; the rest were cattle bones. The western corridor contained bones marked with cuts, which may have originated in the early stages of carcass processing. The bones in the eastern corridor showed signs of burning, possibly indicating that they were the product of later stages of carcass processing.
The Great Temple is the most monumental single structure uncovered from the Early Bronze Age in the Levant. The building, which covers 3,610 square feet, has no equal of its era. It is more than ten times larger than the average temple of the time, which measured around 328 square feet in size.
For more, read the Haaretz story:
"5,000-year old Megiddo temple yields evidence of industrial animal sacrifice"
Iron Age copper smelters were respected leaders with sophisticated skills, say Tel Aviv University archaeologists
In 1934, American archaeologist Nelson Glueck named one of the largest known copper production sites of the Levant "Slaves' Hill." This hilltop station, located deep in Israel's Arava Valley, seemed to bear all the marks of an Iron Age slave camp — fiery furnaces, harsh desert conditions, and a massive barrier preventing escape. New evidence uncovered by Tel Aviv University archaeologists, however, overturns this entire narrative.
In the course of ongoing excavations at Timna Valley, Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures analyzed remnants of food eaten by copper smelters 3,000 years ago. The result of this analysis, published in the journal Antiquity, indicates that the laborers operating the furnaces were in fact skilled craftsmen who enjoyed high social status and adulation. They believe their discovery may have ramifications for similar sites across the region.
"What we found represents a general trend or reality related to metal workers in antiquity," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "They had a very unique role in society, and we can demonstrate this by looking at Timna."
Examining ancient leftovers
The rare arid conditions of Timna have resulted in unparalleled preservation of organic materials usually destroyed by the march of time: bones, seeds, fruits, and even fabric dating back to the 10th century B.C. Using a technique called "wet sieving," the archaeologists found miniscule animal and fish bones, evidence of a rich and diverse diet.
"The copper smelters were given the better cuts of meat — the meatiest parts of the animals," said Dr. Sapir-Hen. "Someone took great care to give the people working in the furnaces the best of everything. They also enjoyed fish, which must have been brought from the Mediterranean hundreds of kilometers away. This was not the diet of slaves but of highly-regarded, maybe even worshipped, craftsmen."
Copper, used at the time to produce tools and weapons, was the most valuable resource in ancient societies. According to Dr. Ben-Yosef, the smelters needed to be well-versed in the sophisticated technology required to turn stone into usable copper. This knowledge was so advanced for the time it may have been considered magical or supernatural.
"Like oil today, copper was a source of great power," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "If a person had the exceptional knowledge to 'create copper,' it is not surprising he would have been treated well. In comparing our findings to current ethnographic accounts from Africa, we see smelters worshipped and even honored with animal sacrifices."
Copper production is a complex operation requiring many levels of expertise. Ancient mine workers at Timna may have indeed been slaves or prisoners, because theirs was a simple task performed under severe conditions. However, the act of smelting, turning stone into metal, required an enormous amount of skill and leadership. The smelter had to build a furnace out of clay in precise dimensions, provide the right amount of oxygen and charcoal, maintain a 1,200 degree (Celsius) heat, connect bellow pipes, blow a fixed amount of air, and add an exact mixture of minerals. All told, the smelter had to manage some 30-40 variables in order to produce the coveted copper ingots.
Reconstructing social diversity
According to Dr. Sapir-Hen, an expert on early complex societies, the food remains reflect the social stratification of different laborers at the site. "By studying the remains of domesticated food animals, we reveal differential access to meat that may indicate different levels of specialization among workers at the same site. This allowed us to reconstruct social diversity at the site," said Dr. Sapir-Hen.
The remains of the wall found at the Timna site, once considered a barrier used to contain slave laborers, apparently played a different role as well. "We now know it was a wall used to defend the sophisticated technology and its most precious product — the ingot, the result of the complex copper smelting process," said Dr. Ben-Yosef.
The research on the ancient societies of Timna continues as part of the Central Timna Valley (CTV) Project of Tel Aviv University.
TAU archaeologists pinpoint the date when domesticated camels arrived in Israel
Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible's historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.
Now Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures have used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the moment when domesticated camels arrived in the southern Levant, pushing the estimate from the 12th to the 9th century BCE. The findings, published recently in the journal Tel Aviv, further emphasize the disagreements between Biblical texts and verifiable history, and define a turning point in Israel's engagement with the rest of the world.
"The introduction of the camel to our region was a very important economic and social development," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "By analyzing archaeological evidence from the copper production sites of the Aravah Valley, we were able to estimate the date of this event in terms of decades rather than centuries."
Copper mining and camel riding
Archaeologists have established that camels were probably domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for use as pack animals sometime towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production. At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE. In 2013, he led another dig in the area.
To determine exactly when domesticated camels appeared in the southern Levant, Dr. Sapir-Hen and Dr. Ben-Yosef used radiocarbon dating and other techniques to analyze the findings of these digs as well as several others done in the valley. In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible. The few camel bones found in earlier archaeological layers probably belonged to wild camels, which archaeologists think were in the southern Levant from the Neolithic period or even earlier. Notably, all the sites active in the 9th century in the Arava Valley had camel bones, but none of the sites that were active earlier contained them.
The appearance of domesticated camels in the Aravah Valley appears to coincide with dramatic changes in the local copper mining operation. Many of the mines and smelting sites were shut down; those that remained active began using more centralized labor and sophisticated technology, according to the archaeological evidence. The researchers say the ancient Egyptians may have imposed these changes — and brought in domesticated camels — after conquering the area in a military campaign mentioned in both biblical and Egyptian sources.
Humping it to India
The origin of the domesticated camel is probably the Arabian Peninsula, which borders the Aravah Valley and would have been a logical entry point for domesticated camels into the southern Levant. In fact, Dr. Ben-Yosef and Dr. Sapir-Hen say the first domesticated camels ever to leave the Arabian Peninsula may now be buried in the Aravah Valley.
The arrival of domesticated camels promoted trade between Israel and exotic locations unreachable before, according to the researchers; the camels can travel over much longer distances than the donkeys and mules that preceded them. By the seventh century BCE, trade routes like the Incense Road stretched all the way from Africa through Israel to India. Camels opened Israel up to the world beyond the vast deserts, researchers say, profoundly altering its economic and social history.
TAU discusses the origins of recycling at on-campus conference
Recycling may seem like a modern practice, championed by 21st century environmentalists and concerned urbanites. But there is mounting evidence that, hundreds of thousands of years ago, cavemen recycled the objects they used in their daily lives, says Prof. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures.
"For the first time, we are revealing the extent of this phenomenon, both in terms of the amount of recycling that went on and the different methods used," Prof. Barkai said at a four-day gathering he helped organize at TAU in October. The conference, titled "The Origins of Recycling," gathered nearly 50 scholars from about 10 countries to compare notes and figure out what the phenomenon meant for our prehistoric ancestors.
From caves in Spain and North Africa to sites in Italy and Israel, archaeologists have been finding recycled tools in recent years. Just as today we recycle materials,
like paper and plastic, to manufacture new items, early hominids would collect discarded or broken tools made of flint and bone to create new utensils, Prof. Barkai said. The behavior appeared at different times, in different places, and with different methods. Recycling was widespread not only among early humans but also among our evolutionary predecessors, such as Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and other species of hominids that have not yet been named.
Prof. Avi Gopher, also of TAU's Department of Archaeology, said the early appearance of recycling highlights its role as a basic survival strategy. While they may not have been driven by concerns over pollution and the environment, hominids shared some of our motivations, he said.
"Why do we recycle plastic? To conserve energy and raw materials," Gopher said. "In the same way, if you recycled flint you didn't have to go all the way to the quarry to get more, so you conserved your energy and saved on the material."
He said scientists have various ways to determine if a tool was recycled. They can find direct evidence of retouching and reuse, or they can look at the object's patina — a progressive discoloration that occurs once stone is exposed to the elements. Differences in the patina indicate that a fresh layer of material was exposed hundreds or thousands of years after the tool's first incarnation.
For more, see the AP story at Yahoo News:
TAU researchers say animals descended from pigs brought by the Philistines 3,000 years ago
Wild boars look more or less the same in Israel as they do anywhere else: stalky and hairy with big heads, long snouts, and beady eyes. So scientists had no reason to suspect Israeli wild boars were any different than their brothers and sisters roaming the Middle East, from Egypt to Iran.
Now, in a study reported in the New York Times today, Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Dr. Meirav Meiri of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near East Civilizations together with Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen from the same department and Dr. Dorothee Huchon of TAU's Department of Zoology have found that, unlike the Near Eastern wild boars in surrounding countries, Israel's wild boars originated in Europe. After a genetic and archaeological analysis, the researchers suggest the wild boars living in Israel are descendants of domesticated pigs brought to Israel starting almost 3,000 years ago by the Philistines and other seafaring raiders.
The findings were published this week in Scientific Reports. Prof. Steve Weiner and Dr. Eilsabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of Haifa University, Dr. Greger Larsen of Durham University, Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University and Dr. Liora Kolska Horwitz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem contributed to the study.
Pillagers and pig lovers
"Our DNA analysis proves that the wild boars living in Israel today are the descendants of European pigs brought here starting in the Iron Age, around 900 BCE," says Prof. Finkelstein. "Given the concentration of pig bones found at Philistine archaeological sites, the European pigs likely came over in the Philistines' boats."
Pig bones have been found in abundance at Philistine archaeological sites along Israel's southern coastal plane dating from the beginning of the Iron Age, around 1150 to 950 BCE. But pig bones are rare or absent at Iron Age sites in other parts of the country, including in the central hills, where Ancient Israel is thought to have emerged. The researchers set out to determine whether the Philistines and other Sea Peoples — groups of seafaring invaders from around the Aegean Sea — made use of local pig breeds or brought new ones with them from their native lands. Because there is not much difference in the size and the shape between European and Near Eastern pigs, the researchers had to use DNA testing to identify the origins of the animals.
Genetics researchers divide the pigs of the world into three main groups: European, Far Eastern, and Near Eastern. To the researchers' surprise, each of the 25 modern-day wild boars they analyzed from Israel share a European genetic signature, whereas modern-day boars from nearby countries, like Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, and Iran, have a Near Eastern genetic signature. The researchers conclude that European pigs arrived in Israel at some point and overtook the local pig population.
To find out when, the researchers collected and analyzed pig bones from archaeological sites across Israel — ranging from the Neolithic period to medieval times, 9500 BCE to 1200 CE — the most comprehensive study of ancient DNA carried out in Israel in terms of both number of samples and time span. The results showed that pigs from the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age display the local Near Eastern genetic signature, while a European genetic signature appears early in the Iron Age, around 900 BCE, and has been dominant ever since. Domestic European pig breeds may have been introduced by groups of "Sea Peoples" — including the Philistines, mentioned in the Bible — who migrated to the coast of the Levant starting in the 12th century BCE and settled in places like Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod.
Making themselves at home
Additional European pigs could have been brought to the Levant during the Roman-Byzantine period and during the Crusades. Over time, Over time, the European pigs overtook the local pig population, and their descendants are the only wild boars living in Israel today. The domestic European pigs could have driven the local pigs to extinction, or mated with them — which the researchers think is more likely. To find out for sure, they are further analyzing the DNA of modern wild boars.
"If the European pigs mated with the local pigs, as we suspect, today's modern wild boars should have some Near Eastern DNA," says Dr. Meiri, who conducted the laboratory work for the study in a special, highly sterile lab in TAU's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology. "If the European pigs just out-competed the locals, we'd expect the wild boars to have purely European DNA."
The pig study is part of a larger project directed by Prof. Finkelstein and Prof. Weiner, which makes use of modern exact- and life-science methods to study the Iron Age. It was funded by a generous research grant from the prestigious European Research Council.
To read the New York Times story, visit:
TAU archaeologists dig under Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea to explain the collapse of Bronze Age empires in the Levant
More than 3,200 years ago, the thriving civilizations in and around modern-day Israel suddenly collapsed for reasons that have long been a mystery.
Now Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Dr. Dafna Langgut of the Dr. Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Thomas Litt of the University of Bonn in Germany have found an answer in the pollen at the bottom of Israel's lakes. In a study published Monday in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and reported in the New York Times, the researchers say it was drought that led to the fall of the ancient southern Levant.
As a result of this climate change, "in a short period of time the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled," explains Prof. Finkelstein.
An unusually high-resolution analysis of pollen grains taken from sediment beneath the Sea of Galilee and the western shore of the Dead Sea, backed up by a chronology of radiocarbon dating, pinpointed the period of the crisis at between 1250 and 1100 BC. The study used a unique combination of technological, archaeological, and historical analysis to provide the fullest picture yet of the environmental disaster.
Several years ago, Prof. Finkelstein received a grant from the European Research Council to conduct research aimed at reconstructing ancient Israel. The project consists of 10 tracks, including ancient DNA and molecular archaeology. For the climate change part of the project, the researchers extracted about 60 feet of samples of gray muddy sediment from the center of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Drills passed through 1,000 feet of water and into 65 feet of the lake bed, recovering evidence dating over the past nine millenia. At Wadi Zeelim in the southern Judean Desert, on the western margins of the Dead Sea, the researchers manually extracted eight cores of sediment, each about 20 inches long.
"Pollen is the most enduring organic material in nature," explains Dr. Langgut, a pollen researcher who carried out the actual work of sampling. "These particles tell us about the vegetation that grew in the vicinity of the lake in the past and therefore testify to the climatic conditions in the region."
The results showed a sharp decrease in the Late Bronze Age of Mediterranean trees like oaks, pines, and carobs, and a similar decline in the local cultivation of olive trees, which the experts interpret as the consequence of repeated periods of drought. The droughts were likely exacerbated by cold spells, causing famine and the movement of marauders from north to south.
Recent studies of pollen grains conducted by experts in southeast Anatolia, Cyprus, along the northern coast of Syria and the Nile Delta came up with similar results, indicating that the crisis was regional. After the devastation came a wet period of recovery and resettlement, according to the researchers, eventually giving rising to the kingdoms of biblical times, including ancient Israel and Judah.
For more, see the New York Times story at:
An excavation led by TAU archaeologists dates mines in the south of Israel to the days of King Solomon
New findings from an archaeological excavation led this winter by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University's Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures prove that copper mines in Israel thought to have been built by the ancient Egyptians in the 13th century BCE actually originated three centuries later, during the reign of the legendary King Solomon.
Based on the radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in Timna Valley in Israel's Aravah Desert, the findings overturn the archaeological consensus of the last several decades. Scholarly work and materials found in the area suggest the mines were operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that according to the Bible warred constantly with Israel.
"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon," says Dr. Ben-Yosef. "They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise."
Slaves to history
Now a national park, Timna Valley was an ancient copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites. In February 2013, Dr. Ben-Yosef and a team of researchers and students excavated a previously untouched site in the valley, known as the Slaves' Hill. The area is a massive smelting camp containing the remains of hundreds of furnaces and layers of copper slag, the waste created during the smelting process.
In addition to the furnaces, the researchers unearthed an impressive collection of clothing, fabrics, and ropes made using advanced weaving technology; foods, like dates, grapes, and pistachios; ceramics; and various types of metallurgical installations. The world-renowned Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford in England dated 11 of the items to the 10th century BCE, when according to the Bible King Solomon ruled the Kingdom of Israel.
The archaeological record shows the mines in Timna Valley were built and operated by a local society, likely the early Edomites, who are known to have occupied the land and formed a kingdom that rivaled Judah. The unearthed materials and the lack of architectural remains at the Slaves' Hill support the idea that the locals were a semi-nomadic people who lived in tents.
The findings from the Slaves' Hill confirm those of a 2009 dig Ben-Yosef helped to conduct at "Site 30," another of the largest ancient smelting camps in Timna Valley. Then a graduate student of Prof. Thomas E. Levy at the University of California, San Diego, he helped demonstrate that the copper mines in the valley dated from the 11th to 9th centuries BCE — the era of Kings David and Solomon — and were probably Edomite in origin. The findings were reported in the journal The American Schools of Oriental Research in 2012, but the publication did little to shake the notion that the mines were Egyptian, based primarily on the discovery of an Egyptian Temple in the center of the valley in 1969.
Power without stone
The Slaves' Hill dig also demonstrates that the society in Timna Valley was surprisingly complex. The smelting technology was relatively advanced and the layout of the camp reflects a high level of social organization. Impressive cooperation would have been required for thousands of people to operate the mines in the middle of the desert.
"In Timna Valley, we unearthed a society with undoubtedly significant development, organization, and power," says Ben-Yosef. "And yet because the people were living in tents, they would have been transparent to us as archaeologists if they had been engaged in an industry other than mining and smelting, which is very visible archaeologically."
Although the society likely possessed a degree of political and military power, archaeologists would probably never have found evidence of its existence if it were not for the mining operation. Ben-Yosef says this calls into question archaeology's traditional assumption that advanced societies usually leave behind architectural ruins. He also says that the findings at the Slaves' Hill undermine criticisms of the Bible's historicity based on a lack of archaeological evidence. It's entirely possible that David and Solomon existed and even that they exerted some control over the mines in the Timna Valley at times, he says.
Dr. Ben-Yosef is leading another dig at the Slaves' Hill in the winter and is looking for volunteers.
A new excavation on the Israeli coast reveals ancient Assyrian wall
Researchers from Tel Aviv University have unearthed the remains of massive ancient fortifications built around an Iron-Age Assyrian harbor in present-day Israel.
At the heart of the well-preserved fortifications is a mud-brick wall up to more than 12 feet wide and 15 feet high. The wall is covered in layers of mud and sand that stretch for hundreds of feet on either side. When they were built in the eighth century B.C.E., the fortifications formed a daunting crescent-shaped defense for an inland area covering more than 17 acres.
The finding comes at the end of the first excavation season at the Ashdod-Yam archaeological dig in the contemporary Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, just south of Tel Aviv. Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures is leading the project on behalf of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology.
"The fortifications appear to protect an artificial harbor," says Fantalkin. "If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant."
Building up and putting down
When the fortifications were built, the Assyrians ruled the southeastern part of the Mediterranean basin, including parts of Africa and the Middle East. Assyrian inscriptions reveal that at the end of the century, Yamani, the rebel king of Ashdod, led a rebellion against Sargon II, the king of the Assyrian Empire. The Kingdom of Judah, under King Hezekiah, rejected Yamani's call to join the insurrection.
The Assyrians responded harshly to the rebellion, eventually destroying Philistine Ashdod. As a result, power shifted to the nearby area of Ashdod-Yam, where the TAU excavations are taking place. The fortifications seem to be related to these events, but it is not yet clear exactly how. They could have been built before or after the Ashdod rebellion was put down, either at the initiative of the locals or at the orders of the Assyrians.
"An amazing amount of time and energy was invested in building the wall and glacis [embankments]," says Fantalkin.
3D castles in the sand
More recent ruins — from the Hellenistic period, between the fourth and second centuries B.C.E. — were also found on top of the sand of the Iron Age fortifications. The buildings and walls were apparently built after the fortifications were abandoned and then probably destroyed by an earthquake in the second half of the second century B.C.E. Among the unusually well-preserved ruins were artifacts, including coins and weights.
The researchers employed a powerful new digital technique, photogrammetry, to create a 3D reconstruction of all the features of the excavation. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln provided the equipment. Dr. Philip Sapirstein, a postdoctoral fellow at TAU, served as a digital surveyor on the project.
The only archaeological work done previously at Ashdod-Yam was a series of exploratory digs led by late Israeli archaeologist Dr. Jacob Kaplan on behalf of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Museum of Antiquities between 1965 and 1968. Kaplan believed the Ashdod rebels built the fortifications in anticipation of an Assyrian attack, but Fantalkin says the construction appears too impressive to have been done under such circumstances.
A dig in Israel's Apollonia National Park has unearthed coins, rings, and jewelry in a Byzantine refuse pit
Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority have discovered an archaeological treasure trove in an ancient garbage dump.
The dig, funded by the Israel Lands Administration, is part of the TAU-run Apollonia-Arsuf excavation project just north of Tel Aviv. The researchers are particularly interested in a number of Byzantine refuse pits on the site. One large pit, about 100 feet wide, was found to contain 400 Byzantine coins, 200 Samaritan lamps, and a variety of gold jewelry.
"In the midst of the many sherds [ancient fragments] in the big refuse pit was a large amount of usable artifacts, whose presence in the pit raises questions," Prof. Oren Tal, the chairman of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, said. Of note is an octagonal ring with excerpts from the Samaritan Pentateuch, including the words "Adonai is his name" and "One God, and so on" engraved in Samaritan around the band.
"Approximately a dozen Samaritan rings have been published so far in scientific literature, and this ring constitutes an important addition given the assemblage in which it was discovered," said Tal.
During many historical periods, the area of the excavation site served as farmland for the ancient city of Appollonia, also known as Arsuf, located along the nearby Mediterranean coast. Archaeological excavations conducted in what is now the Apollonia National Park between the 1950s and today show the site was continuously inhabited for more than 1,500 years — from the Persian period in the late sixth century BCE until the end of the Crusader period in the 13th century. The centerpiece of the park is a ruined Crusader fortress.
For more information about the dig, see the HeritageDaily story:
TAU research says unique structure is the product of skilled construction
The shores of the Sea of Galilee, located in the North of Israel, are home to a number of significant archaeological sites. Now researchers from Tel Aviv University have found an ancient structure deep beneath the waves as well.
Researchers stumbled upon a cone-shaped monument, approximately 230 feet in diameter, 39 feet high, and weighing an estimated 60,000 tons, while conducting a geophysical survey on the southern Sea of Galilee, reports Prof. Shmulik Marco of TAU's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences. The team also included TAU Profs. Zvi Ben-Avraham and Moshe Reshef, and TAU alumni Dr. Gideon Tibor of the Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute.
Initial findings indicate that the structure was built on dry land approximately 6,000 years ago, and later submerged under the water. Prof. Marco calls it an impressive feat, noting that the stones, which comprise the structure, were probably brought from more than a mile away and arranged according to a specific construction plan.
Dr. Yitzhak Paz of the Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University says that the site, which was recently detailed in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, resembles early burial sites in Europe and was likely built in the early Bronze Age. He believes that there may be a connection to the nearby ancient city of Beit Yerah, the largest and most fortified city in the area.
Ancient structure revealed by sonar
The team of researchers initially set out to uncover the origins of alluvium pebbles found in this area of the Sea of Galilee, which they believe were deposited by the ancient Yavniel Creek, a precursor to the Jordan River south of the Sea of Galilee. While using sonar technology to survey the bottom of the lake, they observed a massive pile of stones in the midst of the otherwise smooth basin.
Curious about the unusual blip on their sonar, Prof. Marco went diving to learn more. A closer look revealed that the pile was not a random accumulation of stones, but a purposefully-built structure composed of three-foot-long volcanic stones called basalt. Because the closest deposit of the stone is more than a mile away, he believes that they were brought to the site specifically for this structure.
To estimate the age of the structure, researchers turned to the accumulation of sand around its base. Due to a natural build-up of sand throughout the years, the base is now six to ten feet below the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. Taking into account the height of the sand and the rate of accumulation, researchers deduced that the monument is several thousand years old.
Next, the researchers plan to organize a specialized underwater excavations team to learn more about the origins of the structure, including an investigation of the surface the structure was built on. A hunt for artefacts will help to more accurately date the monument and give clues as to its purpose and builders. And while it is sure to interest archaeologists, Prof. Marco says that the findings could also illuminate the geological history of the region.
"The base of the structure — which was once on dry land — is lower than any water level that we know of in the ancient Sea of Galilee. But this doesn't necessarily mean that water levels have been steadily rising," he says. Because the Sea of Galilee is a tectonically active region, the bottom of the lake, and therefore the structure, may have shifted over time. Further investigation is planned to increase the understanding of past tectonic movements, the accumulation of sediment, and the changing water levels throughout history.