Examples of single scrapers, late acheulean tools (Lintov & Barkai, TAU)

A groundbreaking discovery near Qessem Cave in the Jaljuliya area, close to Rosh Ha'ayin, has revealed unique 400,000-year-old stone tools used by ancient hunters. These tools, primarily crafted for hunting and processing deer, provide significant insights into early human adaptation and technological evolution. The findings, published in the April issue of the journal Archaeologies, were led by Vlad Litov and Prof. Ran Barkai from Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures.

Evolution of Hunting Tools
Most archaeologists believe that for nearly a million years, early human species like Homo-erectus relied on stone tools known as scrapers to process hides and scrape meat from the bones of large game, particularly elephants. These large animals were a primary source of nutrition and calories for these ancient people. However, the study reveals a significant shift in hunting practices that occurred roughly 400,000 years ago, during the late Lower Paleolithic period, when elephants disappeared from the region. Consequently, hunters were forced to adapt to hunting smaller and swifter animals, such as fallow deer (dama dama).

Characteristics of the Stone Tools
The newly discovered stone tools feature an active edge shaped like scales, making them suitable for both cutting and processing hides to use for clothing or shelter. This adaptation was crucial for hunting and butchering the agile fallow deer. The tools were made from flint sourced from the Samarian hills, east of Jaljuliya and Qessem Cave, areas also known to be an area where fallow deer raised theiy calves. Researchers suggest that the nearby Mounts Ebal and Gerizim may have held sacred significance for ancient hunters as early as the Paleolithic period. Ebal was the site where, according to the Book of Joshua, the Israelites built an altar where Joshua renewed the Mount Sinai covenant between God and the Hebrews.

Research Findings and Interpretation
"In this study, we sought to understand why stone tools changed throughout human prehistory, focusing on the technological shift in scrapers during the Lower Paleolithic period," said Litov. "We discovered that during this time, there was a dramatic change in the human diet, likely due to the composition of the fauna: large animals, particularly elephants, disappeared, and humans had to hunt smaller animals, mainly fallow deer."

Prof. Barkai added, "In our research, we identify links between technological developments and changes in the animals that early humans hunted and consumed. For years, scientific research believed that changes in stone tools resulted from the biological and intellectual evolution of humans."

Archaeological Evidence
Excavations at the Jaljuliya archaeological site near Highway 6, where Homo erectus likely lived, revealed numerous advanced scrapers made from non-local flint. The closest sources of this flint were the Ben Shemen Forest to the south and the western slopes of Samaria to the east. These findings were corroborated by similar discoveries at the nearby Qessem Cave archaeological site.

Cultural and Perceptual Significance
Prof. Barkai noted the perceptual connection between the source of the fallow deer and the flint used to butcher them. The calving areas of fallow deer in the Ebal and Gerizim mountains and the use of flint from the Samarian hills indicate a perceptual significance for these hunters. This connection is similar to practices observed among indigenous groups today.

Litov concluded that the resarchers speculate the Samarian hills were considered sacred by these ancient people because they were the source of the fallow deer. When the local inhabitants saw the elephants disappearing, they became reliant on fallow deer and began developing unique tools to process their hides and meat.

Broader Implications
These scrapers first appeared in Jaljuliya between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago on a small scale and became more widespread from 400,000 to 200,000 years ago, particularly in Qessem Cave. Notably, butchered fallow deer bones were also found on Mount Ebal, suggesting a long-standing sacred connection to the region.

The findings highlight the interplay between environment, technology, and cultural practices, offering new insights into the lives of ancient hunters in Israel.

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