Israeli archaeologists have uncovered unique remains from a prehistoric culture in northern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Sunday, including an etching of two birds, possibly ostriches, and a bowl with more than 200 colored beads.

The finds were found in the ruins of a settlement dating to approximately 7,000 years ago and located at Ein Zippori, near the city of Nazareth.

The excavation turned up flint tools like sickle blades, showing that residents were farmers, and axes used to cut wood. Also found were blades made of obsidian — a type of stone not locally available, and which must have been brought from afar over ancient trade routes, according to the archaeologists in charge of the dig. The closest known source of obsidian is in modern-day Turkey.

“These objects traveled thousands of kilometers,” said Ianir Milevski, the dig’s co-director. “They tell us that either people from Zippori walked far to the north, or that a population to the north was in contact with communities here.”

The findings link the site to a civilization that existed in what is now Israel between 5500 and 4500 BCE. The civilization, known as the Wadi Rabbah culture, was named for the first site at which it was discovered northeast of Tel Aviv in the 1950s.

The extent of the newly excavated site, around 50 acres, makes it “one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country where there are remains of this culture,” according to Sunday’s statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The site had been previously known but was not excavated until the current dig got under way in 2011. It is slated to be completed by the end of 2012. The excavation, a salvage dig, is being carried out ahead of the expansion of a highway that will partially cover the settlement’s remains.

Among the finds from the Ein Zippori site is this stone tablet etched with the figures of two ostriches (photo credit: Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority/Clara Amit)

Among the finds from the Ein Zippori site is this stone tablet etched with the figures of two birds, possibly ostriches (photo credit: Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority/Clara Amit)

The beads and bird engravings are among a number of pieces of ancient artwork found at the site, including clay figurines of pigs, cattle and sheep.

If the birds are ostriches, as the archaeologists suggest, they echo similar depictions of ostriches known to archaeologists from remains in Mesopotamia around the same time.

“These objects indicate a special group in this society, perhaps an elite, that was in touch with other places and cultures,” Milevski said.

After 4500 BCE. the Wadi Rabbah culture was gradually replaced with more advanced societies characterized by their ability to work with metal, knowledge that the residents of this settlement did not possess.

The biblical Israelites are thought to have arrived here more than 3,000 years after that, in around 1200 BCE.

During their work at Ein Zippori the archaeologists also found nails and horseshoes from a much later period — that of the Crusaders, who camped out at the site before their famous defeat to Saladin’s forces at the nearby Horns of Hattin in 1187 CE.

_________

Find Matti Friedman on Twitter and Facebook.