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Neanderthals in Israel lived in open camps, not only caves, 50,000 years ago

Hebrew University team says prehistoric humans near present-day Haifa used camp site as ‘home base’ for 10,000 years

Dr. Reuven Yeshurun of Haifa University excavating animal bones at the Ein Qashish archaeological site in northern Israel. (Prof. Erella Hovers, Hebrew University)
Dr. Reuven Yeshurun of Haifa University excavating animal bones at the Ein Qashish archaeological site in northern Israel. (Prof. Erella Hovers, Hebrew University)

Neanderthals in northern Israel lived for thousands of years in open-air camps, researchers from the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology said in a paper Wednesday. The finding contradicts the widely held belief that the ancestors of modern humans inhabited only fixed shelters, like caves and rock structures.

Bones and artifacts unearthed at the Ein Qashish archaeological site, 10 kilometers southeast of Haifa, indicated that Neanderthals were settled in the area for about 10,000 years during the Paleolithic era, some 50,000-60,000 years ago, the research team, headed by Prof. Erella Hovers, said in the paper.

Archaeologists have been excavating Neanderthal remains and artifacts across a 1,200-square-kilometer area of northern Israel for the past 20 years. The Hebrew University team got a break in 2013 when it was called to a site before a road construction project in northern Israel, near the Kishon River, an area in which previous digs had unearthed Neanderthal artifacts.

Together with the  Israel Antiquities Authority, the researchers excavated some 670 square meters at the site digging through thousands of years of accumulated sediment near the banks of the river to a depth of 4.5 meters.

A view of the Ein Qashish excavation site. (Prof. Erella Hovers, Hebrew University)

The artifacts they found, including animal bones and tools, indicated that Neanderthals had intermittently occupied the site over thousands of years, and carried out a range of activities there, suggesting that Neanderthals lived at Ein Qashish.

“Ein Qashish functioned mainly as a residential site in which general activities took place, indicating a stable settlement system during the late Middle Paleolithic [era],” the report said, noting that rather than a permanent village, the locale was used as a “home base” for the prehistoric humans.

Researchers had previously believed that Neanderthals only used open sites for “task-specific, short-term occupations,” the report said, which was “an oversimplification of a complex behavioral system.”

“Open-air sites are an integral part of the settlement systems in the Levant during the Middle Paleolithic,” the report said. “Together with cave sites, they constitute complementary components of settlement/mobility systems.”

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