The people who lived in the Hula valley hundreds of thousands of years ago made long journeys to obtain quality raw material for the production of hand stones
A new study by Tel Aviv University and Tel Hai Academic College provides an answer to an old riddle: Where did the ancient humans who lived in the Hula Valley get the flint stones that they used to make ancient tools called hand stones? As part of the research, the researchers collected and examined hand stones from the earliest prehistoric sites in the Hula Valley, Ma'ayan Baruch and Benot Ya'akov Bridge, using advanced analysis methods and artificial intelligence, in order to identify their geochemical signature. According to the findings, the source of the raw material is the fine flint outcrops in Ramat Dishon, at a distance of about 20 km from the sites and hundreds of meters above the Hula Valley. According to the researchers, the findings indicate high social and cognitive abilities of the ancient man. "He knew his environment and the resources available in it, invested considerable effort to obtain the required high-quality raw material, planned and carried out long-distance journeys for this purpose, and even passed on the vital knowledge from generation to generation."
The "Swiss army knife" of ancient man
The research was led by Dr. Meir Finkel From the Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures named after Yaakov M. an alcove, and Prof. Gonen Sharon from Tel Hai Academic College, in collaboration with Prof. Erez Ben Yosef also from the Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, Dr. Oded Bar and Dr. Yoav Ben Dor from the Israel Geological Survey, and Ofir Tirosh from the Hebrew University. It was recently published in the journal Geoarchaeology.
In the current study, the researchers tried to locate the source of the raw material that was used in the production of thousands of hand stones from the Illusory culture, starting 750,000 years ago, which were found at the sites of Gesher Bnot Ya'akov and Ma'ayan Baruch in the Hula Valley. "Emek Hula is known all over the world as a center of prehistoric sites, the oldest of which are about 750,000 years old. The reason for this is apparently that the area is located on the axis of migration from Africa to the north, along the Dead Sea rift which is part of the great African rift, and the ancients found there an abundance of water, vegetation and animals for hunting. The ancient inhabitants left behind, among other things, thousands of hand stones - flints that were hewn to fit the grip of a human hand. Hand stones are among the earliest tools made by man, and may have been a kind of multi-purpose 'Swiss army knife' that was used for a wide variety of crafts, from cutting meat from hunted animals, to digging in the ground in search of water and roots. It is a universal tool that was used in many places in the old world, in Africa, Asia and Europe, for about one and a half million years," explains Dr. Finkel.
"At the Ma'ayan Baruch site alone, about 3,500 hand stones were found scattered over the surface, and at the Bnot Ya'akov Bridge, several thousand more were found. The average length of the hand stones is over ten cm and they weigh about 200 grams, but we know that in order to produce such a tool, one must start by chipping a stone about 5 times larger, which weighs at least one kilogram of raw material", explains Prof. Sharon and expands " A simple calculation shows that for the production of the 3,500 hand stones found only at the Maayan Baruch site, at least 3 and a half tons of flint are needed, and the question arises: where did the ancient man bring such a large amount of flint? In order to solve the riddle, our research for the first time used the innovative means available to us today: advanced chemical analysis and an artificial intelligence algorithm specially adapted for this purpose."
20 km journeys in different terrain conditions
The researchers took samples from 20 hand stones, 10 from the Yaakov Bridge and 10 from the Baruch Spring, ground them into powder, and dissolved the powder using acids in a clean laboratory. They then measured the concentration of about forty different chemical elements in each sample using an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer, which allows efficient and accurate measurement of the concentrations of dozens of elements in a wide concentration range, up to a resolution of one part per billion.
At the same time, the researchers conducted a walking survey in which they searched for possible sources of flint, throughout the Hula Valley and its surroundings - flint outcrops in the Safed Mountains, in the Ramim Range, in the Golan Heights and in the Dishon Plateau near Baram, as well as pebbles from streams that flow into the Hula Valley - the Jordan, Nahal Ayon, Nahal Dishon, Nahal Rosh Pina and Nahal Mahaniim. This systematic review, combined with a comprehensive literature review led by Dr. Barr from the Geological Institute, allowed the researchers to locate the possible sources of flint that were available to the people who lived in the Hula Valley in the past.
The flint samples collected from all potential sources were also tested using a mass spectrometer, to enable comparison and correlation between them and the hand stones. The association process was carried out with the help of a computational approach adapted for this purpose by Dr. Ben Dor from the Geological Institute. "The complex process yielded a very large amount of data for each sample. In order to achieve an optimal match between the data of the items from the archaeological sites and the rock samples, we developed a dedicated algorithm based on several computational steps, alongside machine learning models. In this way we were able to classify the archaeological items in light of the database of the geological samples".
"They planned and conducted 20 km journeys that included an ascent from a height of 70 m to 800 m above sea level. In addition, it turns out that they passed this important knowledge from generation to generation, over tens and even hundreds of thousands of years."
The results surprised the researchers. "The computational process we carried out relates all 20 archaeological items to a flint stone from the Eocene period that is located in Ramat Dishon, about 20 km west of the Ma'ayan Baruch and Gesher Benot Ya'akov sites," says Dr. Finkel. "In Ramet Dishon ancient sites were also found, indicating that the place was used as a source of raw material for hundreds of thousands of years. At the same time, we ruled out the possibility that the pebbles originating from the streams that flow into the Hula valley were used as a source of raw material, because they are too small."
"Our findings clearly indicate the high cognitive and social abilities of humans who lived in the Hula Valley hundreds of thousands of years ago, most likely hominids of the Homo erectus species. In order to obtain suitable raw material for the production of the essential hand stones, they planned and conducted 20 km journeys that included an ascent from an altitude of 70 m to 800 m above sea level. In addition, it turns out that they passed this important knowledge from generation to generation, over tens and even hundreds of thousands of years. All of these are evidence of great sophistication, beyond the estimates accepted today regarding the abilities of early man in such an early period," Prof. Ben-Yosef concludes.
More of the topic in Hayadan: