Long before the Israelites inhabited Palestine, long before the Canaanites, long before the Natufians, peoples roamed the land.
As part of the land bridge linking Africa to both Europe and the East, the earliest humans who came out of Africa would have come through the Levant.
The oldest archaeological site in Israel is at Ubaidiya, about three miles south of the Sea of Galilee.
Stone tools associated with the Acheulian culture and probably Homo erectus were found there, dating back between 1.2 million and 1.55 million years ago.
Other sites offer evidence of human activity to the end of the Lower Paleolithic, about 250,000 years ago, and continuing into the Mousterian culture of the Middle Paleolithic, when both Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens lived and hunted in the region.
Two recent articles are a reminder of how human ingenuity developed over time.
A story published July 8 in “Plos One” suggests evidence that humans living in Qafzeh Cave in northern Israel had mastered the art of making string by twisting vegetable fibers together sometime between 160,000 and 120,000 years ago.
The string itself has not survived but must have been used, as archaeologists found a collection of mollusk shells (mostly Glycymeris nummaria) that appear to have been strung together.
The shells had a natural perforation in the end unlike similar shells found in the older Mislaya Cave near Mount Carmel, none of which was perforated.
Neither community was located on the coast, and all of the shells in question showed erosive effects of having been on the shore for a while, so the shells must have been collected for their aesthetic value and carried to the respective caves.
The authors theorize the people of Qafzeh Cave chose perforated shells that were intended to be strung on a necklace – and that implies the presence of string.
To support their theory, they collected some of the same type shells, attached them to string made of twisted flax and simulated wear by hanging them in front of a fan and pouring salt water over them to emulate sweat.
After wear, microscopic analysis of the perforation showed the same type of marks around the holes that were found in the ancient shells from Qafzeh cave.
String-making developed into a fine art over time. During the Epipaleolithic period, regarded in the Middle East as stretching from about 20,000 to 25,000 years to 10,000 years ago, technology had advanced in terms of not only string-making and flint knapping, but the carving of fine implements, such as fishhooks.
Archaeologists studying the Jordan River Dureijat site, about 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee and just south of the now-defunct Lake Huleh, have discovered a spot that served as a periodic campsite and fishing spot for hunter-gatherers throughout the Epipaleolithic period.
The area was swampy at the time, and the waters of Paleolake Huleh rose and fell, making it unsuitable for permanent habitation. However, when the water was down, it was an ideal spot for fishing and collecting mollusks, amphibians and turtles, as well as game animals that inhabited the area.
Writing in “PaleoAnthropology,” the several authors report finding hundreds of flint tools, an abundance of net weights made from limestone pebbles and even finely carved fishhooks clearly designed to be attached to a fine string.
An analysis of fish bones show their catch included trout (the climate was cooler then) as well as giant carp that could grow up to 10 feet long.
The human imagination is an amazing thing, and the ancients were much smarter than we often give them credit for.
However creation came about, we can be confident that God wants us to use the reasoning ability of our good minds and draw thoughtful conclusions based on evidence.
When notably spurious claims sprout up, such as the notion that the earth is just 6,000 years old, that skin color determines worth or that White House tweets are trustworthy, we can avoid swallowing them hook, line and sinker.
Photo credit: Jordan River Dureijat, where people fished from 20,000 years ago and into the Neolithic. Originally published in PaleoAnthropology. Taken by Gonen Sharon, Head of MA in Galilee Studies, Tel Hai College.