Photo Credit: Samuel Magal, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Maayan Shemer, excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority, showing a half-million year-old hand axe.

An astonishing discovery in Jaljulia, an Israeli-Arab town in Israel near Kfar Saba in the Sharon Valley: a rare and important prehistoric site, roughly half a million years old, extending over about 2.5 acres, strewn with remnants of a rich stone age industry, including hundreds of flint hand axes, and typical tools of the ancient Acheulian culture.


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The site was uncovered over the past few months in a joint excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Tel Aviv University Dept. of Archaeology. The excavation was funded by the Israel Land Authority, which was carrying out a project to expand Jaljulia.

According to Maayan Shemer, the excavation director on behalf of the IAA, and Prof. Ran Barkai, head of the Archaeology Department at Tel Aviv University, “the extraordinary quantity of flint tools uncovered in the excavation provides significant information about the life of prehistoric humans during the Lower Paleolithic period.”

Hundreds of hand axes were uncovered in the excavation. / Photo credit: Samuel Magal, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

“It seems that half a million years ago, the conditions here in Jaljulia were such, that this became a favored locality, subject to repeated human activity,” the two archaeologists said. “We associate the industry found on site to the Homo Erectus – a direct ancestor of the Homo Sapiens, the human species living today. A geological reconstruction of the prehistoric environment shows that the human activity took place in a dynamic environment, on the banks of an ancient stream (possibly Nahal Qaneh, which now flows approximately 500 yards south of the site). This environment is considered to have been rich with vegetation and herd animals, a ‘green spot’ in the landscape. In this place, three basic needs of the ancient hunter gatherers were met: clear water, a variety of food sources (plants and animals), and flint nodules, of which tools were made. The fact that the site was occupied repeatedly indicates that prehistoric humans possessed a geographic memory of the place, and could have returned here as a part of a seasonal cycle.”

Hand axes, found at the site in relatively large quantities, are very impressive tools, their shape reminiscent of a teardrop. The production of these tools require careful and meticulous work, and a thorough familiarity with the raw material in use. In Jaljulia hand axes were made of a variety of flint types, and the excavation team observed differences in the quality of production – suggesting some of the hand axes were made by a master craftsman and others by less qualified artisans.

The excavation at Jaljulia. / Photo credit: Samuel Magal, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Hand axes were used as dominant tools by prehistoric humans for more than a million years. Yet, its particular use is still debated. Some scholars suggest that these were the tools used to dismember large animals. Others say that hand axes were the “Swiss Army knife” of the Stone Age and had additional uses such as hunting and working hides and plants. Large quantities of additional flint artifacts attest to technological innovation, development and creativity.

Maayan Shemer said that “coming to work in Jaljulia, nobody expected to find evidence of such an ancient site, let alone one so extensive and with such impressive finds. There are only two sites whose estimated age is close to Jaljulia in the Sharon, or central Israel: one in Kibbutz Eyal, approximately 3 miles to the north, and the other, dated to a slightly later cultural phase, at Qesem Cave, located approximately 3 miles to the south.”

The excavation at Jaljulia, next to Highway 6 in the Sharon Valley. / Photo credit: Yitzhak Marmelstein, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

“The findings are amazing, both in their preservation state and in their implications about our understanding of this ancient material culture,” Shemer attested. “We see here a wide technological variety, and there is no doubt that researching these finds in-depth will contribute greatly to the understanding of the human lifestyle and behavior during the period in which Homo Erectus inhabited our area.”

Prof. Ran Barkai noted that “it’s hard to believe that between Jaljulia and Highway 6, five meters below the surface, an ancient landscape some half a million years old has been so amazingly preserved. This extraordinary site will enable us to trace the behavior of our direct prehistoric ancestors, and reconstruct their lifestyle and behavior on the very long journey of human existence. The past of all of us, of all human beings, is buried in the earth, and we have a one-time opportunity to travel back half a million years and get to know better the ancient humans who lived here before us, between Jaljulia and Highway 6.”

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