by Ilana Messika
Israeli archaeologists discovered a rare 9,000-year-old limestone slab used by inhabitants of the land during the Stone Age to light fire. The find was discovered as part of Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavations carried out prior to the expansion of Highway 38, a road that leads from Route 1 to Beit Shemesh in the Judean foothills.
Anna Eirich-Rose, an expert on the prehistoric era and the manager of the excavation, believed that the slab dated back to the Neolithic 2 period when mankind started to adopt a sedentary lifestyle and began to farm the land.
“The former inhabitants of the land devised a thick board made of limestone that contained two cavities linked by a chiseled conduit,” explained Eirich-Rose. “Some believe that this was an ancient game board, but according to researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, such panels were used to light a fire and this mechanism permitted the rapid rotation of a piece of wood within the conduit, like a drilling machine. The kinetic energy was then transformed into heat and when it came into contact with a flammable substance placed within the cavities, it ignited a fire.”
According to Eirich-Rose, the stone is a “rare and very special discovery” since only about ten similar slabs from this period have been found. She claims that the finds indicate mankind’s relatively advanced pyrotechnic capabilities during this era when fires were made that reached very high temperatures and heat was used to turn limestone into plaster, for example.
Although the use of fire became much more prevalent about 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic period, evidence of the use of fire in the area in the form of ash and coal already exists from the Early Stone Age (about 800,000 years ago). For example, seeds and burnt flint have been found in the past at the site of the Daughters of Jacob Bridge on the upper Jordan River.