At the crossroads of Africa and Eurasia, archaeologists have revealed what is being described as a prehistoric “paradise”. The site, once the location of an ancient camp, harbors the remains left behind by hunter-gatherers some 500,000 years ago. However, these prehistoric people weren’t modern humans.
Our ancestors were not the first human species to migrate out of the African continent. As early as 1.8 million years ago, the bipedal Homo erectus was already making forays into what is now the Middle East, and had made at least three such expansions out into Eurasia by 500,000 years ago. It is thought that the tools of worked flint were likely made by these ancient humans.
Despite our continual focus on our own species, the travels made by H. erectus were actually widely successful.
Those that settled in Europe would eventually give rise to Neanderthals, although there is some debate as to whether or not H. erectus had evolved into Homo heidelbergensis by this point or whether H. heidelbergensis was simply a variant of H. erectus.
Some members wandered as far as China, where they hung on until around 70,000 years ago and probably bumped into our own species, while a small band even managed to settle on some Indonesian islands, potentially evolving into the diminutive Homo floresiensis.
Needless to say, H. erectus was by all measures incredibly successful in migrating out of Africa. And it seems that stop-off points such as this latest one found in Israel were likely instrumental in whether these early explorers flourished or were beaten back.
The camp, according to the researchers, would have been a veritable haven for the early hominins. A stream would have crossed the landscape and the hillsides would have been covered with vibrant green foliage. Now, however, the land is a fairly dry environment between a housing development and a busy motorway in Jaljulia.
“For people it was like a paradise, so they came here again and again,” explains Ran Barkai, from Tel Aviv University, who along with the Israel Antiquities Authority excavated the site, to the BBC. “The water brought flint nodules from the hills, which were used to make tools on the spot, and it attracted animals, which were hunted and butchered here. They had everything that prehistoric people needed.”
The state of preservation of these tools makes this particular site so special. It is hoped that further research of the area, which is earmarked for new housing, will help us better understand how hominins lived and survived during this period.