Archaeologists Unearth Ancient 'Picnic Spot' in Israel Indicating Early Humans May Have Been Smarter Than We Thought

An archaeologist displays an artifact found at a prehistoric site in Jaljulia, Israel. Israel Antiquities Authority

Archaeologists excavating an ancient riverbed in Israel have uncovered a hoard of elaborate flint tools suggesting the cognitive abilities of early humans were closer to our own than was previously thought, reported Haaretz.

The site was discovered when experts were surveying an area near the Arab-Israeli town of Jaljulia, where a new neighborhood is slated for construction.

Since November 2016, experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University have been excavating a hectare-sized area where there once had been a marshy riverbed.

"It was a perfect spot for humans," Ran Barkai, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University, told the publication. "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."

Prehistoric artifacts discovered during the Jaljulia excavation. Israel Antiquities Authority

There may be several more sites along the Qana, a now seasonal stream that runs south of Jaljulia, which Barkai likened to "a prehistoric picnic spot which people would return to over and over again."

Tests have dated artifacts found at the site back half a million years, with human ancestor Homo erectus likely responsible for making them.

Among the artifacts found at the site was a kind of flint tool produced using the Levallois technique, which requires more planning and sophistication than that used to make the multipurpose hand axes also found at the site.

Levallois tools were produced in two stages: A flint core was carefully knapped into a specific shape, and then with one decisive stroke the knapper would detach a flake that already had the form and size of the desired tool.

Experts believe that tools produced via Levallois technique may have been attached to wooden shafts—marking a decisive leap in our biological evolution.

Similar sites have been found in Asia, Europe and Africa. If the dating of the artifacts at the site is confirmed, it would mean that early humans developed the technique earlier than thought, with Neanderthals or Homo sapiens previously believed to have been responsible.

"There is a big discussion on the Levallois technique: when it was invented, and whether there is a connection between physical evolution and technological evolution," said Barkai.