A team of researchers have analyzed the remains of 22,000 animal bones discovered at a hunter camp dating back 23,000 years. Their new study shows how Ice Age Galileans, fisher-hunter-gatherers in the Holy Land, “thrived” while most contemporaneous cultures struggled.
The archaeologists from Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology published their new study in the Journal PLOS1. The focus of their research was a previously submerged fisher-hunter-gatherer camp known as Ohalo II that dates to around 23,000 years ago. This 2,000-square-metre site is located near the southern tip of the modern Sea of Galilee , about 9 km (5.6 mi) south of Tiberias.
The new study was led by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) doctoral student Tikvah Steiner, under the supervision of HU Professor Rivka Rabinovich. Archaeologist Prof. Dani Nadel from the University of Haifa excavated the site.
The completion of the new study represents the clearest understanding to date of how these deeply-ancient people not only ate, but also how they manipulated animal bones to assist their survival. The team concluded that these Ice Age Galilean survivalists “thrived” while most of their contemporaries “nearly starved due to the Earth’s extremely cold temperatures.”
Ice Age Galileans: Surviving Hyper-Cold Climates and Melting Ice Sheets
Ohalo II was occupied towards the end of the last Ice Age between 23,500 and 22,500 years ago. During the Last Glacial Maximum, or Ice Age, vast ice sheets carpeted most of North America , Northern Europe and Asia. During this period the Earth’s climate became exceptionally cold and dry, causing drought, desertification and a huge drop in sea levels.
The team looked at one specific hut which had three consecutive occupations. Here they discovered “six oval-shaped brush huts, open-air hearths, the grave of an adult male, as well as various installations and refuse heaps.”
Furthermore, the excavators discovered inorganic flint tools, and heaps of organic materials, including 22,000 animal bones belonging to “ gazelles, deer, hares, and foxes.” They also identified charred plant remains and cereal grains, all of which revealed the people’s diets, but more so how animal parts were used to aid sustained outdoor survival.
According to the study, Ice Age Galileans enjoyed a range of edible plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and fish. Reconstruction of camp life at Ohalo II. ( Tal & Danit )
A Rich Diversity of Chilled Food Sources Available to Ice Age Galileans
The paper says the dramatic climatic oscillations experienced during the Last Glacial Maximum had minimal effects on the Upper Jordan Valley. Therefore, the people of Ohalo II enjoyed a range of “edible plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish.”
The way the animal bones had been dealt with by the people preparing the food was also revealing. It seems that Ice Age Galileans hunted a wide range of prey and had developed a range of different bone and stone tools so that they could strip animals down to the marrow in their bones, wrote Dr. Steiner.
The 22,000 bones were all measured and scanned with spectroscopic imaging technology to identify the cutting and wear marks. The paper concluded that the study found “no signs” of any food decline in the Ice Age period, but on the contrary, the people of Ohalo II enjoyed “a rich diversity of food sources.”
Example of cut marks found on bones at Ice Age Galileans site. (Tikva Steiner / Hebrew University )
High-Tech in the Ice Age Microclimate
The team noted that hares and foxes were most possibly hunted for their pelts, more than for their meat. Dr. Rebecca Biton, a post-doctoral student at the Hebrew University, suggested in the paper that turtle shells were not so much hunted for their meat, but were selected for being “a specific body-size.” The student believes the turtle shells might have been selected for using as bowls.
The team concluded that Ohalo II presents a greatly different picture of subsistence compared with most other early Ice Age sites. What makes the paper so interesting is that it proves that that traditional view of humans struggling to survive in the Ice Age needs realigning.
It is now clear that the people of Ohalo II were unaffected by the global climate chaos , and they lived in a microclimate that let them get on with developing new tools for skinning, chopping, scraping, slicing, cutting, prizing, filleting, stripping, carving and drilling animal bones.
Top image: Analysis of 23,000-year-old hunter camp shows that Ice Age Galileans thrived. Source: denissimonov / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie