Ancient Origins IRAQ Tour

The Qesem Cave people severed the metapodial (the bone that connects the hoof to the leg) of a fallow deer and then wrapped it immediately in skin as its marrow could be preserved as an ample source of food for at least nine weeks. (Roni /Adobe Stock)

Qesem Cave People And The Genesis of Innovation

In 2000, during the construction of a highway in Israel, controlled explosives revealed a Paleolithic cave site by a large rocky outcrop just beneath the Arab-Israeli city of Kafr Qasim. What makes this site so remarkable is that the people of the Qesem community were arguably the first to recycle stone and bone objects, taking discarded or unusable items and refashioning them into new tools with specific functions.

The Qesem Cave in Israel. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Qesem Cave in Israel. CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Celebrated author Andrew Collins describes his experience: My scheduled meeting with Ran Barkai and Avi Gopher, two of Israel’s most well-known archaeologists, was to take place in a modest room located somewhere within the maze of corridors making up Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern cultures. Inside were shelves stacked high with cardboard boxes clearly full of objects found during excavations, while taking up the room’s central area was a large “finds table” covered in trays filled with stone tools of every shape and size. Two of the department’s undergraduates rose from workstations to introduce themselves, with my first question to them being, “where did all these stone tools come from?” The answer was the Qesem Cave, and having gained permission to pick a few of them up, I took hold of a perfectly symmetrical prismatic blade; that is, a blade tool with a triangular profile. It was made of blue-grey flint and reminded me of very similar blade tools I had seen at the pre-pottery Neolithic site of Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Anatolia, which thrived circa 9600 to 8000 BC. Put them side by side and one would hardly know the difference, something that confirmed the immense skill of the Qesem people, who lived toward the end of the Lower Paleolithic Age. I was still admiring these beautiful stone tools when Ran Barkai entered the room. He immediately pointed out that not all the blades from the Qesem Cave were quite like these. Many were of a quite different nature and included what are known as naturally backed blades, that is, a long slim tool with the flint’s original light-colored cortex forming its blunted rear edge; an example of which was immediately handed to me. Curiously, this, too, matched similar tools I had seen at Göbekli Tepe.

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