Gesher Benot Ya'aqov - Lower Paleolithic Site in Israel

Early Pleistocene Acheulean Life in the Hula Valley, Israel

Agricultural fields and fish ponds near Paleo-Lake Hula are seen from the slopes of the Golan Heights. Israel.Apr. 2012.
Agricultural fields and fish ponds near Paleo-Lake Hula are seen from the slopes of the Golan Heights. Israel.Apr. 2012. Dan Porges / Getty Images

Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (sometimes abbreviated GBY) is an early Pleistocene archaeological site located in the northern Jordan Valley on the shoreline of ancient lake Hula. The site consists of some 34 meters (112 feet) of lake deposits and it was likely used sporadically for over 100,000 years. At least fourteen archaeological deposits have been identified at GBY.

The site is located within the southern Levant, an area which served as a "continental bridge", a conduit through which our hominid ancestors left Africa and entered the rest of the world.

The hominid occupation of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov has been dated to ~790,000 years ago and is thus a Lower Paleolithic site.

There are no human skeletal materials recovered yet from the site, but it is believed to be likely Homo erectus, although Homo ergaster, or perhaps archaic Homo sapiens are also possible, particularly given the long use of the site locality.

Plants and Animals at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov

GBY's location on the ancient shoreline (the site is still partly under water) has afforded outstanding preservation of organic matter, particularly for a site of this antiquity, including identifiable bits of wood, bark, fruit and seeds, and a wide range of animal bones.

An assemblage of fish bones recovered from the site deposits suggests that whoever the residents were, they may have included fish in their diet. Other animals represented within the deposits include medium-sized to large mammals (bear, elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, gazelle, horse, bovids), and micro-vertebrates (including mammals, reptiles, and amphibians).

Striations, cut marks, tooth marks, and burnt elements were identified and are suggested to represent purposeful butchery.

Several of the wood fragments and seeds at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov were burned, leading some scholars to suggest that this site has evidence of controlled use of fire; if so, this would far and away be the oldest use of fire, nearly 400,000 years older than the next contender, Zhoukoudian, China.

Stone Tools at GBY

Nearly 13,000 stone artifacts have been recovered from GBY. The collection of artifacts is dominated by numerous Acheulean hand-axes, cleavers, cores and core tools, and flakes and flake tools. Many of the stone tools are made from a local basalt. The tools fit in with what scholars have labeled "Large Flake Acheulean" or Upper or Late Acheulean. Details on assemblages are provided in the technical reports cited below.

Archaeology at GBY

Gesher Benot Ya'aqov was excavated in the 1930s by Dorothy Garrod and Moshe Stekelis, and again in the 1960s by Isaac Gilead. Between 1989 and 1997, excavations at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov were conducted under the direction of Naama Goren-Inbar and colleagues.


This glossary entry is a part of the guide to Lower Paleolithic, and the Dictionary of Archaeology. See the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov website at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.