Ohalo II - Upper Paleolithic Site on the Sea of Galilee

Well Preserved Details of Hunter Gatherer Life 20,000 Years Ago

Ohalo II is the name of a submerged late Upper Paleolithic (Kebaran) site located on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) in the Rift Valley of Israel. The site was discovered in 1989 when the level of the lake plummeted. The site is 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) south of the modern city of Tiberias. The site covers an area of 2,000 square meters (about a half an acre), and the remains are of an extremely well-preserved hunter-gatherer-fisher camp.

The site is typical of Kebaran sites, containing the floors and wall bases of six oval brush huts, six open-air hearths and a human grave. The site was occupied during the Last Glacial Maximum, and has an occupation date between 18,000-21,000 RCYBP, or between 22,500 and 23,500 cal BP.

Animal and Plant Remains

Ohalo II is remarkable in that since it had been submerged, the preservation of organic materials was excellent, providing very rare evidence of food sources for late Upper Paleolithic/Epipaleolithic communities. Animals represented by bones in the faunal assemblage include fish, tortoise, birds, hare, fox, gazelle, and deer. Polished bone points and several enigmatic bone tools were recovered, as were tens of thousands of seeds and fruits representing almost 100 taxa from the living surface.

Plants include an assortment of herbs, low shrubs, flowers, and grasses, including wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum), mallow (Malva parviflora), groundsel (Senecio glaucus), thistle (Silybum marianum(), Melilotus indicus and a slew of others too numerous to mention here.

The flowers at Ohalo II represent the earliest known use of flowers by Anatomically Modern Humans. Some may have been used for medicinal purposes. The edible remains are dominated by seeds from small-grained grasses and wild cereals, although nuts, fruits, and legumes are also present.

Ohalo's collections include over 100,000 seeds, including the earliest identification of emmer wheats [Triticum dicoccoides or T. turgidum ssp.

dicoccoides (körn.) Thell], in the form of several charred seeds. Other plants include wild almond (Amygdalus communis), wild olive (Olea europaea var sylvestris), wild pistachio (Pistacia atlantica), and wild grape (Vitis vinifera spp sylvestris).

Three fragments of twisted and plied fibers were discovered at Ohalo; they are the oldest evidence of string-making discovered yet.

Living at Ohalo II

The floors of the six brush huts were oval in shape, with an area of between 5-12 square meters (54-130 square feet), and the entrance-way from at least two was from the east. The largest hut was built of tree branches (tamarisk and oak) and covered by grasses. The floors of the huts were shallowly excavated prior to their construction. All of the huts were burned.

The working surface of a grinding stone found at the site was covered with barley starch grains, indicating that at least some of the plants were processed for food or medicine. Plants in evidence on the stone's surface include wheat, barley, and oats. But the majority of the plants are believed to represent the brush used for housing. Flint, bone and wooden tools, basalt net sinkers, and hundreds of shell beads made from mollusks brought from the Mediterranean Sea were also identified.

The single grave at Ohalo II is an adult male, who had a disabled hand and a penetrating wound to his rib cage. A bone tool found near the skull is a piece of gazelle long bone incised with parallel markings.

Ohalo II was discovered in 1989 when lake levels dropped. Excavations organized by the Israeli Antiquities Authority have continued at the site when lake levels permit, led by Dani Nadel.


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