Thursday, November 8, 2012

8,500-year-old skeletons found in ancient well

8,500-year-old skeletons found in ancient well

Jerusalem Post

Skeletal remains of a young woman and older man discovered at the bottom of a Neolithic well in the Jezreel Valley.

8,500-year-old skulls found in well.
Photo: Clara Amit / Israel Antiquities Authority

In a mortal mystery that cannot help but beckon the age-old tragedies of Antigone and Haimon, or Romeo and Juliet, the 8,500-year-old skeletal remains of a young woman and an older man have been discovered at the bottom of a Neolithic well in the Jezreel Valley.

Excavators discovered the well during a dig of the Israel Antiquities Authority at Enot Nisanit in the western Jezreel Valley, which occurred ahead of an enlargement of HaYogev Junction at Road 66 by the National Roads Company. Archeologists are estimating that the well was built approximately 8.500 years ago, and the young woman found at its bottom was around 19 years old, with a man "older than her," according to the Antiquities Authority.

Archeologists are now left to ponder how the man and woman ended up at the bottom of the well – musing about possibilities such as a tragic accident or even a vengeful murder.

“What is clear is that after these unknown individuals fell into the well it was no longer used for the simple reason that the well water was contaminated and was no longer potable," said Yotam Tepper, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The well was connected to an ancient farming settlement, built of stones and bedrock, and at one point residents had used it for their subsistence, Tepper explained. Two capstones to narrow the opening had been set on top of the well, which measures about 8 meters deep and 1.3 meters in diameter, he added.

Many artifacts found in the well, such as flint sickle blades for harvesting, arrow heads and stone implements, are sure indications that the people who quarried it were among the first farmers in the Jezreel Valley, according to Tepper. Other discoveries in the well shaft, like animal bones, charcoal and other organic items, will enable future studies about the domestication of plants and animals, as well as help determine the exact age of the well, he explained.

“The well that was exposed in the Jezreel Valley reflects the impressive quarrying ability of the site’s ancient inhabitants and the extensive knowledge they possessed regarding the local hydrology and geology which enabled them to quarry the limestone bedrock down to the level of the water table," Tepper said. "No doubt the quarrying of the well was a community effort that lasted a long time.”

Dr. Omri Barzilai, head of the Prehistory Branch of the Israel Antiquities Authority, stressed that wells from the Neolithic period are "unique finds in the archeology of Israel, and probably also in the prehistoric world in general."

To date, the two oldest wells in the world have been exposed in Cyprus, indicating the onset of the "domestication phenomenon," according to Barzilai.

"It seems that ancient man tried to devise ways of protecting his drinking water from potential contamination by the animals he raised, and therefore he enclosed the water in places that were not accessible to them," Barzliai said.

Excavators previously exposed a well 1,000 years older than those in Cyprus at the Atlit Yam site in Israel, he explained.

Whether the man and women at the well's bottom were the victims of sparring families, a crime of love, or a simple accident, the well itself will be a valuable tool to examining an ancient civilization.

"The exposure of these wells makes an important contribution to the study of man’s culture and economy in a period when pottery vessels and metallic objects had still not yet been invented," Barzilai said.

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Steve Martin
Love For His People
Charlotte, NC USA