Qesem cave

Qesem cave is a Lower Paleolithic archeological site 12 km east of Tel Aviv in Israel. Early humans were occupying the site by 400,000 until c. 200,000 years ago.

The cave attracted considerable attention in December 2010 when reports suggested Israeli and Spanish archaeologists had found the earliest evidence yet of modern humans. Science bloggers pointed out that the media coverage had inaccurately reflected the scientific report.[1]

Selective large-game hunting was regularly done followed by butchery of desired carcass parts for transport back to a residence for food sharing and cooking.

Qesem cave
מערת קסם
מערת קסם 2
Cave is located in Central Israel
Location12 km east of Tel Aviv
PeriodsLower Paleolithic


מערת קסם 1
Qesem cave excavations, 2012

The cave exists in Turonian limestone in the western mountain ridge of Israel between the Samaria Hills and the Israeli coastal plain.[2][3] It is 90m above sea level.

Deposits at the site are 7.5 m (25 ft) deep, and are divided into two layers: the upper is about 4.5 m (15 ft) thick, and the lower 3 m (10 ft). The upper forms a step on the lower one. The deposits contain stone tools and animal remains from the Acheulo-Yabrudian complex. This a period that follows after the Acheulian but before the Mousterian. No traces of Mousterian occupation have been found.[2][3]

The cave was found in October 2000 when road construction destroyed its ceiling. This led to two rescue excavations in 2001. At present the site is protected, covered and fenced and subject to on-going excavations.[4]


Qesem Cave was occupied from about 420-220 ka,[5] although there is some uncertainty regarding the end date.[6] All archaeological finds at Qesem Cave have been assigned to the Acheulo-Yabrudian Cultural Complex (AYCC) of the late Lower Paleolithic.[7][8] In 2003, 230Th/234U dating on speleothems established the beginning of the occupation as "well before about 382,000 years ago."[2] Further research in 2010, 2013, and 2016, involved thermoluminescence dating (TL) on burnt flints and ESR/U-series (Electron spin resonance dating) on speleothems and herbivorous teeth.[9] [10] [6] As a result, the date for the start of the occupation has been revised to 420 ka.[11][12][13] The date for the end of the occupation has been problematic, with an early estimate of "before 152,000,"[2] subsequently revised to "between 220 and 194 ka" but rounded to "ca. 200 ka";[9] more recently "closer to 220 ka than to 194 ka"[6] and thus rounded to "220 ka." [5]


Qesem Cave stone tools are made of flint. They are mainly blades end scrapers, burins, and naturally backed knives. There are also flakes and hammerstones. Some of the horizons contain many blades and related blade-tools but they are absent in others. However thick side-scrapers are found throughout them. Acheulian type hand-axes are found at the top and at the bottom of the archeological sequence. All stages of stone tool manufacture have been found. Many of the cores have sufficient of the surface cortex to allow reconstruction of the original stone’s shape.[3]

Using the concentration of cosmic ray created Beryllium-10 it has been argued that the flint used at Qesem Cave was surface-collected or only dug from shallow quarries. This is in contrast to flint of the same period from Tabun Cave nearby that originated two or more metres below the surface, probably after being mined.[14]


The Qesem Cave contains one of the earliest examples of regular use of fire in the Middle Pleistocene. Large quantities of burnt bone, defined by a combination of microscopic and macroscopic criteria, and moderately heated soil lumps suggest butchering and prey-defleshing occurred near fireplaces.

10-36% of identified bone specimens show signs of burning and on unidentified bone ones it could be up to 84%. Such heat reached 500 degrees C.[15]

A 300,000-year-old hearth was unearthed in a central part of the cave. Layers of ash was discovered in the pit, and burnt animal bones and flint tools used for carving meat were found near the hearth, suggesting it was used repeatedly and was a focal point for the people living there.[16]

Hunted prey

Bones from 4,740 prey animals have been identified. These are mostly large mammals such as fallow deer (73–76% of identified specimens), aurochs, horse, wild pig, wild goat, roe deer, wild ass and red deer. Tortoise and a rare rhinoceros remains have also been found but no gazelle bones.[17]

These animal bones show marks of butchery, marrow extraction and burning from fire. Analysis of the orientation and anatomical placements of the cut marks suggest meat and connective tissue were cut off in a planned manner from the bone.[17]

Deer remains are limited to limb bones and head parts without remains of vertebrae, ribs, pelvis, or feet suggesting that butchery was selective in regard to the body parts that had been carried to the cave following initial butchery of the animal carcasses elsewhere.[17]

Moreover, the presence of fetal bones and the absence of deer antlers implies that much of the hunting took place in late winter through early summer. At that time the need for additional fat in the diet would have made those animals particularly important prey. The excavators described this as “prime-age-focused harvesting, a uniquely human predator–prey relationship”.[17]



The rich Acheulo-Yabrudian deposits at Qesem Cave offer a rare opportunity to study human adaptation and evolution in the Pleistocene. Because the dates indicate that human activity occurred mostly before 382 kyr, and because the site is located within the ‘out-of-Africa’ corridor, the information obtained by a study of Qesem Cave is likely to contribute substantially to our understanding of the origins and dispersal of modern humans.
Ran Barkai Co-Director of Excavation and colleagues of the Qesem Cave Project in Nature[2]

Who lived there?

The Levantine Acheulian assemblages predating the Acheulo-Yabrudian were probably made by Homo erectus (sensu lato), whereas Mousterian industries postdating the Acheulo-Yabrudian were made by both anatomically modern humans and Homo neanderthalensis. It would be interesting to learn who was the maker of the unique Acheulo-Yabrudian assemblages. If human remains are recovered, Qesem might hold a key to the understanding of evolution and dispersal of modern humans.

Ran Barkai Co-Director of Excavation and colleagues of the Qesem Cave Project Nature[2]

Evidence of human food sharing

These hominins hunted cooperatively, and consumption of the highest quality parts of large prey was delayed until the food could be moved to the cave and processed with the aid of blade cutting tools and fire. Delayed consumption of high-quality body parts implies that the meat was shared with other members of the group. ... Although not the earliest record of fire as technology in the Levant, Qesem Cave preserves contextual information about cooking and marrow extraction during the late Lower Paleolithic.
Mary Stiner and colleagues of the Qesem Cave Project in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences[17]

See also


  1. ^ Watzman, Haim (31 December 2010). "Human remains spark spat". Nature. doi:10.1038/news.2010.700. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Barkai R, Gopher A, Lauritzen SE, Frumkin A (June 2003). "Uranium series dates from Qesem Cave, Israel, and the end of the Lower Palaeolithic" (PDF). Nature. 423 (6943): 977–9. doi:10.1038/nature01718. PMID 12827199.
  3. ^ a b c Gopher A, Barkai R, Shimelmitz R, Khalaily M, Lemorini C, Heshkovitz I, et al., (2005). Qesem Cave: An Amudian Site in Central Israel. Journal of The Israel Prehistoric Society, 35:69-92
  4. ^ Qesem Cave Project Excavations
  5. ^ a b Fornai, Cinzia; Benazzi, Stefano; Gopher, Avi; Barkai, Ran; Sarig, Rachel; Bookstein, Fred L.; Hershkovitz, Israel; Weber, Gerhard W. (2016). "The Qesem Cave hominin material (part 2): A morphometric analysis of dm2-QC2 deciduous lower second molar" (PDF). Quaternary International. 398: 175–189. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.11.102. ISSN 1040-6182. The Qesem Cave...site...has yielded...teeth associated to the...(AYCC) and dated to about 420-220 ka.
  6. ^ a b c Falguères, C.; Richard, M.; Tombret, O.; Shao, Q.; Bahain, J.J.; Gopher, A.; Barkai, R. (2016). "New ESR/U-series dates in Yabrudian and Amudian layers at Qesem Cave, Israel". Quaternary International. 398: 6–12. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.02.006. ISSN 1040-6182. 420-200 ka...closer to 220 ka.
  7. ^ Hershkovitz, Israel; Weber, Gerhard W.; Fornai, Cinzia; Gopher, Avi; Barkai, Ran; Slon, Viviane; Quam, Rolf; Gabet, Yankel; Sarig, Rachel (2016). "New Middle Pleistocene dental remains from Qesem Cave (Israel)". Quaternary International. 398: 148–158. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.08.059. ISSN 1040-6182. All archaeological finds at Qesem Cave have been assigned to the Acheulo-Yabrusian Cultural Complex (AYCC) of the late Lower Paleolithic.
  8. ^ Assaf, Ella; Barkai, Ran; Gopher, Avi (2016). "Knowledge transmission and apprentice flint-knappers in the Acheulo-Yabrudian: A case study from Qesem Cave, Israel". Quaternary International. 398: 70–85. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.02.028. ISSN 1040-6182. The site of Qesem Cave...consists of AYCC layers only.
  9. ^ a b Gopher, A.; Ayalon, A.; Bar-Matthews, M.; Barkai, R.; Frumkin, A.; Karkanas, P.; Shahack-Gross, R. (2010). "The chronology of the late Lower Paleolithic in the Levant based on U–Th ages of speleothems from Qesem Cave, Israel" (PDF). Quaternary Geochronology. 5 (6): 644–656. doi:10.1016/j.quageo.2010.03.003. ISSN 1871-1014.
  10. ^ Mercier, Norbert; Valladas, Hélène; Falguères, Christophe; Shao, Qingfeng; Gopher, Avi; Barkai, Ran; Bahain, Jean-Jacques; Vialettes, Laurence; Joron, Jean-Louis; Reyss, Jean-Louis (2013). "New datings of Amudian layers at Qesem Cave (Israel): results of TL applied to burnt flints and ESR/U-series to teeth". Journal of Archaeological Science. 40 (7): 3011–3020. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.03.002. ISSN 0305-4403.
  11. ^ Parush, Yoni; Gopher, Avi; Barkai, Ran (2016). "Amudian versus Yabrudian under the rock shelf: A study of two lithic assemblages from Qesem Cave, Israel" (PDF). Quaternary International. 398: 13–36. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.01.050. ISSN 1040-6182.
  12. ^ Barkai, Ran; Rosell, Jordi; Blasco, Ruth; Gopher, Avi (2017). "Fire for a Reason: Barbecue at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel". Current Anthropology. 58 (S16): S314–S328. doi:10.1086/691211. ISSN 0011-3204.
  13. ^ Weber, Gerhard W.; Fornai, Cinzia; Gopher, Avi; Barkai, Ran; Sarig, Rachel; Hershkovitz, Israel (2016). "The Qesem Cave hominin material (part 1): A morphometric analysis of the mandibular premolars and molar" (PDF). Quaternary International. 398: 159–174. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.10.027. ISSN 1040-6182.
  14. ^ Verri G, Barkai R, Bordeanu C, et al. (May 2004). "Flint mining in prehistory recorded by in situ-produced cosmogenic 10Be". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101 (21): 7880–4. doi:10.1073/pnas.0402302101. PMC 419525. PMID 15148365.
  15. ^ Karkanas P, Shahack-Gross R, Ayalon A, et al. (August 2007). "Evidence for habitual use of fire at the end of the Lower Paleolithic: site-formation processes at Qesem Cave, Israel" (PDF). J. Hum. Evol. 53 (2): 197–212. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.04.002. PMID 17572475.
  16. ^ Gannon, Megan. "Ancient Hearth Found In Israel Dates Back 300,000 Years, Scientists Say". Huffington Post. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d e Stiner MC, Barkai R, Gopher A (July 2009). "Cooperative hunting and meat sharing 400–200 kya at Qesem Cave, Israel". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106 (32): 13207–12. doi:10.1073/pnas.0900564106. PMC 2726383. PMID 19666542.

Coordinates: 32°07′N 34°59′E / 32.11°N 34.98°E

External links

Acheulo-Yabrudian complex

The Acheulo-Yabrudian complex is a complex of archaeological cultures in the Levant at the end of the Lower Palaeolithic. It follows the Acheulian and precedes the Mousterian. It is also called the Mugharan Tradition or the Acheulo-Yabrudian Cultural Complex (AYCC).The Acheulo-Yabrudian complex has three stone-tool traditions, chronologically: the Acheulo-Yabrudian, the Yabrudian and the Pre-Aurignacian or Amudian. The Yabrudian tradition is dominated by thick scrapers shaped by steep Quina retouch; the Acheuleo-Yabrudian contains Yabrudian scrapers and handaxes; and the Pre-Aurignacian/Amudian is dominated by blades and blade-tools.

Avi Gopher

Avi Gopher is an Israeli archaeologist. He is a professor at the University of Tel Aviv.

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.


A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Rock shelter

A rock shelter — also rockhouse, crepuscular cave, bluff shelter, or abri — is a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff. In contrast to solutional cave (karst) caves, which are often many miles long, rock shelters are almost always modest in size and extent.

Stone row

A stone row (or stone alignment), is a linear arrangement of upright, parallel megalithic standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes, usually dating from the later Neolithic or Bronze Age. Rows may be individual or grouped, and three or more stones aligned can constitute a stone row.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

Prehistoric cave sites, rock shelters and cave paintings
Caves in Israel
Judea and
Samaria Area

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