Drivers passing Hayogev junction on Highway 66 yesterday had no idea that right by the road, between the Megiddo and Hatishbi junctions, one of the oldest wells ever found anywhere in the world had been discovered just a few weeks ago.

The well is tangible evidence of a giant human step forward in around 6500 BCE, during the Neolithic period.

Yotam Tepper, the Israel Aniquities Authority archaeologist conducting the excavation, was holding two pieces of flint, evidence of the huge efforts of the ancient laborers who used those simple stones to dig the well. "The well shows the impressive abilities of the ancient inhabitants of the area, their know-how in the geology and hydrology of their environment, which allowed them to dig down to the water table," Tepper said, adding that digging the well required a major community effort over a long period.

The well was uncovered by the antiquities authority ahead of the expansion of the road near Hayogev junction on the western edge of the Jezreel Valley.

According to Dr. Omri Barzilai, head of the prehistory department at the antiquities authority: "Wells from this period are a unique finding in the archaeology of the land of Israel, and apparently anywhere in the prehistoric world." Barzilai says the two most oldest wells known - both dating from about 7500 BCE - had been uncovered in Cyprus. They show the beginning of domestication of animals - because human beings dug them to provide fresh drinking water for the animals they were raising. Barzilai said that by digging wells, the ancients also reduced their dependence on springs or streams.

Another well, about the same age as the one just discovered, had been found earlier at Atlit on Israel's northern coast.

According to Tepper, the well at Hayogev junction was connected to an ancient farming community. "This was a period after permanent settlements had already been established and after the agricultural revolution and the domestication of sheep, goats, cattle and wheat. Now it became necessary to 'domesticate' water, too," he said.

The well was built with stones at the top and hewn into the limestone at the bottom. Two capstones found over the top recall the biblical "stone upon the well's mouth" of Genesis 29:2. The well is about eight meters deep and its diameter at the top is 1.3 meters.

At the bottom, archaeologists discovered a layer of silt that created a "time capsule." According to Tepper, the many items they found there, including flint objects used for harvesting, arrow heads and other stone tools, show that the laborers were "the first farmers in the Jezreel Valley."

The finds also include animal bones and coal, which will aid researchers on the subject of domestication of plants and animals, Tepper said. One dramatic find during the dig was the bones of a woman around 19 years old, and a man between 30 and 40 years old.

Did they die in an accident or were they murdered?

"There is no evidence that they were buried in a regular fashion. There is a story here, but we don't have answers," said Tepper.