Researchers - Tomer Ganihar - 13122011
Researchers at Tel Aviv University. Photo by Tomer Ganihar
Text size

Elephants played a key role in the development of man and it's possible that the Land of Israel was one of the first places this development occurred, four Tel Aviv University researchers say.

According to an article published last week in PLoS One, the online journal of the Public Library of Science, by Miki Ben-Dor, Prof. Avi Gopher, Dr. Ran Barkai and Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, there were changes in the nutrition of prehistoric man that occurred due to the disappearance of elephants, which were one of his main sources of food.

The four based their hypothesis on an analysis of archaeological findings at two sites where modern man's predecessor, homo erectus, lived. One site is near the Bnot Ya'akov bridge, which straddles the Jordan River near the Golan Heights, while the other is in a cave near Kafr Qasem. The researchers had reported last year that they had found evidence of modern man - homo sapiens - in a tunnel at Kafr Qasem dating back 400,000 years, at least 200,000 years earlier than when he was found in Africa, but they had no explanation for this.

The researchers examined the animal remains at both sites, including numerous elephant bones, which have also been found at other prehistoric sites around the world. These bones are evidence that the elephant was important to the sustenance of homo erectus and supplied him with 60 percent of his caloric intake from animal sources.

Examination of the findings showed that approximately 400,000 years ago, elephants disappeared from the region, for reasons that are unclear but could be linked to their being hunted for food, which depleted their population. This disappearance, which took place earlier here than in other places in Africa, forced homo erectus, who was used to hunting large, slow animals with spears, to start hunting animals that were smaller and faster.

This, the researchers posit, was the evolutionary drive behind the emergence of homo sapiens, a lighter, more agile and more cognitively capable human being. His growing brain enabled him to locate, follow and hunt these smaller animals, while also helping him develop social and technological skills like hunting in groups and producing stone tools.

These new findings would indicate that modern man developed in this region earlier than in Africa, and undermines the widely held belief that man developed in Africa and from there wandered to other continents.

"There are a few possible scenarios that must be studied, among them that modern man developed separately and during different periods here and in Africa, or that perhaps man came to Africa from our region," Barkai said on Monday.