'Thorpedo' Spotted at Archaeological Dig in Israel

Australian Olympic champion Ian Thorpe gets down and dirty filming documentary on human evolution at an archaeological dig site in northern Israel.

Ariel David

Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe was in Israel earlier this week to take part in filming for a docu-reality on human evolution at a prehistoric site in northern Israel.

The "Thorpedo" – as he is known to his fans – spent two days with students and archaeologists digging in the Manot Cave, in the Western Galilee.

Thorpe and his co-star, Australian actress and TV personality Julia Zemiro, were instructed in the basics of archaeology and put to work with picks, trowels and brushes, filling buckets with sediments and uncovering flint tools and animal bones dating back more than 30,000 years.

Manot was inhabited over thousands of years during the Stone Age. The cave in question made international news in January when, in a paper published by the scientific journal Nature, researchers announced the discovery there of a 55,000-year-old human skull – the oldest remains of a modern human to be discovered outside Africa.

The documentary being filmed by Australian television follows Thorpe and other celebrities as they move from site to site across the world, tracing the path of human evolution and dispersion from humanity's ancestral home in Africa.

It was Thorpe's first visit to Israel, and the crew also briefly stopped in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for filming.

During his stay in Manot, Thorpe did not speak to reporters but was friendly with the students and volunteers at the dig, chatting and snapping pictures with them. He and Zemiro were filmed interviewing experts and were led into the dark cave to join the excavation.

Ian Thorpe and Julia Zemiro filming in the Manot cave. Photo by Ariel David

The multiple Olympic medal winner, who stands almost two meters tall, had to stoop low to avoid banging his head against the low ceiling of the cave, but looked comfortable squatting on the muddy floor and quickly got the hang of the delicate work of digging up the past.

Thorpe made his Olympic debut at age 17 at the 2000 Sydney Games, and during his career went on to win nine Olympic medals, including five gold medals, mainly in the freestyle events. Since leaving competitive swimming he has been active as a philanthropist, especially in education and health programs for young indigenous Australians.