Prehistoric Men Were Using Advanced Mining Techniques 11,000 Years Ago

While transiting from hunting to farming, prehistoric people were strip-mining Kaizer Hill for flint and limestone, say archaeologists.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Cupmarks in the rock had been thought to be artifacts of food preparation but are now thought to be artifacts of mining for flint
Cupmarks in the rock had been thought to be artifacts of food preparation but are now thought to be artifacts of mining for flintCredit: Grosman, Goren-Inbar, Plos ONE
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

An 11,000-year old quarry where prehistoric people sourced the flint for their arrows and spearheads and limestone too has been identified between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The works provide evidence that well before prehistoric humans settled down, they were capable of manufacturing on what we can only call an industrial scale.

The quarry, found on the 300 meter-high hill Kaizer Hill on the outskirts of Modiin, is the earliest known Neolithic quarry in the southern Levant, though other prehistoric quarries have been found in the area, including an evidently much older one from the lower-middle Paleolithic period, in Sde Ilan.

The marks on Kaizer Hill's bedrock had been recognized as manmade in the past. The innovation now is reinterpreting "cup-marks" in the bedrock. They aren't some remnants or mortars carved into the rock, apparently, but were caused by the Neolithic men digging out suitable rocks.

The miners were stripping the hill - gradually chipping through and peeling off the softer rock layers to find flint, a very hard rock the prehistoric men used in everything from arrowheads to sickles.

"A systematic survey revealed that large-scale quarrying activities have left damage markings on the bedrock of the hilltop and its slopes," writes the team led by Dr. Leore Grosman and Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a paper published in PLOS One, who add, "It is evident that the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A inhabitants of the area changed their landscape forever, 'stripping' the caliche surface and penetrating it in search of flint bedded in the bedrock."

Moreover, their searching methods may have been quite sophisticated. The cupmarks were common, but less so were trenching marks, and there were some isolated drilling marks too, report the archaeologists – which they believe attest to a particular strategy to search for flint.

"This strategy seems to have been a combined one, incorporating a search of the top surface of the caliche, drilling into its depth, and then, once the cache of flint was detected, the opening of an extensive quarry front in which quarrying advanced through the full thickness of the caliche," they write.

More proof that the site had been mined are signs of numerous strategies to cut the rock, "including identifying potential flint pockets; creating quarrying fronts on the rocks; removing blocks to allow extraction of flint; creating areas for quarrying dump; and using drilling and chiseling as a primary technique for extracting flint," Goren-Inbar said.

The result was that the miners altered the landscape dramatically, says Grosman.

That said, our Levantine quarriers didn't invent the prehistoric wheel. A year ago, University of Cambridge archaeologists had a eureka moment in the middle of the Sahara, realizing that parts of a vast 350-kilometer escarpment were an artifact of a prehistoric industry: ancient hominins creating tremendous amounts of stone tools and piling up discarded ones. The Messak Settafet escarpment was the first known evidence of man changing his environment, albeit probably unwittingly, and on a massive scale.

The Kaizer Hilltop QuarryCredit: Leore Grosman Naama Goren-Inbar

Kaizer Hill quarry in Israel is smaller, and it is the first of its age, size and scope to be revealed in the southern Levant – though the researchers suspect there are a lot more, some of which are known. For instance in Tzur Natan, numerous "cupmarks" in the rock were reported too.

This area is in the area where people are believed to have transited from a hunting-gathering lifestyle to a farming one, in a gradual process. Based on the timelines, the quarry seems to have been in use at about the time of that transition – which required farming tools so people could produce their food, rather than chase it madly and kill it using stone tools.

That said, the transition process itself seems to have been extremely rocky, and uneven, with farmers in stress reverting to the nomadic way of life. The discovery of a unexpectedly large village dating to 12,000 years ago, by the Sea of Galilee ruined the theory that because of subsistence stress, the peoples of the Levant had largely reverted to hunting and gathering. Many did, but evidently not all, as Grosman herself points out. That village also featured interesting stonework – including items decorated with elaborate carvings.

A distinctive type of Middle Stone Age stone tool, recovered on the surface of the Messak escarpment.Credit: Dr. Robert Foley and Dr. Marta Mirazón Lahr



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