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Gesher Benot Ya’akov Archeological Site Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 22nd, 2022


The Gesher Bent Ya’aqov is an interesting archeological site located in Israel. The site was discovered in the 1930s. Excavation of the site revealed that the site had been occupied for thousands of years and there was usage of fire (McManamon 2011).

The sediment layers at the site indicate that the occupants had used fire for thousands of years considering the burnt flints found in lower parts of the pollen diagram. This paper explores the site in detail to establish when the site was formed, the materials found by excavators and the implication to archeology and human activity.

Site location

The Gesher Bent Ya’aqov (GBT) lies in the Lake Hula region. The location is an archeological place in the northern Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley is on the shores of prehistoric Lake Hula.

The location of the site entails thirty-four meters of lake deposits. The site is known to have been used periodically for more than a hundred thousand years by successive generations. More than 14 archeological deposits have been established to exist at the site (Grosman 2011).

Dates of the site

GBY is believed to have been occupied by Acheulians between 700,000 and 800,000 B.P. The pollen diagram indicates that there was human activity in the valley. The sediment part of GBY is dated using the Matuyama-Brunhes Boundary (MBB). This is the reverse to normal-polarity change.

This was observed at 20.2 meters beneath the uppermost layer (Goren-Inbar et al 2000). The date of the site according to researchers is in the lower Paleolithic period. Thermoluminescence dating method has been used to establish the actual dates of human activity at the site.

Methods for determination of the dates

The ancient usage of fire has been reconstructed at GBY. The presence of fire in the site is based on the reality that there is modification of lithic material by heat. One of the methods used to determine the dates of the site is supported by thermoluminescence (TL) techniques. TL is essential as a verifying method for microscopic detection of fire damage on flint micro-artifacts. At the GBY, there is evidence of fire alterations from the Early and early Middle Pleistocene (Ashkenazi 2010).

The dating was done through the analysis of layers of sediment deposits alongside the deposits of burnt hand tools at different layers. The miniature dimensions of the micro-artifacts when using the TL technique foil the subtraction of the outer surface. In this regard, TL signal may have been lightened by the disclosure to light when the site was being excavated.

The lightening of TL signal during the dating exercise by sunlight was observed to be found on fresh materials. However, in archeological materials, very limited problem was observed. This has been attributed to patination.

The relevance of the TL technique on burnt quartz is largely restricted by the aforementioned discovery limitations of the tools for infantile materials and the infiltration of ancient materials. The presence of adequately burnt fossils also make the TL an appropriate tool. In essence, the method allows archeologists to date the usage of fire throughout human evolution.

TL has been indicated by many archeologists to be valid in dating of quartz, burnt flint and sandstone among other materials. The relevance of TL includes Lower Paleolithic to Neolithic sites. However, the application of the method largely focuses on the Middle Paleolithic.

The focus on Middle Paleolithic is essential as it is beyond the C-dating technique. TL dating tool is founded on composition alteration and cracks to the rock pattern of sediments through radioactivity. The origin of the ubiquitous radiation is radioactive nuclides found in the immediate sediment and the material under observation itself. Secondary cosmic heat and fire is also a source of the radiations. Paledose is observed to accumulate in the materials in form of electrons in excited condition.

Some of the crystals are metastable hence stay for time adequate to permit dating application. The accumulation of crystals begins with the minerals being formed. In archeological application, the attention is on the period that has elapsed from the time there was human activity such as fire or an occasion associated with human activity such as sedimentation.

Formation of the site

GBY is located in the southern Levant. This location acted as the ‘continental bridge’ with the rest of the world. The ‘bridge’ was used by ancient population from Africa to travel to other parts of the world. The ancient population in the region occupied GBY conducted diverse activities. During the excavation of GBY, the archeologists found many items that were deposited by weather elements through transportation.

The formation of the layers found in the area is attributed to outstanding climatic conditions. When the water that was initially in the valley evaporated due to rise in temperature most of the flora and fauna died in successive generations. This led to the formation of layers that were composed of fossils.

The favorable weather conditions within the region considering that the area was swampy meant that aquatic animals reproduced since there were plenty of plants for consumption ensuring survival of most aquatic animals. The Jordan River provided fish for human population. Agricultural activities facilitated the survival of humans in the area supplemented by existence of animals that were hunted for food.

The lake conditions and marsh in the area is also associated with the formation of setting of the area sedimentary sequence. There is evidence of animal remains and other artifacts demonstrating that there was human activity that contributed to the formation of sedimentary layers inherent in the area. The unearthing of the site revealed a large variety of relic wood, seeds, agricultural crops and pollen (Zeist & Bottema 2009).

Who excavated

GBY was first dug out by Moshe Stekelis and Dorothy Garrod. The unearthing was conducted in the 1930s. Isaac Gilead later conducted another excavation thirty years later. Under the express of Naama Goren-Inbar (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Institute of Archeology), further unearthing was conducted between 1990 and 1997.

What was found

Among the most important items found included wood remains. Palynological information indicates that there were pollen deposits that developed into trees (Baruch 1991). In the pollen records, it has been indicated that pine possibly did not initially grow in the region. Most kinds of pollen found in the region were established to have been deposited from hundreds of kilometers through long-distance transportation.

The pollen and wood facts indicate that Quercus ithaburensis-Pistacia atlantica forest was found in the valley and not in the lagoon and swamp. The combination was also found on lower sides of the hills edging the valley on both sides. In addition to the Tabor oak Atlantic terebinth, evergreen Kermesoak was an essential part of the woods. The wild olive was also found in the valley. The hint of open woods with significantly spaced trees is supported by the fact that there was high non-arboreal pollen occurrence.

This means that the area experienced and continues to experience reasonably dry weather conditions. It is indicated in pollen records that a variety of riverbank woods and bushes including Fraxinus and elm grew in the GBY. In the upper part of the pollen diagram, it is indicated that cedar might have reached the Hula area (Picard 1952). This is an indication of increasing moisture.

The excavation of GBY also revealed many other artifacts. These include more than thirteen thousand stone and wood objects. The assortment is largely composed of a variety of Acheulean hand axes. Other artifacts include hatchets, core tools, chippings and chipping tools.

Most of the stone material were prepared using basalt found within the region. Researchers classify the artifacts as ‘Large Flake Acheulean’. Apparently, no human remains such as bones have been discovered from the site. However, research indicates that ancient occupants of the area were possibly Homo erectus. It is also possible that Homo ergaster or ancient Homo sapiens lived within the site. The artifacts discovered from the site indicate long usage of the site and significant human activity (Weinstein 1998).

What can be learnt from artifacts found

The unearthing revealed a thirty-four meter deep sedimentary sequence. It included wide varieties of ancient flora and fauna. Additionally, there were thirteen Acheulian archaeological horizons. This demonstrated that there was human activity in the region (Feibel 2004).

The presence of burned tools indicates that the occupants of the site had discovered the controlled use of fire. Additionally, the fossils found particularly the remains of horses indicate that the occupants had perfected the domestication of animals. Other artifacts discovered at the site create a platform for researchers to investigate the use of tools for improving the livelihood of the occupants.

Research conducted by William Zeist and Sytze Bottema suggests that pollen record sedimentary cycles are distinct. The pollen diagram indicate that each of the cycles signify progression of lower lake-levels in the early stages to higher levels in the later stages. The discovery of Salvinia at the lowest point of the site indicates that the area experienced warm weather during the transportation of pollen from higher grounds.

The same plant was also discovered in open water raising concern as whether the plant can also grow in shallow open water as well as in swampy soil. The Ranunculus scleratus that grows in marshes was discovered in open water suggesting that open water may have retreated at some point. This suggests that other plants of the same species may grow in other areas. This means that the area may have experienced a cooler climate that has led to the extinction of many animal species.

Why the site and things found were important

Reproduction success, age-precise endurance, permanence and generational fruitfulness were the major parameters that indicated development in the ecology and natural balance. The parameters are an indication of population health and environmental quality of the generations that occupied the valley.

In artifact material, such environmental parameters are hard to acquire due to taphonomic prejudice (Ashkenazi 2005). The pollen found after excavation included pollen of trees, herbs and shrubs that grew on upland vegetation. The pollen found in the layers was hence transported from higher grounds of the valley. However, there was grass and reeds in the swampy area.

GBY is still partially under water. The site has presented archeologists with the opportunity to study about the ancient human activity in the region. The site is an outstanding sample of how nature preserves organic matter. In exploring the history of the site, it is evident that the ancient occupants of the valley included fish in their meals.

This is indicated by the presence of fish bones near to where other artifacts were found. Other fossils that are important to researchers include small to big mammals such as bears, gazelle and hippopotamus. Horse bones found at the site are an essential clue illustrating that the occupants were keeping animals.

Tooth marks and other burnt tools were found at the site. This is an indication that the occupants of the site were purposeful butchers. The burnt tools found at the site show that the occupants had already discovered fire. The multiple wood pieces and seeds at the site were burned. This is a clear indication of evidence of management of fire. Consequently, this means that the occupants were the earliest users of fire, more than four hundred thousand years.

The sediment discovered at the site are important in many ways. They help archeologists to analyze how climatic changes affected the flora and fauna at the site. The fossils afford researchers the opportunity to understand how the woods, grasses, shrubs and trees came into existence at the GBY. The transportation of pollen to the area is important to researchers in understanding the distribution of vegetation at the valley.

The oxygen isotope stages (OIS) 18-20 discovered at the valley sediment section opens a platform for researchers to illustrate that even-numbered isotope stages symbolize cold periods with diminishing temperatures. On the other hand, interglacial periods symbolize higher temperatures essential for complete formation of fossils.

The discovery of the OIS is important in discrediting the assumption that wet glacial and desiccated interglacial periods in the Mediterranean are a result of moist westerlies blowing southwards and that they significantly impact the climate of the region. It has been discovered that interglacials in the region would have been typified by warm and desiccated climatic conditions. Desiccated and wet phases may occur in glacial as well as interglacial periods.

The pollen record of GBY conforms to this idea. This means that the formation of the sediments in GBY during interglacial OIS 19 was relatively wet period with a single dry interval. The glacial period OIS 20 as indicated in the GBY sediment section was a dry period (Horowitz 1989).

The burnt archeological materials found at the site assist archeologists in determining the usage of fire. The materials facilitate in verifying the usage of controlled fire by hominids who occupied the site for thousands of years. The discovery of the burnt materials assist in explaining it is probable that the ancient occupants of the site did not use fire despite the usage of fire for thousands of years by successive generations. This is after considering that the penetration deepness of fire in sediment is very low.


Gesher Benot Ya’qov is an important archeological site. The site was formed during the long occupation by hominids believed to have used the route as the bridge from Africa to the rest of the world. Apparently, the human activities that took place led to the formation of sediment layers at the valley on the banks of River Jordan. The archeological evidence found at the site indicate that there was use of fire by the ancient occupants of the site.

There is evidence of burnt flints that were used by the occupants for hunting. Many fossils found at the site include animal and fish remains. However, it has not been established why there is no evidence of human fossil such as bones. The vegetation in the valley is observed to have been transported from long distance through pollen.


Ashkenazi, S. 2010 Fossil embryos and adult Viviparidae from the Early–Middle Pleistocene of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel: ecology, longevity and fecundity. Lethaia. 43:116–127.

Ashkenazi, S. 2005 New morphometric parameters for assessment of body size in the fossil freshwater crab assemblage from the Acheulian site of Gesher.

Benot Ya’aqov, Israel. Journal of Archaeology Science 32: 675–689. Baruch, U. 1991 Palynological evidence for climatic changes in the Levant ca. 17,000–9,000.

B.P. In: Bar-Yosef O,Valla FR (eds) The Natufian culture in the Levant. International Monographs in Prehistory, Archaeological Series 1, Ann Arbor, 11–20.

Feibel, Charles S. 2004 Quaternary lake margins of the Levant Rift Valley. In Goren-Inbar N. & Speth J.D. (eds): Human Paleoecology in the Levantine Corridor, 21–36. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Grosman, Sharon G. 2011 The technology and significance of the Acheulian giant cores of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(8):1901-1917.

Horowitz, A. 1989. Palynological evidence for the Quaternary rates of accumulation along the Dead Sea Rift and structural implications. Tectonophysics 164: 63–71. McManamon, Francis P. 2011 The Archaeology of Kennewick Man. Electronic document, The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), .

Picard, L. 1952. The Pleistocene peat of Lake Hula. Bull. Res. Counc. Isr. 2G(2): 147–156.

Weinstein, Y. 1998. Mechanisms of generation of intra-continental alkali-basalts in norhteastern Israel. Ph.D. thesis, Hebrew Univ., Jerusalem, 101 pp. (in Hebrew, English abstr.). Zeist, Willem & Bottema, Sytze. 2009 A palynological study of the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel. Veget Hist Archaeological 18(1): 105-121.

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