Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ancient Bones in an Ancient Well

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced a very significant find, with a mystery, in the Jezreel Valley. 

Surviving water wells from the stone age era are extremely rare.  This was a time when humans were first relying on agriculture and domestic animals to make a living.  As they settled down to farm, they could no longer rely completely on springs and streams to provide the water they needed to survive.

Yotam Tepper, of the Israel Antiquities Authority explained, "This was a period after permanent settlements and already been established and after the agricultural revolution and domestication of sheep, goats, cattle and wheat.  Now it became necessary to 'domesicate' water, too."

An Antiquities Authority archaeologist exploring the recent find.
Photo by Gil Eliahu

Wells from this period are a tangible evidence of a giant step forward in terms of human culture.  The well in the Jezreel Valley has been dated as one of the oldest in the world, to about 6500 BC or 8,500 years old. 

The well, which was discovered during road construction, was built with stacked stones at the top and the bottom was hewn into limestone - hewn by hand with stone tools.  The well is approximately 25 feet deep and 4 feet in diameter.  Capstones  covering the well recall Genesis 29:2, "stone upon the well's mouth."

8,500 year old bones recovered from the ancient well in the
Jezreel Valley.  Photo from Israeli Antiquities Authority.

The well was silted in at some point early in its use and has become an unintentional time capsule.  Arrow heads, animal bones and flint tools associated with harvesting crops all helped in dating the well.  Other signs in the region confirm that this part of Israel may have been one of the first places in the area where people settled down and turned from hunting and gathering to agriculture for subsistence.

The biggest surprise was what was found with the lost tools under the layer of silt.  The skeleton of a young woman and a man aged 30-40 were found tossed into the well.   Did they die in some tragic accident, or were they murdered and thrown into the shaft?  Were the deaths from a domestic dispute or the result of waring tribes?

 "There is no evidence that they were buried in a regular fashion.  There is a story here, but we don't have answers," Tepper said.  "What is clear is that after these unknown individuals fell into the well, it was no longer used for the simple reason that the well water was contaminated and was no longer potable." 

The well was abandoned when the bodies were thrown in.  It was later covered and its location lost.  That is why it has been left unused for over 8,000 years.
The full story can be found here:


  1. I noticed your entry and I am so fascinated by the manner you make your posts! Which methods do you prefer spread the knowledge that you have added a fresh entry to your portal?

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I believe history should be easily accessble and enjoyable to average people. Unfortunately, many historians write to impress thier peers, more than writing to capture the imagination of the average reader. The best stories are those about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. My goal is to use this blog to tell some of those tales.