February 2002

From Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Remains of seven types of edible nuts and nutcrackers found at 780,000-year-old archaeological site

*This release has been modified since the original posting(Feb.18th).

Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University Researchers find evidence showing nuts formed a major part of man's diet 780,000 years ago

Jerusalem, February 17, 2002 -- The remains of seven types of 780,000-year-old nuts have been found at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in Israel's Hula Valley. The nuts and the stone tools found with them are the first evidence that various types of nuts formed a major parts of man's diet 780,000 years ago and that hominins (prehistoric men) had developed an assortment of tools to crack open nuts during the Early-Middle Pleistocene Period, according to researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University, who explained that the nuts were anaerobically preserved because the site has been waterlogged since its destruction.

Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar and PhD candidate Gonen Sharon, of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, and Prof. Mordechai Kislev and PhD candidate Yoel Melamed of the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Life Sciences, outline the conclusions that can be drawn from these findings about life in the Hula Valley three-quarters of a million years ago in an article that will be printed in the prestigious journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) on February 19.

Seven species of edible fruits covered with a hard shell were found at the site: wild almond; prickly water lily; acorns from the Q. calliprinos evergreen and the Mt. Tabor oak; Atlantic pistachio; pistachio; and water chestnut. Most of them only can be cracked open by a hard hammer. They all have a high nutritional value and no doubt played a key role in the diet of the hominins at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov. (The pistachios and water chestnuts found at the site are similar to those available today in the Far East and northern Europe.)

"Ethnographic studies of the contemporary hunter-gatherer population show that nuts were part of the human diet in all parts of the world. There is extensive documentation of the use of hammers and anvils to crack open nuts. The tools of contemporary hunter-gather tribes exhibit great similarity to the artifacts found at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov," Prof. Goren-Inbar said. "Some 50 pitted stones with at least one pit were found at the site. The pits appear to have been formed when the stones were used to crack open large quantities of hard nuts. Some of the stones are the size of hammers, while larger stones, some weighing as much as 30 kg, could be used as anvils."

Research on chimpanzees in Western Africa found many cases in which chimpanzees consumed a variety of nuts after using tools to crack them open. The chimpanzees would match the stone to the type of nut, using wooden tools to crack nuts with softer shells and stone tools to crack those with harder shells. The tools the chimpanzees used have pits in them that resemble those in the stones found at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.

"The wide range of activities (hunting, gathering, tool-making, etc) performed at the site show that Gesher Benot Ya'aqov was inhabited for an extended period and that its residents were very familiar with their surroundings and used a variety of strategies to survive and live in the Hula Valley in prehistoric times. Research on chimpanzees and on contemporary hunter-gather tribes show that nut-gathering was performed mainly by women and children. It can be concluded that the people living on the Lake Hula shore 780,000 years ago already had developed a complex society composed of members of various ages and both genders," Prof. Goren-Inbar concluded.

Please note that publication of the results of the research is embargoed until 5 p.m. EST (12 a.m. in Israel) on Monday, February 18, 2002.

Pictures available upon request.

For further information, contact:
Heidi Gleit, HU foreign press liaison: tel. 972-2-588-2904; cell, 972-6-445-4593; email heidig@savion.cc.huji.ac.il
Orit Sulitzeanu, HU spokeswoman: tel. 972-2-588-2811











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