BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Hunting Elephants in Prehistoric Israel

Half a million-year-old elephant tusk uncovered in southern Israel

 

Unless you are in a zoo, you are unlikely to spot an elephant roaming around Israel today. Prehistoric Israel, however, was a different story. Many remains of elephants and other animals, no longer indigenous to the southern Levant, have been found over the years. One of the most interesting discoveries is an 8-foot-long elephant tusk uncovered in southern Israel by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), along with Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University. According to the team, the tusk dates to the Lower Paleolithic Period, around half a million years ago.

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When Elephants Roamed Israel

The ancient tusk was discovered in the area of Revadim in southern Israel. The area had been previously studied by IAA archaeologists, who found stone tools as well as animal bones. “But finding this half a million-year-old complete elephant tusk in such a good condition is something else,” said excavation director Avi Levy. “This is the largest complete fossil tusk ever found at a prehistoric site in Israel or the Near East.” The tusk belonged to a species known as the straight-tusked elephant, which roamed the region from 800,000 to 400,000 years ago and was much larger than the modern African Elephant.

Tusk from prehistoric israel

An archaeologist from the IAA, uncovering the prehistoric tusk in southern Israel. Courtesy Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

 

Although no longer indigenous to the southern Levant, many large mammals roamed the hills and plains of Israel in prehistory and up to antiquity. These included hippopotami, wild horses, bears, lions, and largest of all, elephants. Excavations have shown that despite their size, these massive animals were sometimes hunted. “The concentration of the material remains—mostly stone tools—in the current excavation and at the entire site, indicates that there was a substantial number of people at the site in one period of time and that elephants were hunted. In the hot dry climate in our region, elephant’s meat could not stay fresh for long, so it must have been consumed quickly by many people, probably as part of a communal event,” said Professor Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Omry Barzilai of the IAA.

paleolithic tools

Paleolithic stone tools from southern Israel. Courtesy Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

 

The tusk was discovered by accident by Dr. Eitan Mor, a biologist from Jerusalem, who visited the site out of curiosity, knowing of the large number of prehistoric finds uncovered nearby. While walking around the area, he spotted a small section of the tusk sticking out of the ground. Realizing what he found, Mor immediately contacted the IAA. This is certainly not the first time such incredibly large fossils have been found by accident. Some scholars have suggested that the discovery of ancient fossils could be at the heart of many myths about giants found in the stories and mythologies of classical and biblical literature.

Given its age, the tusk was very difficult to excavate. “The fossilized tusk is extremely fragile, and it is likely to disintegrate when exposed to the air and sunlight, and to human touch,” explained Hershkovitz. After it is preserved and analyzed, the tusk will likely go on display in the National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel, which is currently under construction in Jerusalem.

 


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Why Study Prehistoric Israel?

The Prehistoric Diet and the Rise of Complex Societies

Neolithic Figurine Could Lead to Reassessment of Prehistoric Israel

The Ancient Bean Diet: Fava Beans Favored in Prehistoric Israel


9 Responses

  1. Paul Shannon says:

    Having reread the Hebrew after considering the ancient mid-Eastern mindset, Dr Nicholas Schaser of Israel Bible Center finds that Genesis deals with functional creation rather than material creation. He urges us to set aside our views of science and materials and the big bang theory and so on, and likewise what we think we know about Genesis, and read only what is written in the scriptures. (“The Bible does not need to be re-written but re-read”- c Israel Bible Center.)

  2. Stone tools associated with the bones; which human species? Radiometric dates, sedimentology? Hope they are screen washing matrix for microvertebrates as ell as paleomag, pollen work.

  3. Peter Irvin Smith says:

    I too believe that the Bible is the Word of Gad but I read it with learning and intelligence. The Authorised version may be manipulated to suggest that the earth was created 6,000 years ago but that is not what the original Hebrew says. It starts with “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.” It does not say how long ago that beginning was. It then tell us that at some stage “The earth was without any order and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep,” indicating that the surface of the planet was covered with water and with cloud so thick that light from the sun (the heavens) could not penetrate – just like Jupiter, Saturn and so on today. It does not say that there was no light in the heavens, that would be ridiculous. Then in verse 5 of Gen. 1 we see the Hebrew word “yom” but we see it twice with two different meanings. The original meaning of “yom” was “warm” but the meaning of the first “yom” here is the warm part of the day – daytime as opposed to nighttime. But the second use of “yom” in the same verse is clearly the whole 24 hour day. Does that mean that from there on “yom” means a 24 hour day? By no means, the word has many uses, generally meaning an indefinite period of time. No doubt you expect “The Day of the Lord” to arrive, do you think that will last but one day? The phrase “There was evening and there was morning” can with equal validity be translated as “”There was an ending and a beginning.”

    By your simplistic and lazy reliance on English translations you hide the true genius of Genesis chapter 1. Once it is properly understood it reveals an astonishing accuracy in the development of the earth with every step in the order that science has now discovered. To whom this accurate scientific revelation was made thousands of years ago, we do not know, but it could only have come from the One who created it all.

  4. Stephen Dorman says:

    Elephant Meat in a hot dry climate? Elephant jerky! I am sure the ancients knew how to do this.

  5. Brad says:

    If this site is all about biblical archeology I assume you believe the Bible to be the true word of God. If you believe that what the Bible says is true then you should know that the age of the earth is approximately 6,000 years old dating the age from when God created the world and everything in it. How then can you say that this tusk is half a million years old?

    1. Steve says:

      Most of the Catholic scholars I’ve read, generally consider The Old Testament to be an allegorical tale, much of which could have been borrowed from earlier societies.

    2. Robert Gross says:

      As adegreed geologist with 57 years experience studying earth’s composition, structure and history, I can assure that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old. I’m also a Bible student and born again Christian.

    3. Dennis says:

      The Bible NEVER gave a date. The 6,000 year theory was made up by someone just adding a string of purported lifespans together. Carbon dating has long disproved this theory.

    4. PCman999 says:

      If you went back in time to Moses’ era and showed him a BBC/NOVA/NatGeo documentary about the Big Bang, formation of stars and planets, evolution of plants and animals, and people – and then told him to write down what he saw in his own words, you’d get a very close copy of Genesis.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published.


9 Responses

  1. Paul Shannon says:

    Having reread the Hebrew after considering the ancient mid-Eastern mindset, Dr Nicholas Schaser of Israel Bible Center finds that Genesis deals with functional creation rather than material creation. He urges us to set aside our views of science and materials and the big bang theory and so on, and likewise what we think we know about Genesis, and read only what is written in the scriptures. (“The Bible does not need to be re-written but re-read”- c Israel Bible Center.)

  2. Stone tools associated with the bones; which human species? Radiometric dates, sedimentology? Hope they are screen washing matrix for microvertebrates as ell as paleomag, pollen work.

  3. Peter Irvin Smith says:

    I too believe that the Bible is the Word of Gad but I read it with learning and intelligence. The Authorised version may be manipulated to suggest that the earth was created 6,000 years ago but that is not what the original Hebrew says. It starts with “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.” It does not say how long ago that beginning was. It then tell us that at some stage “The earth was without any order and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep,” indicating that the surface of the planet was covered with water and with cloud so thick that light from the sun (the heavens) could not penetrate – just like Jupiter, Saturn and so on today. It does not say that there was no light in the heavens, that would be ridiculous. Then in verse 5 of Gen. 1 we see the Hebrew word “yom” but we see it twice with two different meanings. The original meaning of “yom” was “warm” but the meaning of the first “yom” here is the warm part of the day – daytime as opposed to nighttime. But the second use of “yom” in the same verse is clearly the whole 24 hour day. Does that mean that from there on “yom” means a 24 hour day? By no means, the word has many uses, generally meaning an indefinite period of time. No doubt you expect “The Day of the Lord” to arrive, do you think that will last but one day? The phrase “There was evening and there was morning” can with equal validity be translated as “”There was an ending and a beginning.”

    By your simplistic and lazy reliance on English translations you hide the true genius of Genesis chapter 1. Once it is properly understood it reveals an astonishing accuracy in the development of the earth with every step in the order that science has now discovered. To whom this accurate scientific revelation was made thousands of years ago, we do not know, but it could only have come from the One who created it all.

  4. Stephen Dorman says:

    Elephant Meat in a hot dry climate? Elephant jerky! I am sure the ancients knew how to do this.

  5. Brad says:

    If this site is all about biblical archeology I assume you believe the Bible to be the true word of God. If you believe that what the Bible says is true then you should know that the age of the earth is approximately 6,000 years old dating the age from when God created the world and everything in it. How then can you say that this tusk is half a million years old?

    1. Steve says:

      Most of the Catholic scholars I’ve read, generally consider The Old Testament to be an allegorical tale, much of which could have been borrowed from earlier societies.

    2. Robert Gross says:

      As adegreed geologist with 57 years experience studying earth’s composition, structure and history, I can assure that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old. I’m also a Bible student and born again Christian.

    3. Dennis says:

      The Bible NEVER gave a date. The 6,000 year theory was made up by someone just adding a string of purported lifespans together. Carbon dating has long disproved this theory.

    4. PCman999 says:

      If you went back in time to Moses’ era and showed him a BBC/NOVA/NatGeo documentary about the Big Bang, formation of stars and planets, evolution of plants and animals, and people – and then told him to write down what he saw in his own words, you’d get a very close copy of Genesis.

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