In addition to his work at Ashkelon, co-author Ehud Weiss has been excavating the ancient site known as Ohalo II, on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Israeli and American archaeologists have made an important discovery: In the flooded remains of an ancient fishing camp, they found evidence that people collected wild grains, pounded them into flour, and perhaps baked bread—at least 10,000 years before the development of agriculture.
The settlement dates to roughly 20,000 B.C. Researchers found a grinding stone with traces of barley and other grains. They also found what appears to be a makeshift oven and grape residue. Grapes have a lot of yeast on their skin, enough to start the fermentation process necessary for bread-making. Ohalo’s residents could easily have made dough, wine or other fermented beverages. Moreover, other grain evidence suggests the making of gruel.
Thanks to the quality and quantity of the remains, Ohalo II has been called a Stone Age Pompeii. First frozen in time by a fire, the remains were preserved by the rising waters of the Sea of Galilee, which covered them except during rare periods of sustained drought. It was at a time of drought that the settlement emerged; the settlement was discovered in 1989 (it is presently under 10 feet of water). Archaeologists have been able to uncover flints, fish and animal bones, and the remains of hundreds of species of fruits, plants and animals. The find is so unusual that researchers are unable to compare it with anything else from the same time period. Were the grain-gathering activities of Ohalo’s residents common or exceptional? No one knows. At the very least, researchers have been able to conclude one thing: Stone Age people had more varied diets than is commonly thought.—M.S.