Archive for January 4th, 2013

Israeli cave: World’s first factory?




Archaeologists say Paleolithic production line made cutting tools by the 1000s; Qassem’s inhabitants were possibly early form of Homo sapiens.

In a cave not far from where thousands of Israelis work in hi-tech companies in the Afek Industrial Zone, their Paleolithic ancestors were engaged in some of their own cutting-edge innovation and manufacturing.

Indeed, the people who produced the thousands of knives and other tools in Qassem Cave between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago may have been the world’s first industrial workers, says Ran Barkai, who with two other Tel Aviv University archaeologists, Ron Shimelmitz and Avi Gopher, has been excavating the site.

Their findings, based on the examination of more than 19,000 stone implements produced and used by the cave’s inhabitants, appear in the October issue of The Journal of Human Evolution.

The people of Qassem Cave not only developed what appears to be the earliest system of mass production but engaged in other activities that Barkai and his colleagues describe as modern, such as parceling off their limestone habitation into areas dedicated to specific activities like butchering and eating. That pushes back the date for many practices by tens of thousands of years.

“We must be a bit cautious, but if what we found is what we think it is, it means modern human behavior and modern Homo sapiens appeared earlier than anyone thought before,” Barkai told The Media Line. “Tool production, the use of fire, hunting and meat-sharing practices – these are behaviors that are practiced usually by modern humans.”

Man’s ancestors were making simple stone tools in Africa at the time, but in Qassem Cave the inhabitants set up stone age production lines, as evidenced by the huge number of implements found by the archaeologists  Until now, the earliest instances of mass production date back to no more than 40,000 years ago.

“For many years, archaeologists linked the systematic production of blades to the Late Paleolithic period in Europe 30,000 or 40,000 years ago, and to Homo sapiens, and to such practices as cave paintings,” Gopher said in a statement issued by Tel Aviv University. “This gives us a glimpse into the daily life of the earliest cave people.”

Located about 12 kilometers (8 miles) east of Tel Aviv in the Samarian foothills, Qassem Cave is typical of the area, where caverns are created as acidic water dissolves the limestone rock that predominates the area’s geology. Originally an underground cavern, geological shifts created an opening that enabled the cave to be inhabited for 200,000 years before closing up again.

The cave and its industrial secrets remained lost to the world, the technology employed in it over the millennia never again used or replicated, as far as archaeologists know. The cave was revealed again when construction workers accidentally re-opened it 10 years ago it as they were widening a highway.

Barkai said the mass production of tools was facilitated by the technology developed by Qassem’s inhabitants. They developed cutting techniques that made very efficient use of their raw material, flint blocks, to produce tools with very little waste. They also turned out semi-finished products that could be turned into a completed tool with very little additional work.

The tools they made were highly specialized, designed for the various stages of hunting and butchering. Barkai said that long before place settings were invented, Qassem’s inhabitants may have been using knives as personal implements for eating. But the cave men (and women) of Qassem also had shared the use-and-throw-away culture of the modern era as well.

The tools they made were of very high quality – Barkai says examples he has in his lab look as sharp as new – but Qassem’s inhabitants didn’t trouble to reuse them or sharpen them as their peers did. That could be the reason that Qassem’s denizens needed to produce so much, he speculated.

“It appears they used these knives as expendable tools. They used them for a very short while for a very specific purpose, then for the next stage of work they would produce more,” said Barkai. “We know that the cave was surrounded by very rich outcrops of flint, so they had constant supply of raw material around them and they had very good tools to produce cutting tools quickly and efficiently.”

Who were Qassem’s inhabitants?

Barkai and his colleagues aren’t quite sure, but they speculate that they may have been a very early form of Homo sapiens, that is modern man. If true, that would push back the earliest known evidence for Homo sapiens, which now has records up to 200,000 years ago – at the tail end of the Qassem era.

The only direct evidence of who the cave’s people were is some teeth that have been uncovered and show a resemblance to those of modern humans. But the technology itself provides indirect evidence of how they had advanced intellectually and technologically.

“They had the capability of transmitting knowledge and technical skills, which were quite sophisticated,” Barkai said. “I have no doubt they used language.”

The team is by no means done with Qassem Cave. Barkai estimates there is another decade’s worth of excavating to do at the site, with their top goals of finding skeletal remains of the inhabitants that would give them more insight into who the inhabitants were and to better understand how different functions were assigned to different places in the cavern.

Source: The Jerusalem Post.



Teachers protest at UNRWA’s Gaza City headquarters

Wednesday 05/10/2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Thousands of teachers on Wednesday protested at UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City over the dismissal of a union official, a Ma’an correspondent reported.

The Local Staff Union called for the general strike on Wednesday, the second such action in a week, to protest at UNRWA’s suspension of the head of the union, Suhail al-Hindi.

Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials.

Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to “UNRWA political punishment of employees.”

“Death rather than humiliation” read a banner held by striking teachers. “Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA,” read another.

The strike affected all of UNRWA’s 243 schools in Gaza.

Hindi told the teachers he would stand against “oppression and injustice” but added that Palestinians saw UNRWA as a symbol of the cause of refugees and that its role should be preserved “until the Israeli occupation is removed.”

UNRWA was founded in 1949 to serve refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab countries after hundreds of thousands were displaced from Palestine when Israel was created. The agency’s most recent mandate extends to June 30, 2014.

Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s chief spokesman in Jerusalem, said disputes should be resolved internally and not through actions that undermine agency operations and services to refugees in Gaza.

“UNRWA is extremely concerned about the impact of further strikes on the education of 220,000 children in our schools, children whose right to education is being denied,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Hamas accused UNRWA of trying to create a “parallel authority”.

“The Palestinian people cannot accept the punishment of an employee of the head of the employees union just because of his participation in a regular community activity,” said Taher al-Nunu, spokesman of the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Hamas lawmakers often criticize UNRWA’s education policies and some accuse it of trying to teach material that encourages normalization with Israel or educates pupils about the Holocaust.

Islamist radicals opposed to mixed-gender activities are believed to be behind arson attacks on UNRWA-run summer camps.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.