8,500-Year-Old Well Unearthed in Israel, Mystery Surrounds Two Human Skeletons

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have unearthed an ancient well dating to the Neolithic period some 8,500 years ago in the Jezreel Valley.

An archaeologist goes down into the 8,500-year-old well (Yotam Tepper / Israel Antiquities Authority)

“The impressive well that was revealed was connected to an ancient farming settlement and it seems the inhabitants used it for their subsistence and living. The upper part of the well was built of stones and its lower part was hewn in the bedrock. Two capstones, which narrowed the opening, were set in place at the top of the well. It is about 8 m deep and its upper part measures about 1.3 m in diameter,” said Dr Yotam Tepper, excavation director from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“Numerous artifacts indicating the identity of the people who quarried it – the first farmers of the Jezreel Valley – were recovered from inside the well. The finds include, among other things, deeply denticulated sickle blades knapped from flint which were used for harvesting, as well as arrow heads and stone implements. The excavation of the accumulations in the well shaft yielded animal bones, organic finds and charcoal which will enable future studies about the domestication of plants and animals, and also allow researchers to determine the exact age of the well by means of advanced methods of absolute dating,” the archaeologist said.

“The well that was exposed in the Jezreel Valley reflects the impressive quarrying ability of the site’s ancient inhabitants and the extensive knowledge they possessed regarding the local hydrology and geology which enabled them to quarry the limestone bedrock down to the level of the water table. No doubt the quarrying of the well was a community effort that lasted a long time,” Dr Tepper said.

The team also unearthed skeletal remains of a woman about 19 years old and an older man at the bottom of the well. The archaeologists cannot explain why these individuals were found deep inside the well.

An archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority inside the well. Upper right: flint implements, found in the well. Lower right: skull remains found in the well (Yotam Tepper / Clara Amit / Israel Antiquities Authority)

“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,” Dr Tepper said.

“Wells from this period are unique finds in the archaeology of Israel, and probably also in the prehistoric world in general,” added Dr Omri Barzilai, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Prehistory Branch.

“The two oldest wells in the world were previously exposed in Cyprus and they indicated the beginning of the domestication phenomenon: it seems that ancient man tried to devise ways of protecting his drinking water from potential contamination by the animals he raised, and therefore he enclosed the water in places that were not accessible to them,” he said.

“The wells had another important advantage: quarrying them provided access to an available source of water that was not dependent upon springs or streams. Another well, which is about 1,000 years later than those in Cyprus, was previously exposed at the Atlit Yam site in Israel, and another well from this period has now been exposed at the site. The exposure of these wells makes an important contribution to the study of man’s culture and economy in a period when pottery vessels and metallic objects had still not yet been invented.”