Prof. Ehud Weiss - Agricultural Discoveries

 

It was only recently that Prof. Ehud Weiss’ discovery of corn cleavers and darnel seeds (or hordeum vulgare), 11,000 years before the generally recognized as advent of organized cultivation, has revolutionized the archaeology world and is still making headlines in various publications all over the world. Essentially, his discovery barley grains in the Sea of Galilee area, means that there was human agriculture as early as 23,000 years ago, which is much earlier than the Neolithic revolutions, which was considered, up until now, the beginning of the shift from hunting & gathering to agriculture which led to permanent settlements, the establishment of social classes, and the eventual rise of civilizations.

At the archeological dig at Ohalo II prehistoric site on the shores of Lake Kinneret, Weiss and his team uncovered 'proto-weeds' indicating hunter-gatherers tried to cultivate wild cereals 10,000 years before the onset of agriculture. This discovery was so revolutionary, that it was named “one of the world’s 10 most important discoveries of 2015” by Biblical Archaeology Magazine.

Prof. Ehud Weiss, Director of the Dig and Head of the Archaeological Botany lab at the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at BIU, where he is also a senior lecturer, holds an MSc from University College London, a PhD in Archaeology from BIU, and has completed his post doc at the Stone Age Lab at Harvard.

Weiss’ research combines Botany and Archaeology. Using seed residues found in archaeological digs, Weiss is able to recreate and study the tools, nutrition and agricultural techniques of ancient times. His findings enable identifying food technologies from various eras, through which we can understand commerce and economy policies and realities of these times, as well as social classes, human development and cultural influences.

As far as the darnel discovery, Weiss says a lot can be learned from it, and not just regarding human nutrition: “We can deduct from it the ability of prehistoric human to think creatively to find, develop and preserve food for the long term.”

The findings at the site are exceptionally well preserved because they were burned, charred and sealed by the sedimentation of silts sealed in the low-oxygen conditions under the waters of the Kinneret. “Surprisingly,” explains Weiss, “as early as that prehistoric time they apparently worked the fields and sowed crops, even though we have no evidence that this phenomenon continued in our area.”

For this reason, Weiss considers his findings as indicative of small-scale trial cultivation rather than success which led to the beginning of farming.

The Ohalo II prehistoric site, which over the years has become synonymous with characteristics of the hunter-gatherers, allows researchers to study the way cereals were sown, reaped and used. Researchers found the remains of 150,000 plants, including edible grains such as wild wheat, barley and oat. Remains of starch found on a grindstone at the site shows that bread was baked there.

 

For more information on the Martin (Szusz) Land of Israel Studies & Archaeology department >>
For more on Prof. Weiss click here.