Reliving the Stone Age in Israel through cooking and leather tanning

Uri Shapira

Senior Producer, Holy Land Uncovered | @UriShapira

6 min read
A true-to-life replica of the renowned Lascaux's Stone Age cave with its Paleolithic paintings, in Montignac, southwestern France
MEHDI FEDOUACH (AFP)A true-to-life replica of the renowned Lascaux's Stone Age cave with its Paleolithic paintings, in Montignac, southwestern France

A group of experts and visitors gathered last month to replicate life in the Stone Age at Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan in northern Israel

It’s one thing to see it, it’s something else entirely to experience it. This may be the key element of experimental archaeology, a movement which encourages testing archaeological hypotheses. 

A group of experts and visitors recently gathered in Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan in northern Israel to test out methods of cooking, leather making, and weaponry, believed to have helped humans survive in the Stone Age 

The workshops, which took place on two different occasions, reenacted several practices of the Stone Age era. The first, directed by Dr. Robert Graf, an archaeologist and archaeo-technician, was dedicated to making stone arrowheads. Crafting these arrowheads can also reveal the transition between different periods in ancient times.

“In the Paleolithic era, it was the height of the efficiency. You have one way of making an arrowhead, and you shouldn't waste time. In the Neolithic period, it was more about prestige and social status. When you wear a nice-made dagger, or when you have a nice arrowhead, you are on a higher scale than someone who doesn't,” said Dr. Graf. 

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Daniel Bock/i24NEWSDr. Robert Graf carves an arrowhead using Stone Age methods.

Another workshop focused on cooking methods of the Stone Age periods. Participants had to use their innovation skills to start a fire, collect food and cook without electricity and modern instruments.

“Before humans had pots, which is 10,000 years ago, 1.5 million years ago they had fire and people were cooking. We don't know exactly how they cooked, but we have some indications, like for example stones,” explained scholar Warner Pfipper. “We assume that they used them in a fire pit like we do today or in water, to heat water, to make a soup. So I'm experiencing different ways of how to prepare food."

One of the workshops was a hands-on experience of one of the oldest professions in the world, leather tanning. 

“I'm teaching a group of 12 people in Israel to make fat-tanned grain-off leather. It breathes nicely, it can be used in different environments,” said Theresa Emmerich Kamper. 

Yuval Ozery/i24NEWS
Yuval Ozery/i24NEWSTheresa Emmerich Kamper leads a workshop of leather tanning methods

Kamper is an instructor known to the wider public from the reality show "Alone." Nowadays, she teaches the secrets of leather tanning, a long and complex process passed down from generation to generation. 

“Tanning is an incredibly important technology in human history. It has been around as long as we needed covering, at least 2 million years according to genetic research. Any time people moved to a different climate, they needed tanning… This went back really a long way,” Kamper said. 

Dr. Inbar Ktalav, the co-director of these workshops, also told us about leather tanning, a profession she is personally experienced in, as seen from her outfit.

“We can see a shirt I made myself using the brain tanning method, which is tanning with fat. Stone Age man used the brain of the animal, but today we use vegetal substitution. I also sewed it myself using bone punch,” Dr. Ktalav told us. 

Daniel Bock/i24NEWS
Daniel Bock/i24NEWSDr. Inbar Ktalav shows off the leather outfit she made herself.

The workshops were also organized by the Museum of Yarmukian culture, an institute dedicated to a unique society which lived in the area during the Neolithic period. 

“Everything we have in the museum comes from an ancient village which dates back 8,000 years. We can see the beginning of agriculture, the first appearance of ceramic art, the beginning of urbanization and domestication of animals. So it’s a very important site from the Neolithic period,” explained Maya Tzur, who works at the Museum of Yarmukian Culture. 

What caused these people to leave their daily life behind and jump to a life less ordinary, that of thousands of years ago?

“All of these workshops give us the opportunity to connect to something which once existed and doesn’t any longer,” shared one of the participants, Rotem Rylsky. 

“It feels like being a human being again. It is nice to put an effort into something,” said Yony Ben-Dor, another participant.

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“They are your history.. We have a crazy idea that they are cavemen and they are not us. They are us... Without them we wouldn’t cross the Arctic, we wouldn’t have reached North and South America. It’s a human technology everyone everywhere did at a certain point in time,” added Theresa Kamper. 

The Holy Land is also known as a significant intersection of the Stone Age, where Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens first met. Dr. Ktalav and her team hope to expand their vision and continue this tradition, which brings the old methods to the 21st century.

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