Lower Paleolithic hominin ecology at the fringe of the desert: Faunal remains from Bizat Ruhama and Nahal Hesi, Northern Negev, Israel

Reuven Yeshurun, Yossi Zaidner, Véra Eisenmann, B. Martínez-Navarro Bienvenido, Guy Bar-Oz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Southern Levant is a pivotal area for the study of hominin paleoecology during the Lower Paleolithic, because of its location on the out-of-Africa dispersal route and its significant ecological diversity. Important information has been gained by archaeofaunal studies, which usually reveal that exploitation of diverse Mediterranean environments with woodlands, marshes and lake margins, represents a dominant subsistence strategy for Lower Paleolithic hominins. Here, we present new taxonomic and taphonomic data from two sites in the southern coastal plain of the Southern Levant, at the fringe of the Negev Desert: Bizat Ruhama (Early Pleistocene) and Nahal Hesi (Middle Pleistocene). The sites preserve anthropogenic faunas, with the former signaling a marrow-exploitation strategy, perhaps related to scavenging from carnivore kills, and the latter showing evidence for primary access to fleshed ungulate carcasses. The species composition of these Northern Negev sites is unique for the Levantine Lower Paleolithic in that these sites lack typical woodland and riparian species, probably indicating an open, relatively uniform environment with patchy water sources and trees, much like this semiarid region today. Bizat Ruhama and Nahal Hesi are among the only Levantine Lower Paleolithic faunas associated with such a setting, thereby widening the known spectrum of environments exploited by hominins in the region. It is suggested that the two sites, coupled with the nearby Late Pleistocene evidence, reflect a largely stable semiarid environment on the northwestern fringe of the Negev Desert throughout much of the Pleistocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)492-507
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Naama Goren-Inbar for inviting us to participate in the symposium where a draft of this paper was presented, and Rivka Rabinovich for showing us the equid teeth from Nahal Hesi and for her assistance in the course of this research. We enjoyed useful discussions (including some disagreements) with Miriam Belmaker, Naama Goren-Inbar, Daniel Kaufman, Ofer Marder, Nimrod Marom, Avraham Ronen and Mina Weinstein-Evron on aspects relating to this paper. We acknowledge the helpful comments made by the editor, the guest editor and three anonymous reviewers. Vera Damov skillfully produced most of the plates and figures. The renewed excavations at Bizat Ruhama were generously funded by the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation (to Y.Z.). B.M.-N. thanks the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (Grant No. CGL2006-13808-CO2-01 ).


  • Early-Middle Pleistocene
  • Levant
  • Lower Paleolithic
  • Negev
  • Paleoecology
  • Taphonomy
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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