Did this ancient fishing spot create civilization?
This valley may have been so lush that it allowed hunter-gatherers to develop towns before farming.
Deep in Israel's Hula Valley, a group of archaeologists have recently discovered fishing gear, including fish hooks made of bone that Israeli archaeologist Gonen Sharon, one of the researchers on the dig, described to me as "the most beautiful you ever saw."
People have fished at this spot for about 10,000 years. It's older than any city on the planet. In fact, this one fishing area may have been directly responsible for the creation of cities in the first place – not just any particular cities, but cities as a whole.
The Hula Valley is a rich region in northern Israel that's home to all kinds of animals. The geography of the area was different thousands of years ago, and the whole place was even lusher than it is today. According to Sharon, it must have been a paradise for early humans. It contained swamps, hills and forests, offering a huge variety of food, such as fish, mollusks, wild boars, deer, barley and pine nuts, everything early humans could have needed.
It was so plentiful, in fact, that for the first time, humans could stop being nomadic and settle down. They may have been fishing, hunting and gathering fruits and vegetables ... all while staying put and building houses. Some of the oldest houses in the world have been found nearby.
"They’re already living in stone houses, but they’re still hunter-gatherers," explained Sharon. "We're talking before agriculture."
These were the first towns in history. According to Sharon, people lived in these villages for 3,000 years, longer than nearby Jerusalem. He suspects that, after living in villages for so long, people eventually developed property rights, and farming came with that.
"Probably the biggest change in human history was the shift to agriculture," said Sharon. Farming led to money, power, hierarchies, cities, technology, industry ... Everything that people call "civilization."
Sharon argues that fishing may have been one of the primary links between the Stone Age and the modern era.
"Fishing did not get its fair importance in the study of human economy and of hunter-gatherers," he told me. He said that another prominent researcher thinks "they should have called them fisher-gatherers."
Of course, there are many scenarios that explain how ancient people became modern, and this just one of them – albeit a fascinating one.
"What's the role of fishing in the transition?" asked Sharon. "It's the one billion dollar question now." The answer could explain who we were before we started inventing our modern world and, thus, tell us secrets about who we still are today.
"That's why the site here is so important," Sharon continued. "It tells us the story."
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