The Jordan River Dureijat site (JRD) was discovered during an archaeological survey in 1999. It was undertaken prior to drainage work on the upper reaches of the Jordan River, at its outlet from the Hula Valley (Sharon et al. 2002; Sharon, Marder and Boaretto 2002). The site is located south of the Hula Valley, c. 1.5 km north of Benot Ya‘aqov Bridge, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, near the confluence with Nahal Dureijat. A trial excavation was conducted at the site in 2002 (Marder et al. 2015) and, in 2014, a preliminary excavation was undertaken to determine the site’s extent and estimate its potential for further study. Following the results of this excavation, five excavation seasons (four weeks each) were conducted at the site in 2015–2019 (Fig. 1; for a detailed description of the excavation results, see Sharon et al. 2020). The excavations revealed a sequence of layers that were deposited on the shores of ancient Lake Hula that extended c. 2 km further south than the historical lake. A series of radiocarbon dates show that the site’s stratigraphic sequence spans some 10,000 years of human activity on the shores of ancient Lake Hula, 20,000–10,000 years BP. The sedimentary environment was that of the shore of a lake with fluctuating water levels. As the water level rose and the site was submerged, layers of fine-grained mud (silt) were deposited. As the water receded, the mud deposits were joined by sand and copious amounts of freshwater mollusk shells. Human occupation is documented in the layers associated with shallow water levels, creating a habitat of a lakeside beach or a shoal.
Five archaeological horizons were identified at the site, separated by layers of lacustrine mud: the three upper horizons (Strata 3a–3c) yielded finds dated to the Late Epipaleolithic Natufian culture; Stratum 4 is dated to the Middle Epipaleolithic Geometric Kebaran culture; Stratum 5 is dated by radiocarbon analysis to c. 20,000 years BP and attributed to the Early Epipaleolithic period.
Finds. The site yielded flint (Fig. 2), basalt, and limestone tools; it also produced many animal bones, from large mammals, such as cattle and deer, to birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Like all the sites located on the banks of the Jordan River to the south of the Hula Valley, JRD’s strata remained waterlogged since their deposition (Goren-Inbar et al. 2002; Goren-Inbar, Werker, and Feibel 2002). These circumstances resulted in anaerobic conditions conducive to the excellent preservation of botanical remains, including pollen (Langgut, Cheddadi and Sharon 2021), fruits, seeds and wood (Fig. 3), as well as large quantities of charcoal. The exceptional finds from the site show that its inhabitants mainly engaged in water resource exploitation, especially fishing. Basalt and limestone weights of various sizes (Fig. 4), numerous fish bones, and especially fishhooks made of bone (Fig. 5) all indicate that various fishing techniques were employed, demonstrating a high level of technological knowledge and a deep understanding of the water resources and their uses (Pedergnana et al. 2021).
The site’s strata span most of the Epipaleolithic period in the Levant. During the ten thousand years recorded by the site’s strata, two world-changing processes occurred. Climatically, it was a period of dramatic change that began at the height of the last Ice Age and ended with the beginning of the Holocene, the present interglacial period. How glacial melting and subsequent global warming impacted the Middle East is a subject of controversy among paleoclimatologists. JRD’s location in the center of the Dead Sea Rift Valley and its exceptional preservation of climatic markers (remains of plants, animals, shells, and depositional features) render it ideal for the study of the ancient environment and climate. In human history, an equally significant process unfolded during these years: namely, the transition from small groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers (and fishermen) in the Early Epipaleolithic to large complex communities occupying permanent farming settlements in the Neolithic period. The strata at JRD document this process from a rare perspective missing in most archaeological sites. They produced finds that attest to thousands of years of fishermen’s presence on the shores of ancient Lake Hula, allowing us to document the development of their fishing technology and their changing lifeways. The site’s strata also provide an opportunity to appreciate the importance of water resources (fish, shells, crustaceans, reptiles, migratory birds, wild boars, and cattle, as well as aquatic and marginal plants) in the lives and economies of Epipaleolithic cultures and their contribution to the transition to permanent settlement and agriculture, which shaped our world.