WHEN DID HUMANS START SETTLING DOWN?
Photographed on Assignment for the Smithsonian Magazine
Text by Matti Friedman:
Twelve thousand years ago, long before the beginning of recorded history, a group of perhaps 200 people lived in a small village by a stream flowing into the Sea of Galilee, in what today is northern Israel. The villagers hunted gazelle and hares, fished for carp, built stone houses, and buried their dead in a cemetery next to their homes. When I hiked to the site early one morning, it was easy to imagine them: A few figures setting off with nets to the lakeshore, others walking toward the hills with bows and arrows to look for game, and more down by the riverbank, spinning thread or crushing barley, shooing children out of the way—a community waking up together and getting to work, unaware of their position at the dawn of a new age.
I came to the village with Leore Grosman, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. We turned up a dirt track off the two-lane road that circles the Sea of Galilee. On the far shore, across five miles of placid water, lights in the city of Tiberias were blinking off. The sun wasn’t quite up, but the caffeine was kicking in. Grosman lit a cigarette and told me about herself in a gravelly voice. She started out studying math, then moved to Egyptology. She loved hieroglyphics. “But it’s a lot of sitting in libraries, and it’s a matter of personality,” she said. “I need to be outside.” She began digging here in 2010 with a feeling that the site, known as Nahal Ein Gev II, had something to say about a great change in the human story.
She has returned each summer since.