JERUSALEM — Archaeologists are facing a possible murder mystery after discovering two 8,500-year-old human skeletons at the bottom of a rare Stone Age well used by the first farmers in Israel’s Jezreel Valley.
The skeletal remains belonged to a woman about 19 and an older man, according to archaeologists who announced the discovery Thursday in an e-mailed release. The well dates to the Neolithic period, they said.
“How did they come to be in the well?” the Israel Antiquities Authority asked in the statement. “Was this an accident or perhaps a murder? As of now, the answer to this question remains a mystery.”
The excavation of ancient wells is critical to understanding the culture and economy of a period before the invention of pottery vessels and metallic objects, Omri Barzilai, head of the Prehistory Branch of the IAA, said.
The two oldest wells in the world were uncovered in Cyprus, and are about 1,000 years older than this one, according to the IAA. The Jezreel Valley well is the second from its period discovered in Israel, it said.
“The impressive well was connected to an ancient farming settlement, and it seems the inhabitants used it for their subsistence and living,” Yotam Tepper, the site’s excavation director said. “After these unknown individuals fell into the well, it was no longer used, for the simple reason that the water was contaminated.”
Objects found inside the well include flint sickle blades used for harvesting, arrowheads and stone tools, he said.
The well shows the quarrying ability of the site’s ancient inhabitants and the knowledge they had of local hydrology and geology, which enabled them to quarry the limestone bedrock down to the level of the water table, Tepper said.
“No doubt, the quarrying of the well was a community effort that took a long time,” he said.
The well, which was uncovered in excavations before the enlarging of a highway by the National Roads Company, will be conserved and exhibited.