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Ancient quarries in Israel reveal where Homo erectus hunted and butchered elephants

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Ancient humans quarried flint to make weapons for hunting and butchering elephants up to 2 million years ago in what's now the Upper Galilee region of Israel, a new study finds.

The research answers long-standing questions about why there were so many ancient quarries in the region, and found that they were located near water sources likely used by migrating elephant herds.

The study authors propose that Homo erectus — an early ancestor of modern humans that lived from about 1.89 million to 110,000 years ago — quarried flint at the sites to make tools for hunting and butchering elephants until about 500,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic period, or Old Stone Age.

"An elephant consumes 400 liters [105 gallons] of water a day, on average, and that's why it has fixed movement paths," study co-author Meir Finkel, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, said in a statement. "These are animals that rely on a daily supply of water, and therefore on water sources — the banks of lakes, rivers and streams."

The authors looked at the ancient migration routes of elephants — suggested by earlier studies that considered the landscape and fossilized bones — and found that they corresponded closely to the ancient quarry sites in the Upper Galilee region, according to the study published Feb. 21 in the journal Archaeologies.

The quarries are within walking distance of the major Paleolithic sites at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov and Ma'ayan Baruch in the Hula Valley, between the Sea of Galilee and Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon.

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