Israeli archaeologists have found the earliest known houses in Jerusalem, showing that a thriving settlement existed there as far back as 7,000 years ago, far longer than had been thought.
The discovery was made during the building of a new road in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement on Wednesday.
The archaeologists unearthed two houses, complete with stone floors and well-preserved artifacts such as pottery vessels, flint tools, a stone bowl and even a carnelian gemstone.
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Stages of construction and signs of maintenance show the buildings were used for a considerable length of time.
The houses were built in the Chalcolithic period, approximately in the 5th millennium BC. At that time, man started developing the use of copper (chalcos in Greek) while using tools made of stone (lithos).
The remains predate previously found evidence of human settlement in the area by up to 2,000 years.
"The buildings uncovered are of a standard that would not fall short of Jerusalem's architecture," Ronit Lupo, director of excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority, said.
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"This discovery represents a highly significant addition to our research of the city and the vicinity," he added.
He noted the artifacts unearthed at the site reveal the livelihood of the local population in prehistoric times: small sickle blades were likely employed for harvesting crops, while chisels and axes were used for building.
"The bead made out of carnelian indicates that jewelry was either made or imported. The grinding tools, mortars and pestles, like the basalt bowl, attest to technological skills as well as to the kinds of crafts practiced in the local community," Lupo said.
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The researchers also plan to analyze sheep and goat bones found at the site in order to better understand the dietary habits of the people who lived there 7,000 years ago.