7. Discussion

The advanced and sophisticated cognitive abilities described above are supported by a series of additional observations drawn from various multidisciplinary studies of the GBY Acheulian record. These include aspects of planning and communication as derived from stone tool production sequences (Sharon et al. 2011), spatial cognition of the landscape and intra-site spatial organisation (Goren-Inbar and Sharon 2006; Rabinovich et al. 2006; Rabinovich et al. 2008), procedural cognition, technical and procedural know-how and specialisation (Madsen and Goren-Inbar 2004; Alperson-Afil et al. 2009; Goren-Inbar 2011; Goren-Inbar et al. 2011; Rabinovich and Biton 2011), as well as social cognition (Goren-Inbar et al. 2002b; Goren-Inbar 2011). These cognitive abilities are expressed in the multiphase process of realisation of the plan for achieving a particular goal. This is seen especially in the chaîne opératoire of basalt bifaces (handaxes and cleavers), documenting cognitive abilities in the structure of the long-term processes involved in biface manufacture.

In addition to the above cultural observations based on lithic assemblages and their reduction sequences, there is also evidence derived from the faunal record at the site. This is characterised by both richness and diversity of species, contributing substantially to the reconstruction of hominin knowledge of the environment in exploitation of both terrestrial wildlife (Rabinovich et al. 2012; Rabinovich and Biton 2011), such as modern-like processing of Dama sp. (Rabinovich et al. 2008), and aquatic resources such as turtles (Hartman 2004) and fish (Alperson-Afil et al. 2009; Zohar and Biton 2011).

Table 3: Edible species reported from GBY, including details of parts that can be consumed
Species GBY remnant Edible organs
Ceratophyllum demersum L. nutlet leaf
Euryale ferox Salisb. seed coat seed
Nuphar lutea (L.) Sm. seed coat leaf, petiole, rhizome
Lemna minor L. whole plant
Potamogeton pectinatus L. nutlet leaf and stem
Trapa natans L. nut shells seed, root
Utricularia australis R. Br. leaf, root

Palaeobotanical evidence contributes to our understanding of the multiple facets of the environmental knowledge of Acheulian hominins and their ability to structure modes of exploitation of diverse resources. At GBY, this exploitation of multiple resources includes that of seven fruit-bearing species with edible nuts belonging to both extant Mediterranean vegetation and locally extinct species (Goren-Inbar et al. 2002a; Melamed 2003; Melamed et al. 2011). Two of the locally extinct species (in the Mediterranean biome) are edible aquatic nuts that flourished in paleo-Lake Hula and were found in quantities at the site: E. ferox and T. natans (Goren-Inbar et al. 2000; Goren-Inbar et al. 2002a; Rabinovich et al. 2012) (Table 3). The pitted stones and anvils mentioned above support the view that these remains were components of the paleo-diet (Goren-Inbar et al. 2002a). These were found in close spatial proximity with burned flint microartefacts, the latter indicating the location of Acheulian hearths (Goren-Inbar et al. 2002a; Goren-Inbar et al. 2004). Evidence of fire is seen throughout the sequence of Acheulian occupation at GBY (around 50,000 years at the site; Sharon et al. 2011) and attests to use and control of this component of culture. Continual fire making (Goren-Inbar et al. 2004) and the transmission of particular modes of technological tool production indicate evolved communication within the group, interpreted as language (Alperson-Afil and Goren-Inbar 2010; Sharon et al. 2011). Clearly, long-term memory was already a component of the evolutionary realm of GBY hominins. The exploitation of E. ferox at GBY, supplemented by data from ethnographic parallels, indicates that Acheulian hominins implemented complex strategies to extract maximum nutritive value from plant species, despite the opportunity of consuming them fresh. It also suggests delayed gratification implied by the time gap between appearance and collecting of the nuts. We do not claim that Acheulian hominin cognitive abilities were similar to those of modern humans, but do suggest that some aspects of complex cognition possibly overlapped in these hominins.

Ethnographic analogies, when considered with archaeological evidence of nuts, pitted anvils and charred organic material, among other features, point to the possibility of a complex sequence of exploitation of an aquatic nut that included gathering by diving, underwater processing, drying, roasting and possibly popping. This process adds to a plethora of evidence of Acheulian hominin activities and diverse associated cognitive abilities, all of which emerge from the analyses of early Middle Pleistocene Acheulian finds from the Levantine Corridor.