Paleolithic aesthetics: Collecting colorful flint pebbles at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel

  • Ella Assaf Tel-Aviv University
Keywords: Qesem Cave; Lower Paleolithic; flint pebbles; aesthetic perceptions; human evolutio


This paper sheds light on the presence and significance of unusually small, colorful, unmodified, flint pebbles unearthed at Qesem Cave, a late Lower Paleolithic site in Israel. For over two million years, early humans were noticing, collecting and bringing "home" various non-utilitarian objects with aesthetic visible characteristics, in what seems to reflect a basic human trait. Archaeological findings suggest that as early as the Lower Paleolithic, prehistoric humans were also guided by considerations other than economic, cost-benefit ones. Such is the case at Qesem Cave, where seventeen pebbles that are clearly smaller than the smallest pebbles used in the lithic industry on-site were found. These objects do not show any traces of use. Based on archaeological and anthropological evidence, I suggest that the small, natural flint pebbles exhibit noticeable visual characteristics, and therefore they might have been selected and brought to the cave due to their aesthetic traits. Various materials such as animal carcasses, fire-wood and lithic materials were systematically procured and brought to the cave, indicating that the inhabitants must have been well acquainted with different sources of resources. In this light, the presence of the pebbles seems to be the result of conscious, purposeful decisions. Their presence at the cave reveals a fraction of some of the aesthetic and perceptual preferences of the early humans that inhabited Qesem Cave, and their rich cultural world.

Author Biography

Ella Assaf, Tel-Aviv University
Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures 
Tel Aviv University  P.O.B. 39040, Ramat Aviv  Tel Aviv 69978  Israel


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How to Cite
Assaf, E. (2018). Paleolithic aesthetics: Collecting colorful flint pebbles at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel. Journal of Lithic Studies, 5(1).
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