update deskArchaeology

Israel opens ‘prehistoric Garden of Eden’ to public

Ubeidiya National Park’s archeological site contains 30 geologic layers with evidence of human activity dating back 1.6 million years.

The Ubeidiya site is accessible and open to the public. Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority.
The Ubeidiya site is accessible and open to the public. Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority.

A new Israeli national park in the Jordan Valley was officially opened to the public on Thursday morning, with government officials hailing its 1.6-million-year-old archeological site as a “prehistoric Garden of Eden.”

Ubeidiya National Park, which is located near Kibbutz Beit Zera, south of the Sea of Galilee, and was first discovered in 1959, contains 30 geologic layers with evidence of ancient human activity, researchers say.

Thursday’s festive opening ceremony was held in the presence of Jordan Valley Regional Council head Idan Greenbaum; Israel Antiquities Authority director Eli Escusido; Israel Nature and Parks Authority director Raya Shourky; and Lake Kinneret Authority chairman Moti Dotan.

The Ubeidiya site (aerial view). Photo by Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority.

“Every year, the Israel Antiquities Authority develops tens of archaeological sites, making them accessible to the public. But Ubeidiya is unique: This is a prehistoric site of inestimable scientific importance for researching the beginnings of the human race,” said Escusido.

He noted that previous attempts to develop the site were unsuccessful due to “the lack of appropriate partners to manage and maintain it.”

Ubeidiya contains geologic layers with evidence of human activity dating back some 1.6 million years. Archaeologists have found traces at the site indicating how conditions on Earth were between 1-2 million years ago.

Shourky noted that the site’s importance spans from prehistoric times to modern Zionist history.

“First, ‘Ubeidiya’s prehistoric site represents man’s entry into the Middle East 1.5 million years ago. Secondly, adjacent Tel Ubeidiya represents early Israel, based on an inscription dating to the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah. And finally, Moshav Menahemia represents the beginning of the Zionist movement—established here in 1901 right in this very district, and heralding Zionism flourishing throughout this region,” Shourky explained. 

“These three sites tell the story and provide the complete picture of life in this region throughout the course of history until our own times,” added the Nature and Parks Authority head.

Archaeological excavation at ‘Ubeidiya. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Authority declared Ubeidiya a national park in 2022. At the same time, the site was incorporated into a national project to revive the greater Southern Jordan River Reserve, led by the Lake Kinneret Authority and the Jordan Valley Regional Council.

Government organizations combined forces in recent months to open the park to the general public. Access roads were paved, as well as a circular pedestrian route with explanatory signs. The site is currently in the first of three site development stages. In the next stage, a visitors center will be opened in the original field laboratory.

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