The coldest of cold cases may have emerged from the bottom of a Stone-Age well in Israel as archaeologists uncovered two 8,500-year-old human skeletons deep inside the structure.
Belonging to a woman aged about 19 and an older man between 30 and 40, the skeletal remains were found in a 26-foot-deep well in the Jezreel Valley in Israel's Galilee region.
With the upper part built of stones and the lower hewn in the bedrock, the impressive well was connected to a Neolithic farming settlement.
"It seems the inhabitants used it for their subsistence and living," Yotam Tepper, excavation director at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.
Tepper and colleagues cannot yet explain whether the two individuals accidentally fell into the well or were murdered and then dumped inside.
"As of now the answer to this question remains a mystery," they said.
Studies on the bones and the objects found near the human remains may provide an answer.
"What is clear is that after these unknown individuals fell into the well, it was no longer used for the simple reason that the well water was contaminated and was no longer potable," Tepper said.
Indeed, the artifacts recovered from inside the well suggest the structure ended up being used as a dump after it became polluted.
Along with the skeletal remains, the archaeologists found deeply dented
flint sickle blades used for harvesting, as well as arrow heads, stone implements, animal bones and charcoal.
Whether the man and woman found at the well's bottom were the victims of a crime or a simple accident, Tepper and colleagues agree the structure itself is worth studying further.
"Wells from this period are unique finds in the archaeology of Israel, and probably also in the prehistoric world in general," Tepper said.
According to the archaeologist, the well shows the impressive quarrying ability of the Jezreel Valley's ancient inhabitants and the extensive knowledge they possessed regarding the local hydrology and geology.
"No doubt the quarrying of the well was a community effort that lasted a long time," said Tepper.
Photo: Top: 8,500 yr old skeletal remains. Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Middle: The flint implements that were uncovered during the excavation. Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Bottom: An archaeologist down into the well. Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.