The site of ‘Ubeidiya lies three km south of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) on what is today the flanks of the western escarpment of the Jordan Valley. It was first discovered in 1959 and a series of excavations conducted from 1960 -1974, and later in 1988- 1992, 1997- 1999.
Due to the anticline structure and the tilted stratigraphy the only technique to expose the various layers or beds was employing heavy machinery. Several geological trenches (numbered I-V and K and KA) were excavated with a total length of reaching ~1100 meters (Picard and Baida, 1966a; Picard and Baida 1966b; Bar-Yosef and Tchernov, 1972; Bar-Yosef and Goren-Inbar, 1993). The anticline presents several secondary undulations accompanied by a few minor faults. The stratigraphy in the site and additional observations farther north and on the eastern side of Lake Kinneret led to the definition of the ‘Ubeidiya Formation. The layers in the trenches were numbered from the earliest exposed layer to the latest. Total thickness is 154 m. The observed sequence was subdivided into four cycles based on their facies: two limnic (Li and Lu cycles) and two terrestrial (Fi and Fu cycles) by Picard and Baida (1966)
The fauna of ‘Ubeidiya has been widely described for its broad biographic origins. Long-range biochronological correlations are based on rodent and large mammals, both providing similar age estimates. Taxonomic analysis of the rodent assemblage has shown great similarities to East Europe and Central Asia rather than European faunal assemblages.
The most indicative for rodent biochronological is the evolutionary lineage of the microtines. The presence of Lagurodon arnakae together with Mimomys sp. in strata II 23-24 in ‘Ubeidiya, is similar to the stage denoted by Kretzoi as Biharian (ca. 1.6 – 0.6 Ma) (Haas, 1961; Haas, 1966; Haas, 1968) and the Microtus – Mimomys rodent stage of Fejfar and Heinrich (1986). The micromammal fauna of ‘Ubeidiya can be best correlated with the Biharian Micromammal faunal zone. Current ages for the Biharian place it between 1.7 – 0.6 Ma.
Long range biochronological correlation based on large mammals provided a more concise chronological estimate. The fauna could be assigned to the late Villafranchian mammal age (ca. 1.8 – 1.1 Ma). Classic Late Villafranchian elements include, among others, the Etruscan bear (Ursus etruscus), dirk-toothed felid (Megantereon cf. whitei), Meridian mammoth (Mammuthus merdionalis) as well as the presence of Etruscan rhino (Stephanorhinus etruscus etruscus).
In some of the earlier taxonomic lists, several older and younger taxa were identified (Haas, 1961; Haas, 1966; Haas, 1968). However, subsequent revision of the fauna by Tchernov (1986), Belmaker (2010); this volume) and Martìnez-Navarro et al. (Martínez-Navarro et al., 2009) has not confirmed the presence of taxon >1.6 or <1.0 Ma ((Tchernov, 1987; Tchernov, 1988a; Tchernov, 1988b)
More specifically, the ‘Ubeidiya fauna corresponds to Mammal Neogene Quaternary (MNQ) 14 biozones MNQ 16 through MNQ 20 (Guérin, 1982). Few species provide a more accurate chronological estimate and can serve as biochronological indicator. The most indicative large mammal species is Stephanorhinus etruscus etruscus.
The Stephanorhinus etruscus etruscus is a typical Villafranchian taxon. Guérin (1982) subdivided this period into four sub-stages based on the faunal associations of Western Europe and specifically the species of rhino. The faunal assemblage in ‘Ubeidiya is most similar to the faunal assemblage typical of MNQ zone 19, which includes Stephanorhinus etruscus etruscus as well as Sus strozzi. This stage has been roughly dated between 1.4 and 1.0 Ma.
Within this time span, the precise position of ‘Ubeidiya is difficult to ascertain. No species indicative of MNQ zone 18 (ca. 1.9 – 1.4 Ma) e.g., Croizetoceros ramosus minor, Cervus philisi philisi, Eucaldoceros senezensis) appear in ‘Ubeidiya. Similarly, no specimens of Stephanorhinus etruscus brachycephalus indicative of MNQ zone 20 (ca. 1.0 – 0.6 Ma) have been found at ‘Ubeidiya.
Comparison with the Italian faunal units suggests the greatest similarities of the ‘Ubeidiya faunal assemblage are with the Farenta faunal unit (the sites of Selvella and Pieterfitta, Italy) which are ca. 1.6-1.2 Ma (Caloi and Palombo, 1997). Common species to both regions include Macaca sylvana, Panthera gombaszoegensis, Pannonictis pilgrimi, Ursus etruscus, Mammuthus Merdionalis, and Pseudodama sp. (Caloi and Palombo, 1997)
Although ‘Ubeidiya shares some species (e.g., Lycaon lycaonoides = Xenocyaon falconeri) with the following faunal unit of Pirro Nord (ca. 1.2 – 1.0 Ma), it should be considered younger than ‘Ubeidiya based on the extinction of forms such as Pannonictis pilgrimi, and the replacement of Ursus etrucsus with advanced arctoid bears (Caloi and Palombo, 1997). This would suggest that the age of `Ubeidiya should be best confined between ca. 1.6 and 1.2 Ma.
Results of palaeoecological reconstructions based on presence-absence and abundance data suggest that the large mammalian fauna from all strata are indicative of the Mediterranean biome and are similar in faunal distribution to other earliest Pleistocene sites in Eurasia (also Belmaker, this volume). Despite the presence of some African taxa and specifically savanna type herbivores, a palaeoecological reconstruction of an African type savanna is not warranted (see for example (Martínez-Navarro, 2004; Dennell, 2004). The presence of Mediterranean type environments at ‘Ubeidiya suggest that the early hominin population dispersing to the Levant, had to adapt to a new environment coming form sub tropical east Africa.
Support for the Mediterranean reconstruction obtained by the large mammals can also be found in the analysis of the avifauna of ‘Ubeidiya and which indicates that the Palaearctic groups predominate the assemblages and only a few are tropical (Oriental or Ethiopic). The development of the Mediterranean endemic elements from Asian species took place shortly after the Messinian crisis (probably ended ca. 5.3 Ma) but increased during later in the Pliocene and Early Pleistocene around the humid Mediterranean basin and resulted in an high proportion of endemic species in ‘Ubeidiya (Tchernov, 1980)
Macrofloral remains of fossilized leaves (Lorch, 1966) and a pollen spectrum from layer III-12 (Bar-Yosef and Tchernov, 1972) also suggests a Mediterranean park-forest surrounded by a rocky and steppe terrain.
Bar-Yosef, O., and Belmaker, M. (expected 2016) ‘Ubeidiya. In Quaternary of the Levant (Bar-Yosef, O. and Enzel, Y. eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. (in press). (invited)
Martínez-Navarro, B., Belmaker, M. and Bar-Yosef, O. (2012) The Bovid assemblage (Bovidae, Mammalia) from the Early Pleistocene site of ‘Ubeidiya: Biochronological and biogeographical implications for the fossil and lithic bearing strata. Quaternary International 267: 78 – 97.
Belmaker, M. (2010). Early Pleistocene faunal connections between Africa and Eurasia: An ecological perspective. In Out of Africa I: The First Hominin Colonization of Eurasia (Fleagle, J.G., Shea, J.J., Grine, F.E., Baden, A.L., Leakey, R.E., eds.) Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Series. Springer, Dordrecht. pp. 183-205 (invited).
Belmaker, M. (2010) The presence of a large cercopithecine (cf. Theropithecus sp.) in the ‘Ubeidiya Formation (Early Pleistocene, Israel). Journal of Human Evolution 58: 79-89.
Martínez-Navarro, B., Belmaker, M. and Bar-Yosef, O. (2009). The large carnivores from ‘Ubeidiya (Early Pleistocene, Israel): Biochronological and biogeographical implications. Journal of Human Evolution 56: 514-524.
Belmaker, M. (2005). Using comparative micromammal taphonomy to test palaeoecological hypotheses: ‘Ubeidiya, a Lower Pleistocene site in the Jordan Valley, Israel, as a case study. In Biosphere to Lithosphere: New Studies in Vertebrate Taphonomy (O’Connor, T. ed.) Oxbow Books, Oxford. pp. 110-125.
Belmaker, M., Tchernov, E., Condemi, S. and Bar-Yosef, O. (2002). New evidence for hominid presence in the Lower Pleistocene of the Southern Levant. Journal of Human Evolution 43: 43-56.
Belmaker, M. (2002). Community structure changes through time – ‘Ubeidiya as a case study. In Archaeozoology of the Near East V. Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium on the Archaeozoology of Southwestern Asia and Adjacent Areas. (Buitenhuis, H., Choyke, A.M., Mashk- our, M. and Al-Shiyab, A.H. eds.). ARC publications 62, Center for Archeological Research and Consultancy, Rijksuniversiteit, Groningen, The Netherlands. pp. 9-22.