Amnon Assaf - Founder of the Museum
September 30, 1928 – January 26, 2018
Kibbutznik, farmer, archaeologist and museum founder
Amnon Assaf was born in Tel-Aviv on September 30, 1928. At the age of 17, he joined the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah, and was sent to Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. While working in the kibbutz fields, he discovered perfectly shaped flint tools strewn among the basalt stones. Amnon collected the tools and contacted Prof. Moshe Stekelis of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Stekelis, the founder of prehistoric archaeological research in Israel, identified the artifacts as handaxes, the typical tool of the Early Paleolithic Acheulian culture.
Amnon was fascinated by stone tools: “from that day on I stopped collecting stamps and started collecting handaxes,” he used to say. At first, he kept the stones in a box under his bed and in assorted corners in his house. In 1947, Amnon joined the group of young people founding Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch and expanded his excursions into the fields of the Hula Valley. He was frequently joined by his children. During their weekend outings, they collected tens of thousands of stone tools and other finds.
Amnon’s vision to preserve the Hula Valley’s legacy of prehistory led him to establish a museum that would be enjoyed by both Hula Valley locals and the world of archaeology. From its modest beginnings in a one-room shed, the museum expanded to its current, unique building. The museum exhibits, designed by Amnon, are testimony to his concept of prehistory, appreciation of cultural heritage, and understanding of key concepts of museology. Today, the museum displays finds of universal importance, and its unique collections are fertile ground for the research of students and leading scholars from around the globe.
Archaeological sites and finds
The Hula Valley is paradise to prehistorians and paleoanthropologists. There are numerous sites documenting nearly one million years of human presence on what were once the banks of the paleo-Hula Lake. On his many excursions in the Hula Valley, Amnon discovered world famous sites, including the Natufian Village of Eynan, and Beisamoun, the largest Neolithic settlement in Israel. Amnon never studied archaeology or earned an academic degree, yet he participated in many archaeological excavations and even directed some of them. He acquired his vast knowledge of prehistory from years of reading and discussion with leading researchers from around the world who visited the museum.
The finds from the Hula Valley sites have changed our view and understanding of the prehistory of the Levant. The Upper Galilee Museum of Prehistory that Amnon established houses collections containing over one hundred thousand artifacts. Amnon remembered finding each and every one of them, but his eyes lit up when talking about the first handaxes he collected as a young farmer in the fields of Ma’ayan Baruch. Over the years, Amnon collected thousands of these handaxes estimated to be half a million-years-old. They are among the most beautiful, sophisticated, and perfect finds of the Acheulian culture in the Levant.