An African adder (Bitis arietans complex) at Qafzeh Cave, Israel, during the early Late Pleistocene (MIS 5)

Rebecca Biton, Salvador Bailon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


We studied Viperidae remains from Qafzeh Cave, Israel, to understand past dispersal timing and range expansion of Afro-Arabian taxa to the Southern Levant during the early Late Pleistocene (Marine Isotope Stage 5). A total of 62 African adder (Bitis) snake remains were retrieved from multiple layers at Qafzeh Cave, alongside five non-Bitis ‘Oriental viper’ taxa vertebrae. These are the only available specimens of Bitis ever reported in the Southern Levant. The morphology of the maxilla and vertebrae corresponds well to that of the Bitis arietans complex. Qafzeh Cave thus becomes the northernmost boundary of the B. arietans complex expansion ever recorded outside Africa. The unprecedented occurrence of Bitis at Qafzeh Cave, in conjunction with other archaeozoological evidence at the site, attest to exceptional climatic and environmental conditions in the surroundings of the cave during the Mousterian Homo sapiens occupations. It reinforces previous evidence for taxa expanding from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean biome of the Southern Levant through the now hyper-arid Saharo-Arabian desert belt. The environmental conditions following deposition of the early Late Pleistocene layers were probably not favourable for the establishment of the snake, and eventually the B. arietans complex became locally extirpated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-650
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 May 2022


  • adder snake
  • MIS 5
  • Mousterian
  • southern Levant
  • Viperidae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Paleontology


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