Excavations on the upperJordan river have been under way since 1935, but have stopped since water officials sent in bulldozers - in a secret night-time operation - to dig out the area to prevent flooding.
The scientific community is furious. They say the site contains fossil bones of elephants, rhinos, birds and reptiles dating back 750,000 years, plus seeds, tree remains and tools used by Homo erectus, the predecessor of Homo sapiens. "This is one of only a few sites in the world that provides information about the colonisation of the planet by early man coming from Africa," said Professor Na'ama Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University's Department of Prehistoric Archaeology.
The Kinneret Drainage Authority said it had to dig out the area to prevent flooding of a nearby farming valley. For months it held off because of objections by Israel's Antiquities Authority. But, exercising what it claims is its legal right, it finally moved in without warning. An official told the Jerusalem Post that all the diggings had been left nearby "so that archaeologists can examine them". But scientists say that once roughly removed from the soil, prehistoric remains have little value as they have no "context".
The Antiquities Authority condemned the "act of vandalism" and secured a temporary court order to stop the digging. "They did it at night, like thieves," a spokeswoman said.