Carmel Prehistoric Caves
The large set of caves is located at the western slopes of Mount Carmel, in Nahal
Maarot. A UNESCO World heritage site.
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Mount Carmel and the shore of Carmel have more than 210 prehistoric known sites, spanning from
150,000 years ago. One of the major caves are in Nahal Maarot - known as
the Carmel Caves. Another set of caves is in
Oren valley and is covered in an additional web
These caves were the main dwelling sites of the early man, while the other sites
were either seasonal (like in Oren) or workshops. Here the archeologists
revealed rich findings, which are famous in the prehistoric research.
The four caves were listed as UNESCO World heritage sites on June
Location & Aerial map:
These caves are located 4 KM south of Ein Hod (near
Atlit), on the old Haifa-Tel-Aviv road (#4), on the western edge of
Mount Carmel. You can point on the purple points to navigate to
the selected point.
Pre History in the Carmel:
Based on the majority
of excavations in the Carmel region, most scientists believe early
man has been in this area over the last 150,000 years. Only a few sites, such as the
caves in this site, were populated during earlier periods (Lower and
middle Paleolithic period, starting from 250,000 years BC).
The number of sites per period fluctuated
during these years. The population peaked during the Middle
Paleolithic period (80,000-40,000 BC), the Epi-Paleolithic period
(16,000 - 8,300 BC) and the Neolithic period (8,300 -4,500 BC).
There were fewer numbers in the Early Paleolithic period
(150,000-80,000BC) and the upper Paleolithic period (40,000 - 16,000
In the Middle
Paleolithic period (80,000-40,000 BC) there were the majority of
the settlements in the Carmel. These people knew how to make
knives, scrapers and points out of flint. The popular areas of the
Carmel were the sites of the source of the flint stones, and there
were many workshops that prepared theses tools. There were two types
found in the Carmel: Homo Sapiens (our ancestors) and the
Neanderthaloids (Neanderthal, the specie that eventually disappeared
about 30,000 years ago). Note that this time coincided with the
last Ice age (100,000 to 10,000 BC), and so the climate was wet and
cold, and many Oak trees were growing in the Carmel.
In the later periods,
the Epi-Paleolithic period (16,000 - 8,300 BC) and the
Neolithic period (8,300 -4,500 BC) the early man already
domesticated plants and animals. The type of early man that was
found from this period was the archaic Mediterranean type, with
average height of 160-165 cm.
The large caves along the
western edge of the Carmel were the major settlements. Most of the
other 210 sites in this region were either:
the Oren caves),
used for a hunting
bases (in the entrance of the creeks, along the Carmel shore),
sites (most of the sites in the top of Mount Carmel).
The Caves in this site:
The four caves in this site were first excavated in the 1930s by
a team led by Dorothy Garrod. The caves are (see illustration below):
- Tanur (Tabun) - cave of the oven
- Gamal (el Jaml) - cave of the camel
- Nahal (el Wad) - the largest cave, with a light & sound
- Gedi (es Skhul) - cave of the kids
These caves are one of the oldest in Mount Carmel,
starting from 500,000 years ago.
(a) General View:
The park is located near the old
coastal road (#4) and is easily accessible. A nature reserve
park maintains the site.
This aerial view shows the site from the
west. The visitors center occupies the white round structures, with
a parking lot on its south side. Behind it, in the center, is Nahal Ma'arot
(the caves creek). On the right (south) side is the cliff where the
four prehistoric caves are located.
Click on the photos to view in higher
A cliff called "the finger", seen on the right side below, is
located across the valley, and is made from a fossilized reef.
(b) Tanur (Tabun) cave:
The Tanur (Tabun) cave is the highest of the
caves, and located on the south side. The following photo shows the
entrance to this cave, close to the top of the cliff. In this large
natural cave, the early man used as a shelter, campfire and housing.
The stairs lead from the
visitors center into the entrance of the cave, located on the left
side of the cliff.
Just before the cave, the "cave men" greet the visitors.
The cave has no roof, and is open to the west side.
It resembles a chimney, and was therefore called "Tanur" (Tabun in
This cave has one of the longest sequences of human
occupation in the Levant. Along the 20M (!) height of the deposits in
this cave are traces and tools of various periods of three
civilizations, starting from 250,000 years ago ("Acheulean" - layer
F-G) at the lowest level closest to the bedrock, through the
intermediate period ("Yabrudian", layer E) and up to the highest
level which is the youngest - 40,000 years ago ("Mousterian",
layer B-C-D). After then the cave men moved to
the nearby Nahal cave.
The chart below, displayed near the cave, shows the structure of
this cave and relationship to the different periods.
Along the vertical shaft of the cave are the markers
used by the archaeologists, and signs describing the various levels.
The photo below shows a detail of the Mousterian level
(70,000 - 40,000 BC, also known as the
period). On level "C" the excavators found a skeleton of a
The Neanderthals differ from
"us" (the Homo-Sapiens) by their looks (a short and very powerful
build, receding chin and forehead, and large nose). They were
skilled hunters and craftsman. The Neanderthals diverged from the
Homo Sapiens at roughly 200,000 years ago. They became extinct 30,000
years ago from unknown reasons- either due to inability to
adapt to the changing climate, clash with the Homo-Sapiens ("Did
Humans kill Neanderthals?",
Time 7/24/09) , virus that affected only them, inefficient
metabolism (they required twice more calories, mostly meat), or
other reasons. This is a real mystery: Why did this 200,000
year old specie disappear?
It is interesting to
note that the soil in the ancient layers of the cave is composed of
sand. Its presence indicates that the beach line reached to
the entrance of the cave at ancient times , while today it is 3.5KM
to the west. This was a result of global warming in those
years (250,000-150,000 years ago), when the sea level increased
significantly following the melting of the icebergs. It seems
that this cycle may be repeating... The common theory of global
warming, which holds that the temperature change is a result of
mankind's abuse of the environment, may be wrong, and the process is
actually related to natural factors.
(c) Gamal (el-Jamal) cave:
The Gamal (el-Jamal) cave is located on a lower height
to the north.
The entrance is seen below, accessed by a path from the Tanur cave.
The cave is widely open to the west and is bell
shaped. These "Carstic" caves are formed by the rain which dissolved
the limestone. The Gamal cave hosts a gallery of findings of the
Mousterian civilization (70,000 - 40,000 BC).
The interior of the cave is seen below, with examples of
"cavemen" - manikins dressed with "out fashioned" clothes
- and a the tools they used.
The photo below shows a display of the skins of the animals they hunted, which are
dried stretched over wooden frames.
A sample of their flint stone tools is seen below.
Another detail of the cave woman is seen below. A
skeleton of a Neanderthal woman was found in the Tanur cave in level
"C", dated to 120,000 years ago - one of the most ancient
skeletons found in Israel.
(d) Nahal (el-Wad) cave:
The third cave - Nahal
(brook) - is located on a lower-north level. It is the longest cave
has a "door" on the right and a "window" on the left.
Before the 1930s the right side of the "door" was split by a
vertical rock, and the cave looked like a skull with two "eyes" (windows) on
are covered by a screen in order to prevent the birds and bats to
get into the caves at night time. A "terrace" is located in front of
The photo below shows a view of the
entrances, as seen from the inside out. This cave was inhabited at
Period 1: Part of the
Upper Paleolithic - from 40,000 years to 20,000 years ago.
Period 2: For 8,000
years there was a missing gap.
Period 3: The Natufian
culture - 12,000 to 10,000 years ago - which focused on the front of
the cave and on its terrace.
The oldest layer in this
cave was the latest layer in the Tanur/Tabun cave, about 40,000
years ago, so there was a continuity of settlements between the two
The entrance hall is quite high, as seen
below (compared to Uncle Amnon which is almost 2M high). This
front hall was the major location of the early man dwelling, since
it was bright and ventilated. It was also where the Early man buried
their dead: 87 skeletons were found here. This practice of burying
the dead inside the dwelling area continued up to the middle stone
age (Epi-Paleolithic period, 16,000 - 8,300 BC).
From the entrance of the cave a
narrow path leads into the rear of the cave, a total length of 70M.
It is pitch dark inside, but fortunately the cave is illuminated
with a colorful light & sound show.
After the entrance is a
large fossilized reef, which preceded the early man - created 100
Million years ago over a period of 1Million years. This rock
formation is 150M thick. It was once under the sea, and was
pushed up in the geological past.
A detail of the fossils
in the reef is seen below. The fossilized conical shells ("rudists")
are typical of the upper level of the reef.
Another view of the path that leads
into the deep side of the cave is seen below. The internal section
of the cave was not in use during the prehistoric periods.
A multimedia show is
played in the rear side of the cave. Along the walls is a light show
that is synced with the sounds.
At the edge of the cave is a large
screen that shows scenes from the daily life of the cavemen. The
photo below shows another view of the cave, but looking towards the
Below is an animation of the various
lights displayed during the show.
(e) HaGedi (Skhul):
On the north-east side of the
cliff is the Hagedi (es-Skhul) cave, which
is not open to the public. This cave served as residence for the
Homo-Sapiens (our ancestors) , who coexisted (a remarkable
finding) with the Neanderthals who resided in the Tanur cave
during the Mousterian period (150,000-40,000BC). This coexistence
without interbreeding continued for 40,000 years, as found in other
sites and according to recent DNA gene studies. Fourteen skeletons were found in this cave.
(f) Natufian-culture village:
Near the entrance of the Nahal cave are rock-cut basins
from the Natufian culture period (12,500-9,500BC). They were probably part
of the ritual ceremonies in the cemetery that was located at this
A copy of a decorated skeleton, belonging to the Natufian burial
site, is located at this site on the terrace on front of the Nahal
cave. The skull is decorated by small bones - a common Natufian
burial practice. A wall was built as part of the
cemetery, an important phase of human construction.
the period of the Natufian culture (12,000-10,000 years ago) these
hunter-gatherers built a village on the area in front of the cave.
A display of a group of cavemen is seen in front of the Nahal cave
just below the ancient cemetery. The display shows
how they used these makeshift housings for hunting and fruit
gathering, and important step for civilization of mankind on its way
out from the caves.
On a lower level than the Natufian cemetery is a section where
archaeologists are working on a new dig.
(g) Other sites:
There are other caves in the area.
The nature reserve stretches for 2KM on both sides of the Caves
creek. A cave that looks
like a "skull" is located across the valley, on the north side of the caves creek, and
a group of hikers are seen walking up the cliff.
Etymology (behind the name):
- Ma'arot" is caves (plural) in Hebrew
- Na'hal - Hebrew: creek, brook
- Tanur (Hebrew), Tabun (Arabic) - oven
- Gedi - Hebrew: young goat
- Kharuv: Hebrew: carob tree
References and Links:
- Atlas of Haifa and Mount Carmel (1980, ISBN 965-222-003-5) -
Prehistory pp 32-33 [A. Ronen & J. Olami)
* External Links:
* Internal links:
Credit note: Thanks to G.M. of LMLK.com who provided corrections and
On the light side:
In the photo below: photo of a "caveman" -
BibleWalks.com - Gateway to the sites of the
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