Prehistoric man at Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve
There are several trails in Nahal Me’arot, but by far the most interesting is the Geological Trail on the north bank of Wadi Me’arot that visits caves used by prehistoric man. (Prehistoric means the time before there were written records, in other words before people wrote). Most people are aware that modern man (Homo sapiens) was proceeded by other human species and they may even have seen pictures of them, but the implications of this may not have fully registered. Once you have visited these caves you are sure to be convinced and impressed, since there is evidence here of over 500,000 years of hominis habitation. The Nahal Me’arot caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of their cultural and historical significance.
The caves on the banks of Wadi Me’arot would have been wonderful places for early human species to live. Below them was a river with fish, rich vegetation and animals for food. The latter included fallow deer and gazelles. The bones of a hippopotamus and extinct species of camel and rhinoceros have also been found in the caves. Only a short distance was the sea with even more food for the taking. The water was much closer to the caves that it is today. It was then an ancient sea called the Thetis Sea which once flooded large parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was also higher than it is today due to melting of polar ice caps. The cliffs were created from a reef formed about 100 million years ago. In fact, you can see fossilized marine animals in the rocks, particularly a horn-like shell from a rudist.
The earliest species of a human-like being was Homo erectus, who arose approximately 1.9 million years ago arose in Africa, spread to Asia and Europe and was in existence until about 143,00 years ago. He had a similar bone structure to modern man (Homo sapiens). Neanderthal man probably arose from Homo erectus and lived in Europe and parts of Asia from about 400,000 years ago to about 40,000 years ago. It may well be that Israel was the southern-most place in the world reached by Neanderthal man. Homo sapiens is modern man and he emerged in Africa, possibly from Homo erectus and eventually spread throughout the world. The finding here of Homo sapiens was early evidence of his migration outside of Africa. Also of considerable interest was the finding of burial of Neanderthals from the Tabun Cave and Homo sapiens from the most eastern Skhul Cave, indicating that about 100,000 years ago they coexisted.
Directions: Enter “Nahal Mearot” into Waze and click on “Nahal Mearot Nature Preserve”.
Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It is open from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and Saturday, and 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on Friday in the summer and it closes 1 hour earlier in the winter. Admission is up to 1 hour prior to closing time. The cost of admission is 22 NIS for adults, 9 NIS for children 5 to 18 years and 11 NIS for seniors. There are shaded picnic benches outside the Visitor Center. Their phone number is 04 984 1750/2. This is their website:
Public transport: Enter “Nahal Mearot Nature Preserve” into Moovit. The closest bus stop is a 13-minute/ 1.1-Km walk from the Ein Karmel intersection.
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After climbing some rock steps, you will come to the Tabun Cave. Displayed in front of you are different archeological layers that extend 25 meters, span about half a million years and contain evidence of three species of hominims living here.
The earliest culture living here was the Acheulen culture. They were Homo erectus species and lived here from about 500,00 to 400,000 years ago. This was followed by the Achelo-Yabrudian culture. Then the Homo sapiens Mousterian culture which began about 250,000 years ago and existed for some 200,000 years. During these different cultures, stone tools, and eventually bone tools, became more sophisticated. This cave was probably big enough for 25 to 50 people.
The next cave along is the bell-shaped Jamal Cave which has a display of models engaged in the day-to-day life of Homo sapiens species and some of their flint and bone tools. The use of fire was an important innovation because it broke down the muscle fibers of animals so that their meat was soft enough to be eaten.
The final cave you will visit, the El-Wad Cave, is a long cave. At its end is shown a short movie on the life-style of prehistoric man.
Outside the cave are the ruins of the Natufian culture which existed some 12,000 years ago and lasted for about 4,000 years. This culture marks the transition from a purely hunter-gatherer existence to a settled or semi-sedentary way of life. They established semi-permanent and even permanent habitation. There was early experimentation with agriculture, such as with wild wheat and barley and they collected nuts and legumes. They may have begun some animal domestication, particularly of dogs. They also showed artistic expression with bone and stone carvings and a shell necklace. They also had real cemeteries. There can see niches in a stone wall. Their function is not known but they may indicate some ritual function and even a belief in an afterlife.
From here it is a gradual descent to the Visitor Center.
Prehistoric life in Wadi Me'arot
Archeological layers in Tabun Cave
Other trails from the reserve:
There is also a circular Botanical Route along Wadi Me’arot on a blue-marked trail that is about 2½ hours. It climbs from the wadi to a plateau on the southern bank of the wadi.
The Shvil Yisrael (Israel Trail) crosses Nahal Me’arot and continues along the boundary between Mount Carmel and the Carmel coast. In a southern direction it goes towards Zichron Yaakov. There is also a circular Opher Lookout trail that takes about 5½ hours. A there and back hike to the Ofer Lookout is much shorter.