Finding Man: Visit Israel’s Prehistoric Caves
Israel’s seven fabulous UNESCO World Heritage Sites were recently joined by an eighth: Nahal HaMearot (Wadi of the Caves) Nature Reserve.
In 1929, English archaeologist Dorothy Garrod and an all-female team arrived at a site in Israel’s Carmel mountain range and began to dig deeply into the caves within. According to an oft-told tale, one day Garrod sent a missive to her family back home in which she announced, with great excitement, that she had “found Man.”
Garrod’s parents, who by that time had perhaps given up hope that their nearly 40-year-old daughter would ever marry, were beside themselves with joy. At the time they didn’t realize that Garrod’s “Man” was actually the skeleton of a Neanderthal woman — the first-ever to be discovered outside of Europe.
Ten years after she began excavating the Carmel caves, Garrod became the first female professor at Cambridge (or at Oxford, for that matter). Perhaps she acquired the position in part because her findings in the Holy Land were so astounding. Indeed, before she left the Carmel she uncovered masses of evidence attesting to that rarest of phenomena: continuous settlement in a single location for 800,000 years.
Although for years we roamed the excavated caves at will and let our imaginations run wild, things changed after the site was taken over by the Nature Reserves Authority in 1988. Today you pay a fee, but in return are treated to fascinating, educational displays. The cave you explore is clean, and you get to see a movie. Although the latter, in my humble opinion, is one vast yawn, this is really a great family outing.
One hundred million years ago, our beautiful Carmel mountain range was only flat land covered by a shallow sea. Over time the waters receded and the ground rose up to form the Carmel Mountains. Sea creatures died and turned into fossils, sinking to the bottom of the ocean; eventually these fossils covered the landscape’s natural limestone rock.
Little by little, water dissolved the hills’ soft stone, forming cracks in the rock that slowly widened into large caves. When an entrance to the cave opened up as well, the caves became excellent shelter for early man.