The audience, the stage and the set are ready. Only the guest of honor is missing - "and everyone is waiting for him," says Prof. Mina Evron, a researcher in the Archaeology Department of the University of Haifa and the codirector of excavations at Misliya Cave, southwest of Mt. Carmel.

The "guest" that she and a team of researchers are seeking in the cave area is a skeleton that could represent early humans.

"We have found everything here: large quantities of the tools they used, hand-held stone tools and blades, animal bones. We know how man behaved during that period," says Evron. "All we are missing is the skeleton."

The artifacts found in the area of the cave are indicative of behavior patterns of humans who lived about 250,000 years ago, at the time of the Mousterian culture of Neanderthals in Europe.

The project is funded by the Dan David Foundation, which was created by businessman Dan David. David, a recipient of an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University, is also the founder of the Dan David Prize.

So far studies have shown the tools of modern man in a much later period, about 170,000 years ago, in Ethiopia. The new findings are of great importance, connecting the earliest modern man to the Carmel Mountains man.

About 2 million years ago, with the movement of Homo erectus ("upright man") to Europe, Neanderthal man, a new species, developed. Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University and a codirector of the excavations, says Neanderthals were stockier than modern man, with a larger skull and more massive limbs. Another species that developed from Homo erectus from Africa was Homo sapiens ("thinking man") or us. His skull and other physical dimensions were smaller and finer than those of Neanderthal man.

Back in 2001, two teams of doctoral students in anthropology from Tel Aviv University and archaeology doctoral students from the University of Haifa began excavating the Carmel caves. The dig revealed that even in the layers from 250,000 years ago, there were modern tools for cutting and hunting, such as blades made from flint. Archaeologist Yossi Zaidner says the blades indicate a modern technique of making blades, which including planning and design.

"We found 3,000 items per square meter," says Zaidner. "This is a huge quantity. We found all the technological innovations of that period, 250,000 years ago, and this means there was extensive settlement of the site, and it was a center to which people came from the whole region."

Animal bones were also found, which the researchers view as the household trash of the residents.

"All the signs indicate that there was systematic hunting here, using modern techniques that continued to be used up until 10,000 years ago," says Reuven Yeshurun, one of the archaeologists at the site. "There were knife marks on the bones, and scorch marks, but no teeth marks, so we reckon there were men here. Everything points to hunting patterns like those of later prehistoric society and of societies today."

Professor Hershkovitz says first Homo sapiens who developed in Africa were stockier than modern man. "Still," says Hershkovitz, "it is possible that the final development of Homo sapiens happened here, in Israel, outside Africa. If a modern Homo sapiens is found in the layers from 250,000 years ago, he will belong to one of the earliest Homo sapiens population in the world, and possibly the earliest. Then all the theories of the development of modern man will have to be reexamined."