Quarry Cave Lost in Time Yields 'Unknown Species'

Scientists said yesterday they had discovered a prehistoric ecosystem dating back millions of years containing previously unknown species of crustaceans and invertebrates similar to scorpions. The animals, found in a cave in the Nesher quarries near Ramle, which had been sealed off from the outside world.

"So far animal species were found in the cave, most of which we believe, are unknown to science," said Dr. Hanan Dimantman, a biologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a press conference held yesterday at the university. The researchers said the discovery came about when a small opening was found, leading to a cave extending to a depth of 100 meters beneath the surface of the quarry.

Samples of the animals have been sent to other scientists in Israel and abroad, to ascertain whether they are indeed unknown, and to classify them.

The cave, which has been dubbed "the Ayalon Cave" has been closed to visitors to preserve its unique environment.

The largest crustacean discovered is five centimeters long. "It eats smaller crustaceans,and also eats 'salad,' that is, bacteria," Dimantman said. Dimantman said the animals probably came from the sea millions of years ago and since then have been evolving in the cave which preserved its isolation due to a layer of chalk above it that sealed out water and nutrients.

Eyeless scorpions were also found in the cave, which Dimantman says were probably once very common in this area. While the rest of the species became extinct, these were preserved, protected deep below the earth's surface.

Professor Amos Frumkin, of the Hebrew University Geography Department, and his team, noticed a small opening made by a bulldozer during quarrying. When they entered it, they found chambers and tunnels reaching a total length of about 2.5 kilometers. "We were especially surprised by a room 30 meters high with a diameter of 40 to 50 meters, with an underground lake."

Matan Avital, doing a year of post-high school service with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Cave Research Center, noticed a small crustacean swimming in the lake. "We jumped out of our skin," Frumkin said. "We felt like astronauts who had landed on the moon, in a place where no human foot had ever stepped."

"The sensation is not the new species, but the discovery of a very ancient cave, completely cut off from the outside, where you can see animals in their habitat," Dimantman said.

Yoel Feldschue, director-general of Nesher Industries, said yesterday that Nesher will preserve the ecological ecosystem, and hoped the planning authorities will enable the company to operate in alternate areas in order to help preserve the scientific site. Professors Dov Pur and Aharon Oren, and graduate student Yisrael Na'aman also participated in the research.