Tourist Tip #123 / Prehistoric Man's Caves at Nahal Me’arot

Step deep into the past and explore the caves where human prehistory was written, located right here in Israel.

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh.
Miriam Feinberg Vamosh
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A Neanderthal and an Early Anatomically Modern Human walk into a cave …

Nope, it’s not the setup to a joke. It’s part of the true story, 500,000 years or so old, about one of the earliest prehistoric communities in the world. And it happened right here in Israel, in the caves at the Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve on the western slope of Mount Carmel.

A tour of the site takes in three caves – the Tanur, the Smaller Gamal (with a display of flint tools manufactured and used by the cave’s inhabitants between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago) and Hanahal Cave. Inside Hanahal Cave, the future meets with the past with an audiovisual presentation showing how people lived in prehistoric times. The saga of these caves is so unique in its continuity that UNESCO recently named the area a World Heritage Site.

Excavations at the site began some nine decades ago, revealing the remains of hearths, food and burials, all of which help scholars track human technological and cultural development. Archaeologists also discovered that that Neanderthals, an early branch of humanity, had lived side by side with modern humans here some 100,000 years ago.

On the natural rock terrace outside Hanahal Cave archaeologists unearthed the remains of a village that existed here between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago. Here, people began to domesticate plants, which allowed them to transition from hunter-gathering societies to permanent communities. By that time, people also buried their dead and made decorative objects such as shell necklaces.

For visitors with wheelchairs or strollers, the quite smooth trail to the caves won’t present any problems. Additional trails lead to other areas of Mount Carmel, part of which is undergoing rehabilitation after a disastrous wildfire two years ago.

The approximately one-hour visit is the perfect leg-stretcher on a visit to or from Haifa, or as part of a day trip that takes in other sites in the region, such as Tel Dor, Zichron Ya’akov and Caesarea.

Tel. 04-984-1750/2 ; Hours: April-September 8 A.M.-5 P.M., October-March: 8 A.M.-4 P.M.

The caves at Nahal Me'arot have life-sized depictions of what prehistoric life there may have looked like.Credit: Doron Nissim