"A rare find" and "a sensational discovery" are just some of phrases used by those people who have seen or heard about the discovery of a large stalagmite cave in the western Galilee some 10 days ago. Human skulls and animal bones were found at the site. According to experts, "These are rare and fascinating finds." The cave opening was uncovered by chance by a tractor driver.
The first to enter the cave were volunteers from the western Galilee rescue unit. Israel Antiquities Authority cave researchers and archaeologists were also summoned to the site. According to the testimony of those who entered, "It is a huge stalagmite cave that contains important archaeological finds." The cave is about 85 meters long, 40 meters wide and some 30 meters high. "We have not discovered another cave of such size in Israel," said Yinon Shivtiel, a cave researcher who lectures at the Safed Academic College.
The archaeological finds discovered in the cave have been dated to the early Stone Age, but so far no precise tests have been carried out. It is unclear how the human skull and the animal bones got into the cave. According to one expert, "These findings are hundreds of thousands of years old, and the cave was closed the entire time."
People who rappelled into the cave said that in order to gain a complete picture, the cave would have to be inspected by cave researcher Prof. Amos Frumkin. Frumkin is the founder of the Cave Research Unit at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and experts have dubbed him "the most important cave researcher in Israel" and "a person with very extensive experience in the field."
According to one expert, "It is very important that a cave expert enter this cave. It is inconceivable for archaeologists only to enter, because when it comes to researching such an important find, archaeology and cave research go hand in hand. We cannot allow ourselves to miss something here. This cave is very important, and not just because it is a protected natural resource and has considerable tourism potential."
According to Frumkin, "Entry into the cave has yet to be set up, in technical terms. Once an opening is arranged, it will become possible to enter the cave." A year ago, Haaretz reported the discovery of another stalagmite cave in the Galilee, in Ramat Zar'it. Over the years dozens of stalagmite caves have been uncovered in the North, some 20 of which resemble the Avshalom Cave, near Beit Shemesh, which is open to the public.
One of them, the Peki'in Cave, was discovered 12 years ago and contains extremely rare archaeological finds. Many seals and clay vessels were found in the cave, which was also discovered by accident. About a year ago, Shivtiel told Haaretz that not all his colleagues "were eager to expose the caves in the Galilee to the general public." But, for him, "If I have to choose between a shovel and the general public, there's no question about it. Apart from that, I'm a big believer in tourism.
"The alternative is that the caves will be destroyed by accelerated development. After the Second Lebanon War, while paving the roads in the Galilee, they damaged a nice cave next to Shetula, even though I had publicly warned against possible damage to it," Shivtiel says. "The caves are not my private property. I'm worried that there won't be anyone left to protect them once we, the four cave researchers in Israel, can no longer watch over them. A minute of work with a mechanical shovel or one explosion in a quarry can destroy a stalagmite cave created over the course of thousands and millions of years."
Shivtiel added that, "The Galilee conceals in its depths an entire world of primordial panoramas that are among the most beautiful in the world. It is a world of stalagmite caves and pillars, vertical shafts, caverns that branch off and huge cavities created when limestone melts and settles, leaving its mark on nature in stunning forms. The unique stalagmite caves recently uncovered require serious attention on behalf of the authorities, beyond the purely scientific interest."
After visiting the caves in France's Dordogne region, an area famed for its wealth of stalagmite caves, Shivtiel said, "We can beat that." According to him, "Seven million tourists visit Dordogne annually." He stressed that in addition to the research aspect of their discovery, the stalagmite caves can serve as an international tourist attraction that will draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Galilee."
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