A series of adjacent caves in the Mount Carmel region are slated to be named to
the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
World Heritage List this weekend for their fossilization of human
At the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee, which
began this week and runs through July 6 in St. Petersburg, committee
members are expected to vote on nominations to the World Heritage List this
Friday and Saturday.
The four Mount Carmel caves clustered along the
southern side of the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi El-Mughara Valley – Tabu, Jamal, El-Wad
and Skhul – as well as their terraces, received nominations based on three
criteria in two separate categories, “natural” and “cultural.” The sites are
“located in one of the best preserved fossilized reefs of the Mediterranean
region” and contain cultural deposits filled with 500,000 years of human
evolution, from the Lower Paleolithic era to the present day, said a summary
document that the World Heritage Committee printed in May.
Me’arot caves provide “a definitive chronological framework at a key period of
human development,” according to the summary document. Archeological evidence
found in the region indicates the appearance of modern humans who conducted
deliberate burials and who were exploring early stone architecture, as well as
transitioning from hunting and gathering to agricultural processes.
caves feature excavated artifacts and skeletal material, remains of stone houses
and pits – all “evidence of the Natufian hamlet,” the document said.
terms of integrity, all of the caves are intact and in good condition, except
for Skhul Cave, which has been defaced with graffiti and invaded by eucalyptus
trees growing along the riverbed.
The document therefore recommends
removing the invasive eucalyptus trees, downsizing or concealing the water
pumping station at the cave and cleaning the graffiti there. In addition, the
document suggests including Skhul Cave on the main tourist circuit for the
region, as well as evaluating potential future erosion of rock-cut basins on the
El-Wad cave’s terrace and perhaps considering adding a protective
Ultimately, based on evaluations both internally and from outside
sources, the World Heritage Committee document recommends that the caves be
added to the World Heritage List based on two of the three criteria for which
they were nominated.
Those two, both in the culture category, are
sufficient to qualify the sites for inclusion in the list.
criterion (iii), requires bearing “a unique or at least exceptional testimony to
a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has
disappeared,” according to an evaluation by the International Council on
Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a non-governmental international organization
focused on preserving the world’s sites. The Nahal Me’arot caves match this
criterion, as they represent “one of the longest prehistoric cultural sequences
in the world” and are a “key site” to human evolution in general, particularly
to the prehistory of the Levant region, the ICOMOS assessment said.
second criterion, criterion (v), demands that the site “be an outstanding
example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use” and be
representative of a culture or human interaction with environmental factors,
“especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible
change,” the ICOMOS document stated. This applies to the Carmel caves, it said,
as the area demonstrates the transition from the Paleolithic to Neolithic ways
of life – “from nomadic to complex, sedentary communities,” from
hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists.
However, criterion (viii) of the
nature category, which requires the sites to be pivotal to the Earth’s history
and geological figures, does not apply to the Carmel caves, as the sites
predominantly demonstrate evolutionary changes for a single genus, according to
an evaluation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the
world’s largest conservation network.
While the caves document the
evolution of life at a very narrow level, “the intent and principle application
of criterion (viii) is to recognize the whole of the record of life, and not
evolution at the species level,” IUCN said.
In Tabun Cave, the
westernmost cave of the group, archeologist Dorothy Garrod uncovered the
complete skeleton of a Neanderthal woman from 60,000-50,000 BP – a unit meaning
“before present,” a scale used in radiocarbon dating, with the origin year for
“present” being 1950 – and others have discovered cultural finds ranging back to
500,000 BP, according to ICOMOS.
Next door, to the east, is the
single-chamber Jamal Cave, where excavations from the 1990s yielded artifacts
from 400,000-250,000 BP.
A bit more northeast, the El-Wad Cave – the
largest, deepest and most visible of the four caves – has an entrance chamber
that leads to five further chambers, the ICOMOS document said.
chambers boast stonebuilt house remains and a cemetery area containing a large
group of skeletons, as well as skeletal fragments of more than 100 individuals,
some of whom were elaborately ornamented. The terrace beside the cave featured
art and decorative items as well as plant remains during excavations, indicating
El-Wad discoveries range from 60,000-6,000 BP.
Skhul Cave – dubbed the Cave of the Kids – is further up in the valley around a
curve, approximately 100 meters east of the other caves. There, archeologists
have found a rock shelter, as well as fossils from between 150,000-120,000 BP,
which include 11 skeletons of anatomically modern humans, according to
All of these findings indicate that humans first occupied the
area around 500,000 years ago, the document said.
The majority of the
sites throughout the Carmel have not yet been excavated, and some other sites
that have been researched – such as the Kebara, Misliya, Sefunim, Nahal Oren and
Rakefet caves on Mount Carmel, as well as the submerged town of Atlit Yam near
Atlit – may eventually be nominated as an addendum to the current sites, known
as a future national serial nomination, the ICOMOS document said.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) has managed the caves since 1971, and
in preparation for the nomination, a steering committee of all the caves’
stakeholders was assembled, including members from the INPA, the Israel
Antiquities Authority, Haifa University, the Carmel Drainage Authority, Kibbutz
Ein Hacarmel, Moshav Geva Carmel, the Society for the Protection of Nature in
Israel (SPNI), the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, the
Carmelim Tourism Organization and the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, according
to the World Heritage Committee document.
If approved, the Carmel caves
will join six other Israeli sites already on the World Heritage List in the
cultural category: the Bahá’i holy places in Haifa and the Western Galilee
(2008), the biblical tels – Meggido, Hazor, Beersheba (2005), the Incense Route
– Desert Cities in the Negev (2005), Masada (2001), the Old City of Acre (2001)
and the White City of Tel Aviv – the Modern Movement (2003), according to UNESCO
The Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that it was not
providing a reaction prior to the weekend vote, but that the office viewed the
nomination as a “positive” element and was “looking forward to tomorrow.”