Israel's Carmel caves listed as World Heritage sites

Committee members vote on nominations to the World Heritage List, inscribe series of adjacent caves in the Mount Carmel region.

Mount Carmel 311 (photo credit: WikiCommons)
Mount Carmel 311
(photo credit: WikiCommons)
Four caves that contain evidence spanning millennia of human development in Mount Carmel joined the likes of the Egyptian pyramids, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Great Wall of China on an exclusive list on Friday.
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to add the adjacent Nahal Me’arot/Wadi El-Mughara caves – Tabun, Jamal, El-Wad and Skhul – to its World Heritage List.
The vote to add the caves, as well as 14 other sites around the world, took place as part of the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee, which began on June 24 and runs through July 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“I am happy that UNESCO skipped over political differences and recognized an Israeli heritage site containing many values of heritage and history, Jewish and universal,” said Shaul Goldstein, head of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which has administered the caves since 1971. “The Nature and Parks Authority will continue to make every effort in order to preserve and nurture this site and hundreds of other sites under our jurisdiction.”
The four caves are “located in one of the best preserved fossilized reefs of the Mediterranean region” and contain artifacts covering 500,000 years of human evolution, from the Lower Paleolithic era till today, according to a summary document printed by the World Heritage Committee in May.
The 54-hectare (22-acre) area provides evidence for the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agriculture-based, more sedentary community life and contains relics from the era of the Neanderthals to early anatomically modern humans, a statement following the vote reported. After 90 years of archeological research in the region, scientists have uncovered “a cultural sequence of unparalleled duration, providing an archive of early human life in southwest Asia,” the statement said.
The decision to include the caves on the list was supported by detailed documents produced by the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, both nongovernmental organizations.
“The reserve was declared because it represents ‘a unique or at least evidence of exceptional cultural traditions or alive or extinct culture,’” said Dr. Zvika Tsuk, chief archeologist at the INPA.
The caves reflect the prehistoric culture of man including the Acheulian period (200,000-500,000 years ago), the Acheulo-Yabrudian period (100,000-150,000 years ago), the Mousterian period (40,000-100,000 years ago), the Aurignacian period (12,000-40,000 years ago) and the Natufian period (9,000-12,000 years), Tsuk explained. So expansive is the fossilization there that “fascinating evidence of the sequence human cultures is revealed spanning hundreds of thousands of years,” he said.
“Scientific and archeological research, which began early last century, revealed through decades of excavation and years of research amazing findings of different and diverse flint tools, that represent culture and development of human heritage from prehistoric times,” he said, emphasizing the marked transition from hunter-gather to permanent, agriculture-based settlement.
“This is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to see this,” Tsuk said.
At a conference in Minorca, Spain, in April – the First International Conference on Best Practices in World Heritage: Archeology – Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron of the University of Haifa had advocated for the addition of the caves to the UNESCO list.
“The Mount Carmel caves, subjected to multi-disciplinary research since the late 1920s, are undoubtedly among the most famous prehistoric sites,” Weinstein-Evron wrote in the abstract of her presentation paper.
“The potential for local and international education and community involvement requires integrated educational endeavors considering groups of various ages, religious and social backgrounds, and the scientific community,” wrote Weinstein- Evron, who serves as head of the Zinman Institute of Archeology and the head of the Palynology Laboratory.
Emphasizing just how well-known these prehistoric caves are throughout the world, she called them “a key site for the study of human biological and cultural evolution,” in the report’s conclusion.
“The site provides a connection to place and time in the form of human heritage that is relevant to all, transcending national, ethnic and religious divides,” Weinstein-Evron said.