Nahal Me’arot caves is a unique nature reserve, known for the caves (me’arot, in Hebrew) in which remnants of prehistoric humans, dating from 500,000 years ago to 12,000 years ago, were found. The caves, located on the southern side of the Mearot Stream, were created through a natural geological process called Karstification. In this process, rainwater and carbon dioxide interact to create a carbonic acid, which dissolves the limestone bedrock, creating large cavernous holes that appear as caves in the mountainside.
The findings in the caves revealed aspects of prehistoric humans’ way of life from different periods: Homo Erectus and Neanderthals inhabited these caves between approximately 150,000 years ago until 50,000 years ago, as did the more modern Homo sapiens, up until about 12,000 years ago. Throughout this range of periods, the prehistoric humans lived in small clans and they relied on hunting and gathering for their survival. According to the cave findings, prehistoric humans’ ability to create stone artifacts developed over time, and their creations gradually became more complex. In the earlier periods, the main tool used was a “hand‑stone,” a chiseled stone form that served for tanning raw animal hides. The stone artifacts from later periods were made of flint and were smaller and of greater variety.
Across from the largest of the caves, the Nahal Cave (cave of the stream), were remnants of a village dating back 12,000 years. At that time, a significant change occurred in the way of life of the prehistoric humans. Hunting and gathering were pursued with greater intensity, a process that led to the domestication of animals and plants. This period of the Natufian culture is remarkable, because it was the first time that humans became sedentary, establishing permanent settlements. Also the earliest artistic objects found in Israel, such as the figure of a human head carved in stone, a deer head carved of wood and a necklace of seashells, were dated as originating in this period. This period is considered the dawning of the agricultural revolution, the beginning of the cultivation of rye and wheat, and the domestication of animals such as dogs, sheep and goats.
Inside the Nahal cave, there is an audio-visual presentation describing the geological formations and the prehistoric cultures that populated these caves. In addition to the caves, the Nature Reserve features a botanical path and a geological path. The first, marked in blue-and-white, is recommended primarily during the fall and spring seasons. The path follows a circular route along the foothills of the Carmel. The geological path also takes a circular route, but heads upward toward the northern cliff, where many fossils can be spotted, evidence of the region’s calcareous sedimentation, created millions of years ago, when the area was covered by the Tethys Ocean.