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Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: The Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara Caves

Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: The Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara Caves

Situated on the western slopes of the Mount Carmel range, the site includes the caves of Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad and Skhul. Ninety years of archaeological research have revealed a cultural sequence of unparalleled duration, providing an archive of early human life in south-west Asia. This 54 ha property contains cultural deposits representing at least 500,000 years of human evolution demonstrating the unique existence of both Neanderthals andEarly Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Middle Palaeolithic cultural framework, the Mousterian. Evidence from numerous Natufian burials and early stone architecture represents the transition from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to agriculture and animal husbandry. As a result, the caves have become a key site of the chrono-stratigraphic framework for human evolution in general, and the prehistory of the Levant in particular.


Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Sites de l’évolution humaine du mont Carmel : les grottes de Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara

Situé sur le versant occidental du mont Carmel, ce bien comprend les grottes de Taboun, Jamal, el-Wad et Skhul. Quatre-vingt-dix années de recherche archéologique ont mis à jour une séquence culturelle, d’une durée sans équivalent, offrant des archives sur les origines  humaines en Asie du sud-ouest. Ce bien de 54 ha contient des gisements culturels représentant au moins 500000 ans d’évolution humaine, seul complexe connu contenant tout à la fois des restes d’hommes de Néandertal et des premiers humains anatomiquement modernes dans un même ensemble culturel du Paléolithique moyen, le Moustérien. Des témoignages des pratiques funéraires natoufiennes et des premières manifestations de l’architecture en pierre illustrent la transition d’un mode de vie de type chasseur-cueilleur vers l’agriculture et l’élevage. A ce titre les grottes sont devenues un site essentiel du cadre chrono-stratigraphique de l’évolution humaine en général et de la préhistoire du Levant en particulier.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Sitio de evolución humana del Monte Carmelo: cuevas del Nahal Me’arot/Uadi Al Mughara

Situado en la ladera occidental del Monte Carmelo, el sitio comprende las cuevas de Tabun, Jamal, Al Uad y Skhul. Abarca 54 hectáreas y contiene vestigios culturales que constituyen un testimonio de 500.000 años de la evolución humana con restos de lugares de enterramiento, arquitectura primitiva en piedra y de la transición del modo de vida humano basado en la caza y la recolección a la práctica de la agricultura y la ganadería. Este sitio es, hasta la fecha, el único en el que se han hallado vestigios de fósiles del Hombre de Neanderthal y de los primeros humanos dotados con la anatomía actual de nuestra especie en el seno de un mismo conjunto cultural del Paleolítico medio, el mosteriano. Se trata de un sitio esencial del marco cronoestratográfico de la evolución humana en general y de la prehistoria del Levante en particular. Noventa años de excavaciones arqueológicas han puesto de manifiesto una secuencia cultural de duración inigualada, que constituye todo un archivo de la vida de los hombres primitivos en el sudoeste de Asia.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0


source: NFUAJ

Menselijke evolutiegebieden op de berg Karmel: de Nahal Me’arot en Wadi el-Mughara grotten

Op de westelijke helling van de bergketen Karmel bevinden zich de grotten van Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad en Skhul. Dit gebied beslaat 54 hectare en bevat culturele overblijfselen die 500.000 jaar menselijke evolutie vertegenwoordigen. Er zijn restanten gevonden die verwijzen naar begrafenisceremonies, vroege stenen architectuur en naar een overgang van een levensstijl van jagen naar die van landbouw en veeteelt. Hieruit blijkt het bestaan van zowel Neanderthalers, als de vroege anatomisch moderne mens binnen hetzelfde middenpaleolithische culturele kader, het Moustérien. Negentig jaar archeologisch onderzoek heeft een culturele opeenvolging van ongeëvenaarde duur blootgelegd, waarmee het ons een ’archief’ biedt van het vroege menselijke leven in het zuidwesten van Azië.

Source: unesco.nl

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General view of the site © Albatross Aerial Photography LTD
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The four Mount Carmel caves (Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad and Skhul) and their terraces are clustered adjacent to each other along the south side of the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara valley. The steep-sided valley opening to the coastal plain on the west side of the Carmel range provides the visual setting of a prehistoric habitat.

Located in one of the best preserved fossilised reefs of the Mediterranean region, the site contains cultural deposits representing half a million years of human evolution from the Lower Palaeolithic to the present. It is recognised as providing a definitive chronological framework at a key period of human development.

Archaeological evidence covers the appearance of modern humans, deliberate burials, early manifestations of stone architecture and the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture. The attributes carrying Outstanding Universal Value include the four caves, terraces, unexcavated deposits and excavated artefacts and skeletal material; the Nahal Me’arot/ Wadi el-Mughara landscape providing the prehistoric setting of the caves; el-Wad Terrace excavations, and remains of stone houses and pits comprising evidence of the Natufian hamlet.

Criterion (iii) : The site of the Nahal Me'arot/ Wadi el-Mughara Caves displays one of the longest prehistoric cultural sequences in the world. From the Acheulian complex, at least 500,000 years BP, through the Mousterian culture of 250,000-45,000 years BP, and up to the Natufian culture of 15,000-11,500 years BP and beyond, it testifies to at least half a million years of human evolution. Significantly, the site demonstrates the unique existence of both. Neanderthals and Early Anatomically Modern Humans (EAMH) within the same Middle Palaeolithic cultural framework, the Mousterian. As such, it has become a key site of the chrono-stratigraphic framework for human evolution in general, and the prehistory of the Levant in particular. Research at Nahal Me'arot/ Wadi el-Mughara Caves has been ongoing since 1928, and continues to promote multidisciplinary scientific dialogue. The potential for further excavation and archaeological research at the site is to date far from exhausted.

Criterion (v): The Nahal Me'arot/ Wadi el-Mughara Caves are a central site of the Natufian culture in its Mediterranean core zone. This significant regional culture of the late Epi-Palaeolithic period presents the transition from Palaeolithic to Neolithic ways of life, from nomadic to complex, sedentary communities, bearing testimony to the last hunter-gatherer society and the various adaptations it underwent on the threshold of agriculture.


The Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara site includes all elements necessary to express the values of the property, comprising the caves and the visual habitat. The caves are intact, in good condition and do not suffer from neglect, except in the case of Skhul Cave, which has been partly defaced with graffiti. The visual habitat defined as the caves, the terrace in which the caves are found and the area that can be viewed from the caves is intact except below Skhul Cave, where Eucalyptus trees are growing along the riverbed around the water pumping station.


Archaeological research over 90 years has established the authenticity of the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara site as a crucial record of human, biological, behavioural and cultural origins. The caves, terraces and excavated structures, together with excavated artefacts and human remains, truthfully and credibly express the values of the property. The authenticity of the habitat is impacted by the alien Eucalyptus trees and water pumping station.

Protection and Management requirements

Legal protection is provided at the highest national level possible in Israel. The caves and their surroundings were declared a National Nature Reserve in 1971. The property is protected by the National Parks, Nature Reserves, National Sites and Memorial Sites Law 1998, administered by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and the Antiquities Law (1978) and the Antiquities Authorities Law (1989). Research activities or excavations within the property require permits from both the INPA and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). INPA and IAA share responsibility for the management of the archaeological resources that sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. An agreement between the Antiquities Authority and the INPA (2005) outlines the effective protocol necessary to facilitate cooperation, conservation and management of Antiquities in Israel’s Nature Reserves and National Parks.

A steering committee of stakeholders was established to oversee the nomination and will serve as a governing body that integrates local, regional, and national management of the site. The steering committee includes representatives of the INPA, the IAA, archaeologists from Haifa University, the Carmel Drainage Authority, Kibbutz Ein HaCarmel and Moshav Geva Carmel (who leases the agricultural land designated as Buffer Zone B), the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, the Carmelim Tourism Organization, and the Hof HaCarmel Regional Council. A Site Conservation and Management Programme describing all management procedures for the site was prepared in 2003 and currently serves as the foundation for the day to day management of the site.