The three excavated caves in the reserve are up a steep flight of stairs, on a fossil reef that was covered by the sea 100 million years ago. The first discoveries of prehistoric remains were made when this area was being scoured for stones to build the Haifa port. In the late 1920's Dorothy Garrod, a British archaeologist, headed the first archaeological expedition, receiving assistance from a British feminist group on the condition that exclusively women carry out the dig. Way to go Dorothy!
In Me’arat HaTanur (the Oven Cave), the first on our route, the strata Garrod's team excavated are clearly marked, spanning about 150,000 years in the life of early humans. Early man used this large natural cave as a shelter, campfire and housing. The cave has no roof and is open to the west side. It resembles a chimney, and was therefore called "Tanur" (Tabun in Arabic). Both Homo sapiens and Neanderthal skeletons have been found in the area, raising the question as to whether they lived side by side. It is also interesting to note that the soil in the ancient layers of the cave is composed of sand which indicates that the beach line reached to the entrance of the cave in ancient times.Today it is 3.5 kilometres to the west. This was a result of global warming in those years (250,000-150,000 years ago), when the sea level increased significantly following the melting of the icebergs.
A display on the daily life of early man as hunter and food gatherer occupies the bell-shaped Me’arat HaGamal (the Camel Cave).
The last cave we visited, Me’arat HaNahal (the Stream Cave), the largest at 90 metres deep, was actually the first discovered. An audiovisual presentation inside the cave told us a little about the early humans living there. A burial place with 84 skeletons was found just inside the mouth of the cave. A model skeleton outside illustrates burial customs of the Natufian culture, 10,000 years ago (above). The skull is decorated with shells - a common Natufian burial practice. A wall was built as part of the cemetery, an important phase of human construction. The bone artifacts and stone tools discovered in the Nahal cave suggest that people who settled here, about 12,000 years ago, were the forebears of early farmers, with a social structure more developed than that of hunters and gatherers. There is also evidence that the Crusaders once used the cave to guard the coastal road.