I look way up to the large black holes on the side of the cliff. My heart flutters. ‘The cliff’ is an ancient reef created 100 million years ago by the primordial Thetis Sea and is rich with the fossilized remains of extinct marine creatures. Within the cliff walls are a series of caves with evidence of continuous human habitation for 500,000 years, a rarity in the world. But the most surprising, was the discovery of two physically different hominoid groups existing in the same location simultaneously. I am standing in the only known site in the world where skeletons from the Middle Paleolithic Period (250,000 – 50,000 years ago) of both Neanderthal and Homo Sapians (modern humans) have been found together.
I start up the steep, winding steps in the ‘Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve’ leading to the caves. My breath quickens with excitement. I think about what other secrets lie hidden within this cliff. When I reach the top, I look down and see buses far below with hordes of school children pouring out, but for now, I am alone.
I enter the large cave of el Wad and pause to get a feel for it. What was it like to live here? The damp seeps in from the cold walls, occasional drips fall from the high blackened ceiling, in the dim light I see lines where water flowed through. Tens of thousands of years ago there was a lot more rain in this area and the shoreline of the sea was much closer. An abundance of water, plants and animals provided everything prehistoric people needed to survive. I slowly walk forward in the footsteps of their story. With similar facial and body features, I imagine them scraping hides and making tools.
Three different cultures have lived here but the Natufian culture represents a transition in the way ancient humans lived. It was the beginning of extensive hunting and gathering which eventually led to the domestication of plants and animals and sedentary settlements. A variety of 10,000 to 15,000-year-old tools and artistic items were discovered here, as well as numerous burial sites with evidence of possible ritual and ceremony.
I leave the caves and step into the sunlight of the present world. I hear the ruckus of children’s voices close by and I am happy that my walk through the past was solitary. I ponder the fate of the Neanderthals. What happened to them? Did we live side-by-side? I also ponder our fate. Will we go extinct? Will future races wonder how we went extinct? Who knows! In the end, we are one small link in a long chain of remarkable history.