The cave is located in the western Galilee, in a landscape characterized by low limestone hills of late Cenomanian formation (c. 300 m asl) and fresh water sources. The environment is Mediterranean Woodland vegetation, including open park forests and the annual precipitation average is c. 600–700 mm. The site is located c. 10 km north of Hayonim Cave and c. 50 km northeast of the Mt. Carmel cave sites (Fig. 2).
The cave consists of an elongated hall (length 80 m, width 10–25 m) and two lower chambers that are connected to it from north and south (Fig. 3).
The main hall is divided into three zones: a western talus, a plain and an eastern talus. Rock falls and active stalagmites apparently blocked the initial entrance to the cave at the far end of the western talus. This blockage sealed the cave for a period of at least 15,000 years, as the most recent archaeological remains identified in the excavation are dated to the Early Epipalaeolithic period.
The 2008 Survey
Due to unsuitable logistical conditions, including deficiency in oxygen inside the cave and the absence of proper lights, the survey was brief (one working day), focusing on the general characteristics of the site. The most obvious observation referred to the cave being blocked by rock falls and probably having two entrances, attested by two taluses; a small and moderate one in the east and a massive steep one in the west.
Twelve archaeological find spots, containing diagnostic lithic artifacts, charcoal pieces and faunal and human remains, were plotted. Notable among the lithic components were Middle and Upper Palaeolithic tools and cores (Figs. 4, 5). The tools consisted of a Levallois point (Fig. 4:1), typical of the Mousterian culture (Hovers E. 2009. The Lithic Assemblages of Qafzeh Cave. New York). The Upper Paleolithic component included burins (Fig. 5:1), bladelets (Fig. 5:2, 3), overpassed blades (Fig. 5:5). Notable are Aurignacian tools (Belfer-Cohen A. and O. Bar-Yosef 1981 The Aurignacian at Hayonim Cave. Paléorient 7/2:19–42), such as nosed and carinated endscrapers (Figs. 5:4, 6). This notion was further supported by a polished bone pendant (Fig. 5:7).
Faunal preservation in the cave seemed excellent. Complete skeletal elements of large mammals, such as fallow deer, red deer, mountain gazelle, horse, aurochs, hyena and bear, were observed (Fig. 4:2), as well as microfauna.
Although collected prior to the survey, the location of the human skull was plotted and a preliminary lab work conducted by one of the authors (I.H.) identified this incomplete calvarium as an anatomically modern human.
The 2010 Excavation Season
The excavation was conducted in three areas, opened adjacent to potential find spots identified in the 2008 survey. Other objectives carried out during the excavation included a comprehensive field survey in and outside of the cave, documentation and collection of seven finds pots of bone accumulations, recognized in the 2008 survey, by the archaeozoological team, a geological exploration and documentation of the cave, including sampling speleothemes for further lab research, and a sedimentlogical study of several localities, including the excavation areas, for assessing post-depositional processes.
The excavation areas
Area A is located on a relatively flat surface between the two taluses, which is the lowermost part in the cave hall (Fig. 3). The surface is characterized by rock falls and active stalagmites, embedded in thick accumulation of mud. A total of 12 sq m had been excavated. The finds from this area included mainly flint items, as well as a few bone fragments. It was noted that the density of the finds increased with depth. The lithic component consisted of Middle and Upper Paleolithic finds. The former is represented by Levallois flakes and tools, while the latter by blade cores and blanks.
Area B is located on the uppermost part of the western talus, which is the closest location to the postulated natural entrance to the cave. The area is characterized by massive rock fall accumulation. Most of the effort in this season was concentrated in a narrow tunnel probe (length c. 5 m) that reached c. 2 m below the surface. In addition, a trial zone (4 sq m) was excavated inside the grid. The finds from this area included flint items, animal and human bones and the lithic component consisted of Epipalaeolithic finds, namely Kebaran.
Area C was located on a steep slope toward the end of the western talus, where an exposure of Upper Palaeolithic horizon was identified in the 2008 survey. The surface was sealed by a flowstone that derived from a massive stalagmite to the north (Sqs N-O 64–65). A total of 5 sq m were excavated and the stratigraphy is very complex; it consists of at least two layers and several units. The finds in Area C are plentiful, including flint artifacts, groundstone items, animal and human bones and charcoal. Most of the material was retrieved from the upper unit, but several items were collected from an exposure of the lower unit. Regardless of stratigraphy, the Upper Palaeolithic tools display characteristics of both lithic traditions, Ahmarian and Aurignacian.
The Faunal Remains
The most conspicuous feature of the archaeology of Manot Cave may be the numerous accumulations of well-preserved animal bones on the surface, adjacent to the cave's walls. The concentrations (hence ‘find spots’) greatly differ in size and topography, as some are clearly the accumulation of fluvial transport, composed of bones and lithic artifacts, presumably from archaeological layers within the cave, while others are devoid of lithics and are found on topographically higher places.
Seven find spots composed mainly of faunal remains were documented and collected or sampled during the 2010 season, to study their taphonomy and compare them to the faunal samples originating from the stratified archaeological deposits.
Preliminary field observations stress the difference between the bones collected at these find spots and the faunal remains from the stratified Paleolithic levels of the cave, mainly Area C. The bones from the find spots are less frequently associated with lithic items and are usually found at or near the surface, sometimes along streams. They also exhibit more complete and clear carnivore gnawing marks. The ungulate species are the same as in Area C (Gazella, Dama, Cervus, Capreolus, Capra and Bos), but it seems that more large carnivore remains are found in the find spots, whereas more small game (tortoise, hare, fox) are found in Area C. It appears that both hominins and large carnivores, probably bear and/or hyenas (see Fig. 4:2) played a significant role in creating the faunal assemblages of Manot. According to the current available evidence, it is possible that anthropogenic and carnivore deposits in the cave are spatially segregated. A detailed taphonomic analysis and comparison of the find spots and the Paleolithic faunas at Manot are needed to discern the agents of accumulation and post-accumulation processes of the bone concentrations. This will enable us to draw inferences on Upper Paleolithic subsistence and ecology.
The fieldwork at Manot shows great research potential. The archaeological finds recovered so far attest to a cave inhabited from the Middle Paleolithic through the Epipalaeolithic periods (250,000–15,000 BP), when it was naturally blocked.
The characteristics and composition of chipped stone tools, animal bones and bone tools suggest that occupation in the cave was intensive during the Upper Palaeolithic period. The cave has a prelatic morphology and probably included a small entrance and two natural terraces inside it, where most of the human activities likely occurred.
When unoccupied by humans, the cave was apparently used intermittently by carnivores, as attested by concentrations of long bones along the cave walls. Speleothems located throughout the cave include some massive clusters in the center of the cave that predated the human occupation. The highly potential speleothems research can be used for dating the human occupations by U-Th and for isotopic research that could be helpful for reconstructing the paleoclimate in the cave.
In sum, the excavation project at Manot is expected to shed light on one of the most important phases in the history of mankind, the surrounding faunal world and the climate and environment men had to cope with in the Eastern Mediterranean region.