Atlit Yam, A 9,000-Year-Old Neolithic Settlement Beneath the Waves

by Owen James Burke


(Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

Off the Mediterranean Coast of Israel sit the ruins of a 9,000-year-old Megalithic settlement Atlit Yam, between 25 and 35 feet beneath sea level. Discovered in 1984 by marine archaeologist Ehud Galili, the site remains phenomenally intact thanks to a sandy seabed.


An artist’s rendering of Atlit Yam

The settlement appears to have been abandoned, and theories abound, but academics are still speculative at best and the discussion continues over why and how the 40,000 square-meter settlement was left behind. Some geophysicists believe that a tidal wave caused by the eruption of nearby Mount Etna, 8,500 years ago, inundated the settlement. Others maintain that it must have been rising sea levels.


An archaeologist recovers remains from the well at Atlit Yam (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

There were also stone-built wells found within the settlement. The deepest of which (at least as it remains) has been excavated to nearly 20 feet, and appears to have been non-operational in later years, as it was filled with mostly triggerfish bones, but also land animals both domesticated and wild. Among the plant-based remains were wild grape, poppy and caraway seeds.


(Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

When the site was discovered in 1984, 65 human remains were discovered. Four sets of male remains revealed auditory exostosis, a pathology associated with diving in cold water, which points to the likelihood that neolithic peoples were diving deep. Another pair of skeletal remains — a mother and child — were found containing the first recorded traces of tuberculosis.


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