Just north of the Abraham Path route, the valley of Nahal Hemar contains the cave in which some of the world’s oldest ritual artifacts have been unearthed. Located on a cliff near the Dead Sea northwest of Mt. Sdom, the material culture of the site predates the Agricultural Revolution. First excavated in 1983, the items unearthed by these excavations are considered some of the most distinct artifacts from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (around 8500-5500 BCE) and include statues, wooden beads, bone tools, arrowheads, nets, rope baskets, decorated skulls, threads, cloth, and fragments of masks.
It is likely that the famous masks, beads, and skulls found in this cave were part of ritual ceremonies for a range of purposes. The construction of the masks themselves retains evidence that they were modeled off the faces of deceased persons and are thus thought to have had ties to particular ancestors and an importance in ancestral worship.
While most of the artifacts are currently housed in the Israel Museum, the site alone provides ample reason to visit. As you approach the site, be sure to take in the immensity of the place as the shallow desert wadi gives way to a massive canyon where a beautiful waterfall forms in wet seasons, dropping and meandering its way down to the Dead Sea. Although hiking in the wetter seasons is advisable for the beautiful views, precautions should be taken regarding the possibility of flash floods in the canyon. Even when flash flooding is a concern, dedicated sources of water are unreliable in the region; plenty of water should be brought for drinking, cooking, and washing.