Judean Hills

  • Issue: January 1980
  • Designer: A. Glaser
  • Stamp size: 30.8 x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 586
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

One day in May 1968 the sound of an explosion echoed from the western slopes of the Judean Hills. On the face of it, this was no more than yet another routine blasting operation in the Har-Tuv stone quarries. But the results of this particular blast were very different from those of all its predecessors for it uncovered a small opening into a magic and wonderful world deepin the earth concealed from the eyes of man and beast. This blast marked the beginning of the present chapter in the Cave's history. More than a million years ago, most of the area of Palestine was covered by a hot and shallow sea. The bottom of this sea became covered with carbonated sediments consisting. in the main, of the skeretons of various marine creatures - mainly snails and sea-shells - which solidified into limestone dolomite rocks.

These rocks are composed of closely-packed crystals which virtually prevent water from penetrating, but as the layers were displaced and folded, cracks were formed which allowed water to enter and dissolve some of the rock. It may seem strange to talk about rocks being dissolved, but if we remember that water as it flows along the ground absorbs carbon dioxide given off by the decaying vegetation, we can understand how rain water is converted into acid which is capable of dissolving, be it ever so slowly, the hardest of rocks. In this manner the rains broadened the cracks in the rock and created caves which continued to expand.

Some scientists claim that such caves will occur only where water passes from the surface of the soil to ground water, and there is evidence that when the Judean Hills took their present form, the sea level stood at a height of what is now 380 meters which is the present floor level of the cave.

The next stage in the history of the cave began with the retreat of the sea and the lowering of the ground waterlevel. During this period, .the dissolution of the rock ceased and the process was reversed. As drops of water saturated with limestone solution reached the ceiling of the cave, the carbon dioxide escaped and the limestone that was left crystallized.

The diameter of a drop of water is approximately 5 millimeters and the limestone is precipitated in the shape of a ring at the point of contact with the ceiling. Ring falls upon ring, and in this manner, a shape similar to a hollow "macaroni" is formed, whose diameter is that of the drop of water. These stalactites can reach up to 80-100 centimeters in length. They are to be found mainly in the "Macaroni Room" but also in other parts of the cave. If, for any reason, the path of the drops of water is blocked, they will come out on the face of the stalactite and will change Its shape from that of a tube to a cone which is thick at the base, narrows towards the tip, end hangs from the top. These cone-stalactites can reach 4-5 meters in length.

When the rate of dripping is faster than the rate of diffusion of the carbon dioxide, as the drops fall, the rest of the carbon dioxide is diffused and the limestone crystallizes into a stalagmite (if we listen carefully, we can hear the sound of the dripping water) and at the top of many of these stalagmites we can see the depression formed by the falling drops. If we look carefully, we will see that whereas stalactites hang from all over the ceiling of the cave, the stalagmites are concentrated beneath the lines following the major cracks in the ceiling where the dripping is faster.

While the stalactites are usually very thin and smooth, the stalagmites come in a great variety of shapes. The shattering of a drop of water and the diffusion of the spray, creates many different shapes. Thus we find "Mexican hats", "City of Pagodas", "Citadels" and "Wedding cakes". A number of stalagmites and stalactites meet and fuse into a pillar known as "stalagnates". Sometimes we can detect the join and at other times the connection is so perfect that we cannot spot it. Occasionally several stalagnates connect into curtains and screens which divide the cave into a number of secondary chambers.

Within a few days of the discovery of the cave, the Nature Reserves Authority assumed responsibility for its protection, but ten years passed until it could be opened to the public.

Much thought, knowledge and love has gone into the development of the cave and in getting it ready for visits from the public while ensuring the preservation of all the natural treasures to be found therein.

In the short time that the cave has been open to the public, it has become a major tourist attraction and visitors from all over the world have come to enjoy this "wonder of nature" which, while tiny in comparison with similar caves throughout the world, has the advantage of compressing within a small area a great variety of exciting shapes and forms created over the past five million years.

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Landscapes of Israel (XII)