The Atlit Yam sits submerged 10 meters (33 feet) beneath the sea off the coast of Atlit village in Haifa, Israel. An enormous Neolithic coastal settlement, these complex remains tell a story of a once-thriving community that existed almost 9,000 years ago – and this one really did exist.
During the beginning of the Holocene, the Atlit Yam community was believed to have settled at the site over 8,000 years ago. Despite now being completely submerged, at the time of settlement the site sat well above current sea levels, boasting highly fertile land primed for agriculture.
Discovered by marine archaeologist Dr. Ehud Galili in 1984, the site has since been excavated to reveal a glimpse into the lives of the people that once lived there.
Within the large 40,000-square-meter (430,556-square-foot) site, marine archaeologists have found houses, wells, and even graves. Along with the bones of domesticated sheep, pigs, and dogs, large rectangular stone structures still standing beneath the waves are believed to have been used as animal pens, or as fencing to divide cultivated fields.
As many as 65 human skeletons have been found in and around the area, the majority housed in single graves with some remains still relatively intact. The remains of a mother and child were also found at the site, which have revealed the earliest known cases of tuberculosis. Fragments of human bones were also found, along with animals remains and stone tools at the bottom of a 5.5-meter (18-foot) well dug by the villagers.
At the center of the settlement sit seven large stone monoliths circling a freshwater spring. It’s believed this structure functioned as a site for conducting water rituals.
Arrowheads, sickle blades, spearheads, and knives were all excavated from the area, as well as large concentrations of flint. One flint collection was found to be comprised of as many as 8,755 flint artefacts. Interestingly, the specific material found at the site appeared to originate from over 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away in Mount Carmel.
Appearing to be occupied just briefly, there has been speculation as to why the area was abandoned. Some suggest the rising sea levels may have led to the abandonment of the village, while other theories point to the effects of a tsunami.
The tsunami theory is supported by what appears to be the abandoned remains of large piles of fish at the site. These valuable commodities wouldn’t have been purposefully abandoned, so their existence suggests a much harsher fate may have befallen the village.
The region surrounding Israel’s Carmel Coast is home to 17 submerged prehistoric sites, spanning the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period of Atlit Yam, to Pottery Neolithic sites dating back to between 8,000 and 6,500 years ago. Excavation of the area by marine archaeologists began in 1960, and since then the rich heritage of the land beneath the sea has continued to enrich our knowledge of Neolithic settlement life.