Middle East

Israelis discover ‘world’s longest salt cave’

Israeli cave explorers said on Thursday that a salt cave near the Dead Sea is the world’s longest, beating the previous record-holder in Iran.

The cave named Malham, stretches for over 10 kilometers (6.25 miles), through Mount Sodom, Israel’s largest mountain, and spills out to the southwest corner of the adjacent Dead Sea.

Striking pale salt stalactites hang from the ceilings, and some of the walls sparkle with salt crystals. Drops of salty water are visible at the tips of some of the stalactites.

Researchers became aware of Malham through the work of Amos Frumkin, the founder and director of the Hebrew University’s Cave Research Center, who in the 1980s mapped around five kilometers of it.

Two years ago, Israeli spelunker Yoav Negev decided to complete Frumkin’s work, and reached out to Bulgarian cave explorers for help with the promise of a warm winter adventure.

Negev, who is the founder of the Israel Cave Explorers Club, joined forces with Boaz Langford, a researcher at the university’s research center, to organize a delegation of eight European spelunkers and another 20 locals. They spent about 10 days mapping the cave in 2018.

A second 10-day expedition this year with 80 local and international spelunkers finished measuring and mapping the cave with lasers, and determined that its length is more than 10 kilometers.

Read more: World’s largest underwater cave discovered in Mexico

Unique rock formation

Mount Sodom in Israel is essentially a huge salt block covered by a thin but resilient layer of cap rock.

So when rare desert rain finds its way through cracks in the cap rock it dissolves the salt to form small caves that flow down toward the Dead Sea.

Even in the short time since Frumkin mapped the cave, the cave’s structure has changed, and will continue to do so.

A large part of the cave’s interior is covered by a fine dust that blows in from the desert. Massive slabs of salt, some amber-colored from dust and minerals, stick out in dramatic formations.

A thin slab appearing to have been sliced out is nicknamed “The Guillotine,” while twin slabs that look like a pair of tablets in a different hall have earned the title of “The Ten Commandments.”

Reporters who toured the site clambered and crawled through the narrow passages before reaching the “wedding hall,” where hundreds of white stalactites of various shapes and lengths created a festive backdrop.

According to Negev, Malham was in “a category of its own.”

“There’s nothing like it in Israel,” he said, claiming that no other cave came even close to the 10-kilometer mark.

Negev pointed to its vast network of “caverns, passageways, piers, plateaus, one over another”.

He said it was “the most impressive and complex in Israel… and one of the most beautiful and fascinating ones I’ve been in.”

Read more: Cave diver explores nature’s mysteries

Edging Iran

In 2006, researchers mapped over six kilometers of the N3 cave in southern Iran’s Qeshm island, granting it the previously recognized status of the world’s longest salt cave.

Negev downplayed the significance of retaking the title from Iran, saying he had “excellent ties” with Iranian cave explorers through social media and professional conferences.

“The political rivalry creates a desire to connect and mutual curiosity,” he said. “They’re really excellent spelunkers. I wish I could visit there,” he said of Iran and its caves.

av/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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