Haua Fteah Cave

Stone Age Site From Cyrenaica.


the view from inside the cave of haua fteah



The view of the Mediterranean sea from inside the cave.


Haua Fteah Cave

There are a number of big caves in the Green Mountain area, the most famous of which are the vertical cave of Cyrene and the Haua Fteah cave. Without a doubt future research will reveal more similar caves in years to come. In fact the name Wadi al-Kuf may mean "the Valley of the Caves", also located in Cyrenaica's Green Mountain.

The cave of Haua Fteah (Hawa Fteah or Hawa Ftaih) is a very special cave. Being the largest cave in the Mediterranean basin and one of the largest caves in the world, Haua Fteah remains one of the best evidences that humans have existed continuously in one site in Libya for 100,000 years; and hence today's archaeologists rightly think the cave may hold the key to when and how our species first emerged in North Africa. It has also been suggested that the cave was possibly inhabited 200,000 years ago [5].

According to Charles McBurney, the Cambridge archaeologist who excavated the cave in 1950s, the site was occupied by an exceptionally inventive and advanced group of Paleolithic hunters, among the most technologically progressive communities so far known to have existed at the time.  These ancient Libyan hunters lived on wild cattle, gazelle, snails and marine molluscs, and made tools far in advance of anything known at the time, including a bone flute.


a distant view from the cave, as you approch the front


Dimensions of Haua Fteah Cave:

The natural cave has a massive opening spanning 80 meters wide and 20 meters high - that is approximately 262 feet wide and 65 ft high. It consists of a huge vertical shaft, filled with silt by various processes of sedimentation.


Discovery & Excavation of Haua Fteah Cave

excavation scaffolding inside the shaft inside the cave

Excavation scaffolding inside the shaft inside the cave.

The Cave of Haua Fteah was discovered and first excavated by the Cambridge archaeologist Charles McBurney and C.T. Houlder between 1951 and 1955, to a depth of 14 metres. The lowest levels are yet to be reached. The American archaeologist Charles Brian Montagu McBurney (18 June 1914 – 14 December 1979) was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in America, and studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Kings College, in Cambridge, England. In addition to his studies of Upper Paleolithic Britain, cave art, and French prehistory he carried out  extensive excavations in Libya, Iran and Afghanistan.

After McBurney's excavations in 1950s the cave was neglected and no further studies were carried out until recently, when interest in the cave was revived in 2000s. Currently the cave is being further investigated by the members of the Cyrenaican Prehistory Project, which runs from 2007 to 2011. The project is sponsored by the Society for Libyan Studies and the Leakey Foundation, and run by Professor Graeme Barker in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast, and Birkbeck College and Royal Holloway, University of London. The team is equipped with a suite of dating methods provided by Oxford University, Wollongong University, the Australian National University, and Royal Holloway London. After two seasons of excavation work (2007 and 2008) the team has managed to empty the McBurney trench to a depth of 8 metres, the depth where McBurney discovered the human remains, which are now thought to be of modern human, possibly 100,000 years old.

The researchers further point out that:

"The study of stone tools (at Birkbeck and Leicester), butchered animal bone (at Cambridge), shells (at Guam), and carbonized plant remains (at the British Museum and Leicester) is reconstructing a 200,000-year story of changing hunting and gathering behaviour at the cave, and the development of behavioural complexity in the food quest . . . Professor Barker said, “Running a complex inter-disciplinary field project in Libya is never easy, a daily game of snakes and ladders, but the Libyans we work with are enormously hospitable as well as skilled archaeologists. It is a privilege working with them, and on a site that is pivotal to understanding the prehistory of North Africa”.

For further information please see: The secret life of a Libyan cave  By Professor Graeme Barker, from: https://www.temehu.com/imazighen/berberdownloads/secret-life-of-a-Libyan-cave.pdf 



Location of Haua Fteah Cave

haua fteah area: view of the sea

The cave is located in Cyrenaica, Eastern Libya, about 8 kilometres east of Apollonia (the Port of Sousa), and about 1 kilometre from the Mediterranean coast. The above photo shows the view from the cave, facing north towards the Mediterranean.


haua fteah cave in cyrenaica


References & Further Resources

  1. Libya in History. McBurney, C. B. M. 1968.

  2. The Haua Fteah (Cyrenaica) and the Stone Age of the South-East Mediterranean. McBurney, C. B. M. 1967. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  3. Prehistory and Pleistocene geology in Cyrenaican Libya: A record of two seasons' geological and archaeological fieldwork in the Gebel Akhdar hills: With a summary of prehistoric finds from neighbouring territories. Occasional publications of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 4. McBurney, C. B. M., & R. W. Hey. 1955. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  4. The Haua Fteah fossil jaw. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 83: 71-84. McBurney, C. B. M., J. C. Trevor, & L. H. Wells. 1953.

  5. The Cyrenaica prehistory project, Libya: http://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/haua-fteah-project

  6. The secret life of a Libyan cave  By Professor Graeme Barker, from: https://www.temehu.com/imazighen/berberdownloads/secret-life-of-a-Libyan-cave.pdf 

  7. The Organisation Of Lithic Technology In The Middle And Early Upper Palaeolithic Industries At The Haua Fteah, Libya. Colin Campbell Moyer, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. This dissertation is submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, May 2003 : www.paleoanthro.org/dissertations/Colin%20Moyer.pdf

  8. C.B.M. McBurney-et-al, 1953, JRAI, Haua Fteah Mandible

  9. The analysis of Palaeolithic artifacts from the cave of Haua Fteah, examining the nature of change across the Middle Palaeolithic / Upper Palaeolithic boundary: arts.anu.edu.au/arcworld/resources/haua/hfanalysis.htm