7,000-year-old Mount Sodom Salt Cave Is World's Longest, Israel Claims

The Malham Cave in Mount Sodom, Israel, has been named the world's longest by researchers. The team who surveyed the cave system to the south of the Dead Sea believe it runs for more than 10 kilometers (6 miles), and say this estimate is likely conservative.

Professor Amos Frumkin, of the Hebrew University Cave Research Center, said the team at the institution have been exploring the site for decades, but advanced mapping technology enabled them to recently complete their survey.

Salt caves israel
A journalist walks in the Malham cave inside Mount Sodom, located at the southern part of the Dead Sea in Israel on March 27, 2019. - Israeli spelunkers announced on March 27 that a salt cave near the Dead Sea was over ten kilometres long, beating Iran's N3 cave in Qeshm to make it the world's largest. The cave, named Malham, is a series of canyons running through Mount Sodom, Israel's largest mountain, and spilling out to the southwest corner of the adjacent Dead Sea. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

"It turns out that the Malham Cave is more than 10 kilometers long, which makes it the longest cave in the world," Frumkin said. The team believes the cave is around 7,000 years old, The Times of Israel reported.

Malham Cave has therefore taken the title of world's longest salt cave from the Namakdan Cave in Iran, which stretches 6,850 meters (4 miles), the researchers told Reuters. That was named the longest by a team of Iranian and Czech researchers in 2006, according to the Associated Press.

The dry landscape near the warren-like structure preserved the salt, and enabled an extraordinarily lengthy cave to form. It is unusual for a salt cave to reach more than a kilometer (half a mile) as the substance melts away in water. The team believe water from seasonal floods streamed through at least 19 openings in the mountain above, over millions of years, leaving behind deposits of salt, according to the Associated Press.

Amos Frumkin, a geologist and cave expert at Hebrew University explained to the Associated Press: "The salt layers are squeezed out from the sub-surface, where they are deposited a few kilometers underground, and while being squeezed out they form a mountain, which is rising still today, at a rate of about one centimeter per year."

Boaz Langford from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Caves Research Center said: "This cave is definitely longer than our current estimate. While we don't have final figures yet, we can only fantasize about them. We definitely know that our current estimate will change."

Over time, the cave will get even longer, the researchers told Reuters.

The cave is near the the Lot's Wife pillar, which takes its name from the Bible story. The woman, who is not named in the Bible, is said to have transformed into salt after she turned back to look at the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Langford and Bulgarian spelunker Antoniya Vlaykov from the European Speleological Federation led a team of international volunteer cave explorers to survey the site.

Yoav Negev, of the Israel Cave Explorer Club, said: "We reached out to Antoniya Vlaykova at Bulgaria's Sofia Caving Club and Speleo School. They, along with the Israel Cave Explorers Club, Cave Research Center, Sarma Club, and cavers from nine countries worked side-by-side to map the Malham Cave."

Langford gave Reuters an insight into the expedition, recalling a moment when the team thought their pasta needed more seasoning. "So we just broke some salt off one of the rocks and used that".

israel salt cave
Yoav Negev, chairman of the Israel Cave Explorers Club and project leader of the Malham Cave Mapping Expedition, licks a salt rock in the Malham cave inside Mount Sodom, located at the southern part of the Dead Sea in Israel on March 27, 2019. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images