The Negev desert features numerous unique geologic phenomena, the most prominent being crater-like valleys which have formed in a complex erosional process. These erosional craters expose a large variety of ancient rocks and geologic phenomena that reveal details of a rich geologic history. The unique conditions within the erosional craters provide shelter for endemic vegetation and animals and have influenced the development of the region’s cultures and human heritage. The well-preserved and thoroug hly studied eros ion al crater s of the Negev provide a great example of the geodive rsi ty and geoherita ge values encompassed in such rare geologic features. Worldwide acknowledgment of their importance has brought to the acceptance of the Hebrew term for a crater, makhtesh (literally a mortar), as the universal term for erosional craters. In recent years, the increasing importance of geotourism and environmental-education activities to the local communities brought upon a coalition of scientists, tour guides, residents, and stakeholders to support the establishment of a geopark in the Negev Craterland. The work presented here is a synthesis of current knowledge and new advancements in the study of erosional craters and their geoheritage value. In particular, we propose a revised definition of the term Bmakhtesh^ to better represent different types of erosional craters while acknowledging the common features which make these structures so rich in geodiversity. We chose Makhtesh Ramon, the largest crater in the Negev, to demonstrate the great potential geoheritage value of craters worldwide. Finally, we developed a new method to systematically assess and compare the scenic value of the various craters and their morphologic features. We hope that the establishment of a grading scale for the key structural, scenic, and cultural aspects of craters may lay the foundation for future economic, ecologic, and touristic assessments of such unique landscapes and environments.
Yaron Finzi & Shaked Avni & Ariel Maroz & Noa Avriel-Avni & Sarit Ashckenazi-Polivoda & Ina Ryvkin