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Contemporary cavemen discover the earth’s subterranean landscape

Posted in Exploration, Geography, Geology, Historical articles on Tuesday, 1 May 2012

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This edited article about caving originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 698 published on 31 May 1975.

Exploring underground, picture, image, illustration

Cavers or pot-holers discover a subterranean world of beauty among the stalactites and stalagmites

Man has been to the moon, climbed the highest mountains, visited the sea’s depths and flown faster than sound. What else is there for an adventurous individual to do? One answer is to scramble deep below the surface of the Earth, to explore the tunnels and caverns that ancient rivers fashioned into a strange and beautiful wonderland.

Not content with exploring these, men have tested their ability to endure long periods in this cold and awe-inspiring world. Milutin Veljkovic of Yugoslavia set the world record for this when he spent 463 days between 1969 and 1970 in a cavern in the Svrljig mountains of northern Yugoslavia. But he was not entirely alone, for he took a cat, a dog and some hens and ducks for company.

Time means little to people when there are no days and nights but the perpetual glimmer of an oil lamp. When David Lafferty went into Gough’s Cave, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, he tried to keep a check on the passing of time. Companions joined him towards the end of his stay and told him that August had arrived. A surprised Mr. Lafferty had thought that it was only July. Since he had been in the cave from 27th March, this was not unexpected. By remaining in the cave until 4th August in 1966, Mr. Lafferty set up a British record of 130 days underground.

He achieved this in a cave found in 1867 by a Mr. Gough and his sons. They came across it after exploring fantastically beautiful tunnels spiked with stalactites and stalagmites. Behind some rubble, they discovered not only a new series of caves but something else which set their imaginations reeling. Among the rocks lay the skeleton of a man which was estimated to be at least twelve thousand years old. When this man was alive, people had ceased to live in caves. They had learned to build huts and defend themselves with weapons. And they hunted the reindeer, cave-lion and brown bear which, with the mammoth, roamed the Somerset hills.

So why had this early man gone into the Cheddar caves? Perhaps he, too, had gone in search of adventure, like the underground explorers of today, as a pioneer pot-holer of ancient times.

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