History of Caves

  Caves have been used by humans for a long time and for a number of reasons. For many they provided shelter, for others they were a source for minerals and economic prosperity. The first mentions of karst landscape date back to the ancient Assyrian King Salmanassar III. As reported on bronze engravings, he was investigating the caves and springs at the source of the Tigris River. There are also mentions of karst topography in the writings of the ancient Greek and Romans ( Jennings, 1971). In Israel there is a cave called the Cave of Letters and inside this cave documents from the second century C.E. describing in detail one woman’s life were found (Figure 1). The woman was named

Figure 1: The Cave of Letters in Israel which was used for protection and storage 2000 years ago is no being excavated and explored. (NOVA, 2004).

Babatha and it is thought that she used the cave for protection and to store her documents for safekeeping (Tyson, 2004). For information on Babatha and the Cave of Letters click here. It wasn’t until the 17 th century, when scientific societies began to emerge that books devoted to karst started to appear. The earliest work was written in 1654 by a Parisian by the name of Jacques Gaffarel, however little of this text remains today ( Jennings 1971) (Figure 2). In the mid to late 19th

Figure 2: The first page of Jacques Gaffarel’s 1654 work on karst topography. (Martel, 1952)

  century Vienna, Austria was the center for scientific study and karst was a hot topic. This area was the hub for karst study because there were karst areas, primarily the Dinaric karst, around Vienna which fueled research and discussion ( Herak and Stringfield, 1972). In the late 19 th century Edouard Martel, with his extensive investigation into karst landscapes, however brought France to the front in karst study with Austria where it has remained since ( Jennings, 1971). The following quote from Martel’s first work Les Cevennes published in 1888 speaks of the caves he examined in France,

  Here are natural wonders of inconceivable beauty: Kilometre-long caverns, full of huge stalactites and stalagmites. Subterranean rivers and lakes in a shimmering bed of crystal. A dark and mysterious realm, which, cast in the eerie glow of the magnesium lamp, is transfigured into a magical palace. A fantastic spectacle, just waiting to be discovered (Martel,1888).

  After World War I institutes devoted to karst and caves emerged along with the world’s first University Professor of speleology in Vienna, Georg Kyrle (Figure 3). After World War II interest is caves spread around the world and Europe was no longer the center for the study of speleology. After the study of karst landscapes was spread worldwide the International congresses of speleology held it’s first meeting in 1953. This has evolved into the International Union of Speleology which still operates and will hold the next congress in Athens, Greece in 2005.


Figure 3: An important Austrian speleologist and possibly the world’s first professor of speleology, Georg Kyrle (Österreich-Lexikon,1995).

  In the 1950ís and 60ís there was a rush to open the biggest and best cave which is referred to as the cave wars. During this time it was realized that people would pay money to see these mysterious caverns underground and everyone tried to make their cave the biggest and the best on order to attract the most tourists. A National Parks Service ranger and tour guide at Mammoth Caves in Kentucky said in 2004, "Wealthy people in Europe and in the East wanted to see Mammoth Cave, and the owners of Mammoth got a wild idea -- that people would pay money to see a hole in the ground" (Associated Press, 2004).

Crystal Caves in Spring Valley Wisconsin was part of this national contest which is how it got its name. The owner who donned the caves Crystal Caves thought that name would help attract tourists. Even before Wisconsin was a state caves drew people to the area for their mineral resources. Lead miners flocked to modern Southwest Wisconsin. The miners would sometimes spend days inside the caves which is how Wisconsin got its knickname of the Badger State (Green, 2004). This competition actually threatened the integrity of the cave at one point. One of the owners wanted to make one of the rooms in the cave more dramatic by carving out the rock and raising the ceiling. This dramatically weakened the ceiling and the overlying layers of soil were too heavy. Eventually the ceiling in that room collapsed and it is no longer accessible to visitors.