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Geoscientist Online

Cave - Nature and Culture

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As an engineering geologist, I am often asked about caves: Why is this cave here? What is it made of? Where have my drilling rods gone? Aside from consideration as a geohazard, caves are surely the ultimate rock outcrop, and the lure of observing pristine in situ structure, mineralisation and amusingly shaped speleothems is usually enough for me to temporarily overcome my fear of not being able to see the sky for a substantial period of time.  For whatever reason, there is an overpowering urge, upon encountering a cave, to have a look in it. 

Cave exploration has provided us with many discoveries, described in this book, most notably about our own ancient ancestors.  In fact, as the book points out, the very definition of a cave: “a natural void…large enough to admit humans”, is related to its human interactions.  The adventures of cavers who have pushed the boundaries of cave study make fascinating reading. 

The book depicts expeditions into massive caves, described as ‘Mount Everest in reverse’, taking a week to get to the site of exploration, 7-10 days to explore and then a week to get back out again.  These are driven by the human need for adventure: ‘There’s not many places on the planet you could say you were the first person to actually go’. 

The poetic language of the book conjures this dark and mysterious subterranean world for the reader’s consideration; a bizarre world like no other, for ‘every map or model we have of a cave is a pictorial reconstruction of a place that one can only actually see and experience in fragments’.  And presumably, only then if you are intrepid enough to risk it. 

‘Cave’ is written by two academics whose speciality is in English, and in particular the intersection of literature and geography, and it therefore naturally focuses on literature and language aspects in the history of cave sciences, caving, cave art, and cave terminology.  It describes specially adapted cave creatures and provides a comprehensive discussion of all the caves ever mentioned in literature, from Jules Verne to Enid Blyton. 

The book presents much food for thought, and left me pondering the subject for several days.  Surely, the mark of a ‘Good Read’. 

Reviewed by Catherine Kenny

CAVE: NATURE AND CULTURE by Ralph Crane and Lisa Fletcher, 2015.  Published by: Reaktion Books Ltd 224pp ISBN: 978-1-78023-431-1 List Price: £14.95. W: www.reaktionbooks.co.uk