How an eerie 40-mile cave system has remained a mystery for 8,000 years

How an eerie 40-mile cave system has remained a mystery for 8,000 years

The 40-mile cave system continues to baffle scientists even to this day

A cave system in France was first explored by humans 8,000 years ago but how they entered remains a mystery to scientists.

The 40-mile-long subterranean Saint-Marcel cave system near Avignon, in France, was occupied by humans but questions remain as to how they carried out the journey.

Even modern day well-equipped explorers struggle to overcome obstacles in deeper parts of the caves.

Equipment like powerful lights, high-tech safety equipment and sophisticated gear are all available now but wouldn’t have been in the past.

The finding of broken stalagmites almost a mile past the entrance points to the presence of people, according to researchers led by geomorphologist Jean-Jacques Delannoy.

Cave explorers would break off bits of cave and keep them as trophies.

Jean-Jacques told PNAS: ‘This discovery and the fact that the structures are around 8,000 years old is exceptional. This raises the question of cave knowledge at that prehistoric period, their ability to explore and cross shafts, and their mastery of lighting.’

What’s more, scientists were able to find out when the stalagmites were broken by carrying out uranium-thorium testing.

It is a mystery how people managed to get down into the deep caves without equipment (Picture Shutterstock/Loulou Moreau)
The terrain proves challenging even for modern day explorers (Picture: Getty Images)
Evidence of humans living in the caves was previously ignored (Picture: Shutterstock/Loulou Moreau)

The earliest snapped tip is from 10,000 years ago and the most recent is from 3,000 years ago, while a structure appears to have been laid out deliberately 8,000 years ago.

The broken structures were first found more than 100 years ago, but were ignored by researchers, who assumed they’d been left by the first tourists who visited the cave in the nineteenth century.

Researchers write in the paper: ‘The evidence for prehistoric human activity in the cave of Saint-Marcel is conclusive.

‘Our study results are changing the way we look at the Saint-Marcel cave network, giving them a cultural dimension linked to prehistoric use … the results from Saint-Marcel cave invite us to take a new look at these societies, their use of caves, which has hitherto been considered to be limited to the entrance areas, their engagement with deep underground landscapes, and the associated symbolic dimensions.’

A question still remains though, why people broke and arranged these stalagmites?

Jean-Jacques added: ‘These are questions for which we will never have answers.

‘Like why humans went to paint in caves and in the deepest areas. We no longer have access to their thoughts.’

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