Ancient Cave Tragedies
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Book: 
Our Fascinating Earth

Ancient Cave Tragedies

During the Ice Age when ice was at its greatest expanse, glaciation produced a period of rainfall that vastly changed environmental conditions in the Maerican Southwest. At that time the region became filled with vast swamps and enormous lakes. Today these areas are arid to semiarid, and desert conditions are spreading.

The advancing northern glaciers affected other areas of the country quite differently. In contrast to the watery Southwest, much of Florida was semiarid during the Ice Age.

Modern—day geologic and archaeologic research in Florida employs scuba—diving scientists who explore underwater sinkholes. This type of research is becoming widely pursued and thus far has been quite productive. Southeast of present—day Sarasota a scuba—diving scientist uncovered evidence of a tragic drama that occurred over 12,000 years ago in a goblet—shaped sinkhole known as Little Salt Spring.

Since climatic conditions in parts of Florida at that time were semi—arid, the water level at Little Salt Spring was about ninety feet lower than at present, exposing a large hole in the ground. Into this hole an ancient Native American fell or was pushed. Either a short time before or after the mishap, a land tortoise also became a victim of the yawning aperture in the ground. The water at the bottom absorbed their fall, and they both survived.

The man was able to find shelter on a ledge under a large protruding overhang. He captured the tortoise, cooked it, and lived on the meat. But he lived more on hope than reason, because eventually the meat would all be consumed and the overhang would prevent his climbing out. He could only shout, hope, and wait, and wait, and wait. . . . Eventually he was found — 12,000 years later.

Similarly specialists in cave exploration often uncover evidence of strange and unusual events. One such cave expedition uncovered the calamity of a man who disappeared from the company of his contemporaries ages ago. Researchers refer to this event as "The Tragedy of Lost John."

In 1935 a group of speleologsts were exploring an unknown corridor in Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. Approximately two miles from the entrance they came upon a Native American mummy that lay partially hidden beneath a six—ton boulder. Several archaeologists were brought in for consultation and were able, with little difficulty, to reconstruct what had happened to "Lost John," as he was appropriately nicknamed.

The victim had worked his way along the dark passages using a reed torch to light his way. It is quite likely that he was searching for gypsum, which was used by his tribe for ceremonial paint. As he crouched on a ledge, his foot must have accidentally dislodge a rock, causing an enormous boulder to crash down on top of him. And so he passed from the sight of mankind — for the next 2,000 years.