This Week in Caves

What kind of science news are you looking for today? Do you want to hear about ancient Greek murder caves? Korean unicorn caves? About those crazy little eyeless fish that swim around in silt-black underground lakes as if to say that eyes are for chumps? You're in luck; all of those things have been discovered this week.

For the last forty years, archaeologist Giorgos Papathanassopoulos has been almost single-handedly excavating a

giant cave that might have helped serve as the inspiration for the mythic ancient Greek underworld Hades [that] once housed hundreds of people...before it collapsed and killed everyone inside.

In the last few years, however, he's invited the contributions of other researchers, and recent digs at the site, named Alepotrypa, suggest that hundreds of people lived year-round just outside the mouth of the cave, making it one of the largest European Neolithic settlements ever found. Researchers now believe that the cave was occupied for thousands of years, used as a shelter, a cemetery, and a temple before collapsing around 5000 years ago. Researcher Michael Galaty gave interviewers an explanation of the conditions of the cave before its destruction:

"You have to imagine the place torchlit, filled with people lighting bonfires and burying the dead," Galaty said. "It was quite like a prehistoric cathedral, a pilgrimage site that attracted people from all over the region and perhaps from further afield."

If this does not satisfy your craving for mysterious corpse-riddled caves (and it should not, your capacity for that type of discovery ought to be boundless), Germany's Der Spiegel magazine has just published an excellent report on recent attempts to use 3-D imaging to map the cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula. Many of them are littered with the remains of perfectly preserved human remains, although no one knows whether the bodies arrived there by coincidence over time or all at once. A 10,000-year-old boy lies next to an 8,500-year fire pit that looks as fresh as if it had been used "the day before yesterday."

Further afield, conservation group Fauna & Flora International has discovered a tiny "eyeless, scaleless" loach fish that lives exclusively in a series of underground rivers on an island in Vietnam's Ha Long Bay. Termed "the swimming dragon," it cannot survive outside of its tiny freshwater habitat, blindly moving in endless circles in the unseeing dark, unable to swim out into the open sea. You may find yourself unsure whether to envy or pity this tiny, flameless water-dragon; this is normal. Allow yourself to experience both emotions.

And of course no roundup of cave news this week would be complete without a mention of the recently uncovered North Korean unicorn cave. State archaeologists have announced the existence of a "unicorn's lair" just outside of Pyongyang. According to the Korean Central News Agency:

Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668).
The lair is located 200 meters from the Yongmyong Temple in Moran Hill in Pyongyang City. A rectangular rock carved with words "Unicorn Lair" stands in front of the lair. The carved words are believed to date back to the period of Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).

The news is less of a discovery than a reminder to North Koreans, then: the unicorn lair is exactly where everyone thought it was, the bulletin points out. No news is good news when it comes to historical cryptid dwellings. The "Unicorn Lair" sign is still up, so everything's copacetic.

[Image via AP]