Caves house some of humanity's most baffling findings. They contain clues to lost species and fossils of creatures that have left scientists dumbfounded. Let's explore the fascinating discoveries found in the deepest caves.
Unlikely Proof of Life
In the unlikeliest of circumstances, scientists fumbled upon a game-changing discovery whilst exploring a cave in Naica, Mexico: Proof of life was found that dated back to approximately 50,000 years ago.
The microorganisms flourished deep underground on a rich diet of mineral components found within the cave's crystals. To the thrill of the scientific community, this discovery stretched the possibilities of organic life's unconventional living conditions… A possible lesson to apply as we investigate inhabiting other planets.
A Lemur Graveyard
Divers exploring an underwater cave in Madagascar were shocked to find bones that belonged to a long-extinct ancestor of the modern-day lemur. This ancient relative was believed to have gone extinct as far back as 2,000 years and the unique location of the bones certainly begged the question, "how did they get there?"
The theory concluded that the giant skeletons were pushed by the current, and, over time deposited them in the cavern. And while their sheer size may have wowed the scientists at the time, they were no strangers to enormous and extinct creatures. Past discoveries have included ostriches and deer towering at 10 feet tall!
The Haunting Caves of West Wycombe
These specific caves of West Wycombe have faced some bad publicity over the years. So slandering, in fact, that they have gained a nickname for their haunting nature: Hellfire Caves. Located in South Central England, the caverns are home to some shiver-inducing carvings.
The drawings in question have been linked to the Devil, which explains the second name. And though the grottos are no product of nature, their wall art has created a supernatural reputation that either draws explorers in, or keeps the superstitious folks out.
Cramped Living Space
Following in the footsteps of organisms inhabiting extreme conditions, our next entry takes us to the Monfort Bat Sanctuary. While unhospitable to most, bats thrived in the caverns. With the use of echolocation, these night-creatures compensated for their ultra-sensitive vision by bouncing soundwaves off their surroundings.
Located on Samal Island, this hot real estate has been made home to 2.3 million bats. And according to the conservation, they house the largest population of fruit bats in the world. This achievement landed them a spot in the 2010 Guinness World Records and marked them as a tourist must-see for bat-lovers across the globe.
Smoo Cave Cemetary
Found in Northern Scotland, these caves are once again the home of a dark past. And while fossils and bones wouldn't shock the average archeologist, this latest twist has sparked intrigue within the scientific community for its gruesome remains that tell an even more sinister story.
Deep in the treacherous cavern, scientists have discovered horrific artifacts ranging from remains in troughs to decapitated skulls on spears. All these remnants, and so much more, all point towards one ghastly conclusion: Researchers have determined that this cave was home to sacrificial ritual.
Catskill Mountain's Haunting Statue
While we thought human remains would take the cake of most haunting discoveries, this sculpture gave skeletons a run for their money. In 2016, travelers made a startling discovery on a hike in New York State that left many perplexed. A mysterious figure was found in the mountains and has since been nicknamed the Crone statue.
This Catskill Mountain carving has sparked a great deal of curiosity. Since the hikers left the statue with feelings of supernatural apprehension, the discovery also made waves in the paranormal and witchcraft communities of Reddit. With its origin unknown, many were left wondering what the story of this haunting sculpture really is...
Cave discoveries don't just bring horror and disbelief, they can also bring exotic beauty and scientific wonder. Our next entry belongs to the latter, and is truly a sight for sore eyes. The olm salamander brought color and amazement to researchers upon discovery and showed us new possibilities about life in caves.
This salmon-pink aquatic amphibian inhabited the pools of caves of Slovenia and Croatia. With the potential to live over 100 years, it came as a shock to researchers that they keep their original gills from birth to death, unlike most amphibians. And while blind, these scuttering creatures navigate with electro-sensation.
Deathly Caverns: 1 of 3
Romania has its fair share of haunting folklore, but thanks to its coastal city of Constanta, we can also add deadly grottos to the list of compelling attractions. All jokes aside, this cave has been unaltered for over 5 million years... And for good reason: When disturbed, it discharges hydrogen sulfide.
But to clarify, toxic gas is not a deal-breaker to all. Despite the less than hospitable habitat, many creatures have adapted to live in the Movile Cave. Critters including centipedes and arachnids live in the cavern. And with the added odor of sulfur and eggs, it's safe to say few others are willing to call this home.
Deathly Caverns: 2 of 3
Like many of us, you might be wondering how exploration has taken place in such a poisonous environment: Brave scientists have plunged into the cave's waters in some pretty comprehensive protective gear. In addition to the hydrogen sulfide, the cavern also has roughly half the oxygen required by humans to live...
Meaning, without the proper gear, divers could fall victim to hypoxia and eventually die from lack of oxygen. But, thanks to diving tanks, exploration took place for limited increments of time to ensure safety. Despite the treacherous conditions, scientists continued to navigate the poisonous wonders this cave provided.
Deathly Caverns: 3 of 3
What kept the scientists coming back? Well, interestingly enough, it appeared that the more toxic the environment was for humans, the more jaw-dropping discoveries there were to make. The unique conditions of the poisonous waters shocked researchers with their similarities to ecosystems on sea level.
For instance, despite the lack of sunlight in the cave, bacteria were still able to receive carbon dioxide just like regular vegetation. All this, without a beam of sun entering the cavern! And even more shocking, this is the first and only place such a phenomenon has been documented on Earth.
With the inside of caves shielded from harsh weather and destruction, their interiors were preserved for centuries. Lucky for us, this means scientists were able to learn about forgotten cultures. These time capsules are found in caves all over the world, and helped teach us that we were not so different from our ancestors.
This very notion was proved to us by the paintings of an Argentinean cave. There, markings were found dating back to between 9,500 to 13,000 years ago. The hand-painted art was believed to be made from chalk powder and was seen as an early expression of creativity.
The Society of the Neanderthals
Insights into the spiritual lives of Neanderthals were discovered in a French cave, making advancements in the way we understand this ancestral species. The cave dwellers inhabited the spikey cave interiors and built formations that are believed to be for ritual or spiritual assemblies.
Specific to this cavern, over 400 mineral deposits were used for their ancient practices: Showing the sheer size and scope of their ritual. The majority of the structures included heaps and circles, and while not incredibly sophisticated for the modern human, they sure wowed the scientific community upon discovery.
Here's one to fuel your nightmares: Found lurking near the caves of Altamira in Brazil, this Anaconda broke the record for the largest snake ever recorded in history. Coming in at a whopping 880 pounds and 33 feet, the serpent snatched the title previously held by Kansas City's, 'Medusa.'
The snake was discovered by construction workers at the Northern Brazilian cave site. And when found, it appeared to be slithering further into the cavernous maze. It took an industrial-grade crane to hoist the ginormous creature from its lair, but it's unknown if more super-sized serpents continue to inhabit the cave.
This next discovery expanded our understanding of Neanderthal's cognitive behavior. Beyond creating structures and wall markings, the ancient species were also found to be prolific jewelry artists. Safe to say these primates were more talented than we thought.
In the South Eastern Spanish cave of Los Aviones, scientists discovered both drawings on the cavern's interior and jewelry. The ornaments were primarily decorated exoskeletons from the sea and were dated back to roughly 115,000 years ago. And the paintings respectively 64,000 years ago.
Ancient Cave Dwellers
Caves continued to reveal hidden secrets of past species. In the Indonesian island of Flores, clues of a lost people surfaced as fossils were discovered by researchers in the Liang Bua cave. A unique trait of these ancient humans gained them the fitting nickname 'Hobbits.'
Scientists believed the species, officially named Homo Floresiensis, had a particularly short stature. They averaged at 3 feet tall and also had proportionally small brains. Despite these traits, they thrived on the island, hunting small prey and fending off predators including a giant breed of the Komodo dragon!
Archeologists have certainly grown accustomed to uncovering bones, however, this latest discovery added a sinister twist to their expedition. In a cave in Northern Spain, skeletal remains pointed researchers to believe that a particular Neanderthal family died a heinous death.
While the bones were fragmented, the evidence was indisputable: The remains showed clear signs of cannibalism. The archeological finds, dating back 49,000 years, provided vital insight into the horrific phenomenon. It is suggested that some parts of the body were even cooked!
Rappelling to the Earth's Core
So far we've learned of many surprises waiting at the end of a cave, ranging from the frightening to the enlightening. But Ellison's Cave would have explorers thinking they'd nearly reached the Earth's core. This mega pit stretched over 12 miles and took brave-hearted trekkers down a 586-foot descent.
Now, of course, the cave does not actually reach the Earth's core, but this natural wonder in Georgia ranked 12th in deepest caves across the continent. While open to the public, entry comes with a stern warning against beginner cavers. Nicknamed the 'Fantastic Pit,' this cavern is not for novice explorers!
Nature's Christmas Lights
While the thought of bacteria wouldn't bring a smile to the face of the average person, the view inside this cave in New Zealand sure changed our minds. The phosphorescent cavern-dwelling worms hang from the grotto's ceiling patiently waiting to eat the next unsuspecting insect.
And lucky for visitors, this breed of bacteria puts on a show. The orbs light up the cave's interior, creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience for tourists. And with their soft blue light bouncing off the ceiling and water's reflection, we recommend adding a kayak tour through this grotto to your bucket list.
Unique Ancient Remains
A recent archeological discovery has left scientists puzzled as they search for further details on a new species. Within a cave in modern South Africa, researchers came across the most comprehensive uncovering of human remains in history. The added twist? The species was completely unaccounted for.
The staggering discovery has brought more questions than answers. And while scientists eventually coined the term Homo Naledi for the new hominin species, so many details are left unknown. Current theories suggest these archaic humans lived approximately 3 million years ago.
Ancient Cave with Modern Practicality
While most caves were left untouched until recent expeditions, a unique cave in China had an equally attractive modern history as it did have an ancient interior. The Karst Cave, also known as the Reed Flute Cave, has undisputable beauty. And while its foundation dates back millennia, it has a contemporary story as well.
Back in the Second World War, the Karst Cave was used as a shelter by Chinese soldiers. The fighters used the cavern to shield themselves from enemy bombs and gunfire. Today, the grotto is flooded with multi-colored lights, making it a must-see for cave enthusiasts and war history buffs alike.
Our previous entries have taught us that caves are miraculous environments for unique deposits and growths. From glowing bacteria to supersized crystals, caverns have proven to be catalysts for some of Earth's most unique beauties. But, this latest addition had us taking a second glance.
Coined by scientists as 'cave pearls,' these deposits are a unique find. And while not as precious as their authentic contemporary, they have definitely caught the attention of scientists and explorers alike. The stones were created by droplets of a rock-producing mineral called calcite, found in the cave's waters.
Plunging Underwater Cave
While our typical imagining of a cave is a rocky cavern on land, some are subaqueous. In fact, a high percentage of these natural wonders are found undersea. Just off the coast of the Bahamas are over 200 pristine blue grottos, the highest concentration on the planet.
These unique formations are simply known as 'Blue Holes,' and are easily identifiable from a bird's eye view by their piercing navy shade compared to surrounding waters. And arguably the most intriguing thing about them? The majority of these caves remain unexplored. For now...
Hidden Bodies of Water
Our entries have taught us that caves are not strictly a phenomenon of land or water, sometimes they miraculously incorporate the two elements. And the Melissani Cave is an astounding occurrence of this concept. Located off the coast of a small Greek island, this cavern was formed with an entire lake in its interior.
This jaw-dropping wonder is a short boat ride from the neighboring island and consequently pulled in a great deal of tourist attraction. Natural light floods the crystal turquoise waters that plunge a total of 65 to 95 feet in depth. On a clear day at noon, sunbeams create the illusion of the cave glowing blue.
Shocking Mineral Formations
The mineral compositions found in caves have created some truly unique structures. And, as we learned, these natural forms have been utilized for ages. One unique example is stalactites. These quintessential shapes descend from the ceiling of caves and are the result of mineral-concentrated water dripping down their sides.
A close cousin to the stalactite is stalagmite. Though identical in mineral make-up, these structures are formed by water dripping onto them, rather than water dripping off them. Therefore they grow from the ground up. While not as impressive as their suspended counterparts, these compositions are still a wonder.
Hidden Biblical Secrets
Concealed deep in the sprawling hills of the Judean desert, this latest discovery shocked scientists and historians alike. It may not be gigantic crystals or plunging underwater grottos, but the findings from this cave pointed to the highly desired Dead Sea Scrolls: A unique treasure in their own right.
Although only fragments of the scrolls were revealed in the expedition, vital artifacts pointed towards the priceless historical text. Items discovered included a 6,000-year-old skeleton of a child and the oldest recorded complete basket, dating back 10,500 years.
With their treacherous terrain posing a danger to explorers, it's no surprise that the bottoms of some caves are left unexplored. And they are not always a single drop-down, rather a complicated web of perilous twists and turns. But to their credit, explorers have trekked as deep down as their gear safely allowed them.
In the Republic of Georgia, one specific cave presented a risky challenge to scientists. Known as the Krubera Cave, the furthest descent was recorded at 6,824 feet. A staggering accomplishment considering how strenuous the expedition was. The trio of explorers was underground in cramped conditions for nearly 3 weeks!
Caves have provided foundational lessons in evolutionary science unseen in hospitable environments. Bats' use of echolocation, for example, taught us that their weak vision was balanced by the development of their biosonar abilities. And they were not alone in this, as we learned of new senses found in animals.
Having eyes was so unnecessary that the cave-dwelling fish eventually outgrew the need for them at all. That's right, rather than eyes, this animal navigated by recognizing vibrations in the water. Known as the lateral line, it ran along the vertebrae and alerted the fish of its surroundings.
Enormous Crystalline Structures
Referring back to our earlier entry, we learned that ancient lifeforms were found in mega crystals dating back over 50 million years. But the wow factor didn't end with that discovery: The crystals themselves are definitely worth their own mention. The naturally occurring gems were recorded at the height of a telephone pole!
Their impressive stature has been measured at 55 tons and 36 feet long. But more impressive is the hostile environment in which they're found. The Cave of Crystals in Mexico is fatal for humans without the necessary gear, with temperatures reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit!
Questions Left Unanswered
It's safe to say that caves have provided a fair share of shocking discoveries for explorers and scientists. From the historic remains found buried in the cavern to natural wonders, we are constantly learning more about these rocky mysteries as our technology advances.
While often left undisturbed by humans for millennia on end, we are returning to these historic places of refuge to uncover pieces of our ancestry: Including how our predecessors lived and looked. By studying the past, we are unlocking keys to our future and learning how life could be sustainable in equally hostile environments.
The Snotty Walls of Tabasco's Cave
Located deep in the hollowed cave of Tabasco, Mexico was a substance with a name that truly did it justice: Snottite. The sticky substance has grown to coat the walls of the tavern and keep intruders at bay. The mucous-like growth proved to be an excellent exterior coat for the cave, by trapping any insects that buzzed by.
Scientists learned that this substance was as resilient as it was nauseating. While the cave's makeup proved to be unhabitable for most living creatures, it was that very environment in which the snottite flourished. This concept was coined as extremophilic, meaning an organism that thrived in extreme conditions.