FIND THE SPRING AND YOU’LL FIND THE CAVE
In the Périgord, holes and cavities are yours for the asking, right
there under your feet, but finding them is quite another matter. When Eric Castang
and Jean Michel Degeix are out searching they cannot conceal their excitement. On
Saturdays and Sundays they meet up and start ferreting about, constantly on the
look-out. To avoid pointless digging there are the sure fire signs – the tumuli,
the badger burrows, the puffs of air –but there’s also a sort of intuition, a sixth
sense that Eric Castang has developed over the years.
With the aid of a pendulum he locates the cavities, caves, dried out riverbeds or
rivers fed by ground water, just as water diviners do. And that is how our two friends
began digging into the hillside just outside Le Bugue last autumn. On that day,
19 November 2005, they had been prospecting accompanied by Jean Michel Degeix’s
son, 3 year old Mykolas, who was the first to see their amazing find : a cave with
five or six skeletons in it, each of them several thousand years old !
« Mykolas Cave », as the finders promptly named it, quickly became
the talk of the town. But, anxious to protect the site so the scientists could go
about their job unhindered, they have kept remarkably quiet. On 21 November 2005
they notified the appropriate state departments of their discovery and the conventional
course of action was immediately underway.
Norbert Aujoulat, the prominent cave art specialist from the National
Centre of Prehistory in Périgueux and Nathalie Fourment and Olivier Ferrullo from
the Regional Archaeological Organisation (DRAC Aquitaine) came to the spot on 7
December 2005 to take bone and ceramics samples in the presence of the finders.
By March 2006 carbon dating carried out in Poland had determined that :
- one of the men whose skeleton had been found had been resting there for
- one of the other four or five had only been there for 3,600 years
So they couldn’t possibly have known each other, but the site had
indubitably been re-used after a gap in time of 1,400 years !
A considerable lapse of time stretching from the Copper Age to the
and which raises the question of just how essential this discovery is
(see article on Protohistory). This cave, a truly
fascinating place, looks like a sort of underground dolmen with a very flat ceiling
and convex walls. There are questions that remain unanswered :
- How old are the the other three or four skeletons ?
- Did they perform funeral rites in this cave ?
One thing is for sure : the site has much to reveal about the way
our Neolithic ancestors lived as they began to master metallurgy.
Man, who had hitherto been nomadic, was starting to settle down and
enjoy the pleasures of farming. This period, which is called Protohistory, is scarcely
talked about and barely mentioned in history books. And yet it was at that time
in history that the first peasant communities started to develop : those very same
communities that fashioned the traditions and the landscapes that have since become
so familiar to us.
A team of researchers from Bordeaux, keen to learn more from this
discovery, are busy studying the possibility of carrying out excavations in Mykolas
Cave next year. The proposed plan of action will involve Bordeaux Anthropological
Laboratory, the Regional Department of Archaeology and the finders themselves, according
to Mr Dany Barraud, regional curator in charge of archaeological matters.
A most promising proposal for the finders who would take an active
part in this dive into the history of mankind.
Eric Castang and Jean-Michel Degeix are members of the
G3S caving club, based in Périgueux, which groups together cavers, speleologists
and sportsmen. This club has been in existence for thirty years and contributes
towards mapping the subterranean world with the aim of protecting it. Thus, for
example, when they dive into stream passages, they are able to report traces of
pollution. G3S regularly go prospecting in the Périgord as well as organising expeditions
We wish to thank Mr Dany Barraud, regional archaeology
curator, for having supervised this article and all the illustrations and for authorizing