Speleology has been my hobby for over 30 years and I want to explain what it is and why it is more important that ever today.
Speleology is the science of caves. There are other names, such as caving, spelunking and potholing which refer more to the technical side of things. Because, clearly, in order to explore the caves, one has to be able to go into and move in them through pits and narrow passages and often, water. The name “Speleology” refers more to the scientific body of research covered by Speleology as a cross-section of natural and social sciences. It is a compound word deriving from the Greek words “spelaion” (cave) and “logos” (reason, word), It was introduced by the French historian Emile Riviere in the 1890.
The first “Society for the Study of Caves” was founded in 1879 in Vienna and the first cave exploration team was gathered as a “Caving Section” with the Mountaineering Society of Trieste in 1883.
The most important aspect Speleology and the foundation of all subsequent research is the surveying of the caves. With today’s laser and digital technology, this can be done very precisely. When I was starting out in the 1980s, the surveying of caves was still done using paper and pencil in the cave and holding a compass and calculating the length of the passage using Pythagoras’s theorem afterwards.
While the exploration of caves is a relatively new field in the history of mankind, we can safely assume that using caves as homes and shelters is as old as mankind. The utilization of caves for sacred purposes as well as dwellings has left many cultural monuments such as rock monasteries and other sanctuaries. The mythological perception of the underworld is very well documented in ancient literature. Caves are a part of our cultural heritage and in terms of psychology, the cave is an ancient archetype of the human psyche, as evidenced in the psychoanalysis and dream research.
Last but not least, there is natural beauty to be found in caves with the various formations that nature took millions of years to form! This, together with the spirit of adventure surrounding the caving community, is what has been drawing me to Speleology since I was a teenager.
Why is speleology important to everyone and not just to the cavers practicing it? Let me mention but a few reasons:
– Water: One fifth of the world’s population is existentially dependent on underground water for its water supply. 18% of the Swiss water supply comes from underground water. Taking care of the underground water is taking care of of vital need of mankind! And water moves in unnoticeable ways. I have seen, for example, how two rivers come together underground, emerge on the other side of the cave as one river, disappear in a field to re-emerge as a river again. All these passages have different names as the population does not know this is the same water, but speleologists know.
– Bats: The importance of bats as the second most diverse and abundant order of mammals can hardly be exaggerated. The ecological and economic benefits obtained from bats include things like biological pest control and plant seed dispersal. Most bats are insect-eaters and one bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour. The conservation of bats should be top priority to everybody.
– Construction works: All construction works rely upon advice and inputs from Speleology. The state and nature of the ground under construction sites, especially in Karst regions, is studied based on the work of speleologists.
Why research caves? Because with the ecological issues we are facing, caves are more important than ever in today’s world. And if you go into a cave, I urge you to subscribe to the Speleologist Credo:
1. Take nothing but pictures!
2. Leave nothing but footprints!
3. Kill nothing but time!
And an even more contemporary credo is this: „Take nothing but photographs, do not leave any traces of your visit”.
Yes, even footprints are too much!
© Teodora Rudolph. All rights reserved 2017, Zürich, Switzerland
Picture Teodora Rudolph