By: Raymond Greiner
Jim Fletcher has been an archeological researcher for twenty years, sponsored by university grants and government funded research teams. His office is in his home. His laboratory is strewn with artifacts, and a variety of ancient stone tools, flint knives, arrowheads and spearheads of different shapes and dimension. Jim is a lanky, forty-five years old, and never married. While sitting at his desk the phone rang, “Hello, Jim Fletcher, speaking.”
“Mr. Fletcher, my name is Horace Jacobson, and I own property and live in a remote area in the Appalachian Range in northern Virginia. I have owned one hundred acres of wooded highlands for thirty-five years. I retired from the railroad, and do more exploring in the area now. I found something I was unaware of all these years, and need to discuss this discovery with someone knowledgeable of ancient cultures. I called the National Geographic Society, and briefly explained my circumstance, and they gave me your number.
“On the steep side of a hill on my property I discovered a cave I never knew existed. It was overgrown with trees, which made it undetectable. I noticed it by accident, wasn’t even sure it was a cave. As I looked closer I realized it was. I cut away smaller trees and worked my way to the cave’s entrance. I shined my flashlight into the cave as was startled at what it revealed. It was evident this cave had been occupied by early humans. Stone tools are present, and also flint arrowheads, plus a few broken pottery bowls, and remnants of woven baskets. The most interesting feature of this cave is the walls. They are covered with hundreds of small-carved scenes and figures, which appear to be a narration of the lives of the occupants of this cave. What are your thoughts on this?”
Fletcher said, “Horace, you’ve stumbled onto an archeologist’s dream. A few bands moved into your area shortly after the glacier period, thousands of years ago, and occupied this geographic zone. They’re classified as early, modern human species, and were advanced, skilled hunter-gatherers. Caves were commonly sought as permanent dwellings, and they also built shelters. They discovered flint and methods to fabricate knives, tools, spearheads and arrowheads. They learned hide-tanning skills to make warm clothing, and built fire pits near cave entrances to add comfort. Their bands were small, usually one or two families, and functioned with absolute precision and harmony. It’s my favorite historic period of human development.
“I will visit, and we can investigate your discovery in depth. Call me in two days and I will update you on my scheduled time to visit.”
Horace called Jim to give specific directions, “You can stay with me, as long as you desire. My wife died last year. It’s a small, but comfortable, house.”
“Thanks Horace, I can guarantee you will enjoy piecing this historic puzzle together. I can make the trip in one day. I plan to arrive at your house tomorrow around six PM.”
“Okay, Jim, I’ll be waiting.”
The house was located about a ¼ mile off a two lane paved highway, accessed by a narrow gravel road. Fletcher arrived, and pulled into Horace’s driveway. The home was built in the late 19th century, and was in very good condition, representing typical country homes of that period.
As Jim entered the drive a big hound bounded toward him, barking and wagging his tail. Horace greeted Jim, “Nice to meet you, Jim, this is my dog, Red, he’s a red-bone hound, and loves visitors. He’s not a very good watchdog, but living so remote unwanted intrusion is seldom a concern.
“This is exciting, I haven’t told anyone about this cave for fear it would be looted. It’s a real treasure.”
Jim responded, “Good decision. After we do our excavation of the cave I’ll contact several anthropological groups and after they evaluate our findings they’ll likely offer to purchase selected items for museums.”
As Jim and Horace entered the cave, each carrying a flashlight, it was an unforgettable experience. It was clearly evident ancients had lived here, as haunting emotions surfaced. Jim has sensed these feelings on many occasions. These sentiments prompted Jim’s inquisitive thoughts, forming the desire to investigate and learn details of early human habitation.
As Horace had described, the walls were covered with small-carved drawings narrating daily events, and what occurred during the cave’s occupancy.
Jim said, “I’ve seen similar drawing in caves in France and Germany; although, I’ve never seen this many in a single cave.”
Jim had a camera with a strobe flash, and began photographing the many drawings.
Jim said, “Horace, I need time to evaluate these carvings. We must leave the artifacts in place until I can coordinate with my search team, and excavate the cave, and the surrounding area. In the meantime, I will work to interpret this story as it relates to what exactly happened here. I have interpreted ancient cave carvings on several occasions during my career, learning from experts. These drawing simulate language, and it’s my opinion the occupants date to the decline of the North American glacier period. Glacier activity receded significantly over 12,000 years ago, and I estimate your cave’s occupation dates back approximately 10,000 years. Research scientists can carbon date items to give more accuracy to my analysis. Archeological science has not been successful learning exactly when languages were formed, but it’s apparent the people present during your cave’s occupation had discovered efficient communication skills. They could not have achieved success without ability to communicate, and coordinate tasks with proficiency. They displayed unity, with ability to confront challenges, and exhibited quality lives in unison with Earth’s natural offerings and conditions. Advantages existed during hunter-gather eras. Agriculture had yet to develop on a large scale, stalling this evolutionary step, because of sparse populous dispersion. Food acquisition within hunter-gatherer format worked well. Agriculture development in the Fertile Crescent was an evolutionary step in response to support population expansion in this geographic area, forming the earliest urban zones. Hunter-gatherer cultures were self-sufficient, and functioned in concert with nature’s design, a necessity for survival.
“My interpretation of these cave drawings will unfold a description of the cave dweller’s lives, and I’ll share this with you.”
Horace responded, “It’s difficult to imagine life then, compared to now. These details were far beyond my scope of thought when I stumbled onto this cave.
“How could they see well enough inside the cave to draw these depictions of they lives?”
Jim said, as he shined his light on the cave’s ceiling: “If you look closely you will see dark spots. These are carbon accumulations from small pine pitch lamps used for light. They were shallow; pottery bowls, using wood chips saturated with pine pitch for fuel collected in the forest. They were similar to candles, and provided enough light to create these figures and also for general function inside the cave. They used flint, struck against metallic rocks, creating spark to ignite tinder. They also used a small bow and tapered wooden pins to spin and create enough friction on a piece of dry bark to cause ignition. They were very skilled at fire starting. These people were ingenious at discovering methods for accomplishing needs. Their inventiveness has amazed me more than anything during my time as a research archeologist. Generally, modern cultures view these early humans as primitive or dull witted. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their genius is displayed in so many ways, as they were required to invent methods of coping with day-to-day survival functions, whereas during our era we rely largely on the thousands of years of accumulated knowledge unavailable to early human challenges.
“In recent years I have become acquainted with a group of young university science students, who have assisted gleaning archeological sites. I use grant money to finance excavations, which is a tedious task.
“What I intend to do is spend a week attempting to interpret these unique drawings. These are more detailed compared to others I have encountered. After I am satisfied with my effort I will assemble my research team and meet at a local college to present the story and explain our task regarding the cave’s excavation. Horace, I want you to attend, and I’ll introduce you. You’ll be delighted with this group. They’re among the best young, aspiring archeological scientists you could ever meet. I’ve worked with them on earlier digs. Some are grad students, but most have completed formal education, and are now full time researchers working for various universities as professors or assistant professors. They’re split uniformly male to female. They’ll be enthralled at your cave discovery.”
Horace said, “I look forward to meeting them. I’m overwhelmed at what has occurred since my discovery of the cave. Just think, people lived in my cave once, and it makes me contemplate what they were like, how they functioned each day.”
Jim said, “I share your thoughts, each time I find a new dig, and begin to piece it together.”
After Jim finished his interpretation he organized a meeting with his excavation team.
Jim and Horace were seated at the front of the classroom and the team knew each other from previous excavations. They gathered around, and Jim explained his good fortune, and how Horace discovered the cave. Jim introduced each member of the team to Horace.
Jim handed Horace, and each team member, a binder with laminated pages of photos encompassing the entire array of the cave’s pictorial narrative. Beneath each photo was Jim’s interpretation of what he perceived each drawing defined.
The team took seats in the classroom, and Jim began his verbal interpretation of the story of the cave people.
“It was obvious, as I deciphered these drawings they were created by one person. The expressive power and complexity advanced as they accumulated, similar to how a child advances in language use and writing skills as they mature. From my observation, I concluded our pictorial scribe was the offspring of the cave family, displaying male oriented characterization. His parents likely discovered the cave and created a place of comfort. He displays no siblings throughout the narrative, and the cave is apparently all he’s ever known.
“I have found a benefactor to support our excavation, and we can take as much time as needed to complete a thorough excavation. Each of you will be paid 50.00 a day, plus 20.00 for food and other essentials. You all know the procedure; we pack our camping gear and live on site until our work is complete.
“Please study these photographs and read my analysis, and we’ll have a campfire each evening during the excavation to interact, and discuss this story, adding your thoughts and perceptions. Your opinions are most welcome. I feel these depictions have a better opportunity for clarity and enhancement through group discussion. The general outline is the parents of the scribe we extraordinarily skilled hunter-gatherers, and were dedicated to teach their son all they knew. About mid way through the pictorial narrative a female outsider had a happenstance encounter with the scribe, ultimately becoming a new member of this family. This event occurred in the forest, when the young hunter was nearly killed by a wild boar attacking from his rear along a trail. The girl killed the boar with an arrow shot through the neck of the attacking boar. She was equal in hunting skill to the boy. This incident created a deep bond. Details are speculative, but for the remainder of the story she is included more often than anyone else. Thus far, archeology has no clear evidence that names were given during this era, but general opinions favor they were. The same is true for language. We don’t know, but as I have studied ancient people I feel certain they had good communication skills, we just don’t have clear proof or knowledge regarding language because the written word had yet to appear. Our research reveals they had to communicate well in order to be efficient at survival involving team effort for hunting and gathering food. These fascinating cave drawings are clear proof they commonly expressed their lives, and felt love emotions, that intensified unity.
“As you’re aware, archeological research emulates time travel. We’ll go back 10,000 years, and touch the lives of these cave dwellers and this always leaves us with a deep sense of personal attachment to them and their lives. I’m excited about this project, as I know you all are also. I’ll contact each of you early next week to give details and directions to Horace’s property. Horace tells me there is an ideal camping area below the cave’s entrance along a small river, and the water is pure enough to drink. It was likely the cave dweller’s source for water.
“Thanks so much, for coming. Since we have worked together previously this strengthens our effort, which is invaluable to the overall success of this excavation.”
The team arrived at Horace’s home over the course of a few days. Jim’s pick up truck was stacked with wooden crates to store and transport discoveries. Camps were set up along the river, just below the cave’s entrance. The next day excavation will begin.
The team split into pairs. Some were assigned inside the cave and others scoured the surrounding vicinity. Hand shovels and mattocks are standard tools for archeological excavators. Inside the cave teams used headlamps to assist locating relics. Horace volunteered, and he teamed with Jim.
Hand digging proceeds slowly as to not damage discovered items, hoping to find an intact pottery vessel of some form. Small pieces were put in envelopes and labeled. This searching is tedious work, and each shovel load was carefully sifted for the slightest evidence. Horace and Jim worked outside the cave and on a plateau just above the cave they discovered a gravesite. Rocks were piled uniformly revealing a distinct two-person grave. The people of this era buried their dead, covered with rocks to protect the bodies from mutilation. Jim and Horace began moving stones to gain access to skeletal remains. This will disclose many things, if the bones are intact. It was getting late and they decided to resume the next morning.
That evening, after meals, the team gathered around the central campfire for discussion.
Jim said, opening his photo album of the drawings to a selected page, “This drawing depicts an event, and I was uncertain what it depicts. It shows the moon and the sun side by side, and beneath this depiction are two small flames. I conjecture this graphic relates to the death of the scribe’s parents. This makes sense, because the story continues, and his parents are excluded from the narrative. From this point forward it describes the activity of the scribe and his partner only. The parents may have either died simultaneously, or very close together in time. I sense the flames represent their lives, and the moon and sun were of symbolic spiritual importance to those during this period. They were spiritually attached to the celestial bodies, observing them habitually, developing a sincere awareness of their presence, and forming connective reverence long before organized religions. Near the end of the scribe’s narrative it shows a single flame again with the moon and sun hovering over it. I feel this is when the scribe’s loving partner died, and it is impossible to gain clear understanding regarding these time intervals, but it could have been many years. The drawings ended abruptly after another series of drawings and this could mean one of either two scenarios. Either the scribe stopped, his narrative, or died. It’s the most difficult part of this study, not knowing time intervals, and details of events. We know these early humans seldom lived long lives, since it took the strength of youth to survive, and the narrative suggests the partners were childless.
“As we uncover artifacts new findings will give further clues and details and clarity associated with this graphic story. The grave discoveries caused me to look more closely to their relationship to the narrative.”
Two married team members, Rebecca and Richard McElroy, had assisted Jim on three previous sites and added valuable knowledge and experience.
Rebecca said, “It does align with our roughly calculated timeline in relationship to his parents passing. We can’t know years, since nothing attached to the pictorial story appears to relate to time increments, and during this period there were no calendars. Sunrise and sunset represented time references. We can assume after their loss the remaining pair ventured forward with their lives, as the story depicts life’s continuation.
“Richard and I are hoping to find more pottery pieces, and with some luck an intact vessel. We really want to find one of those pine pitch lamps. Maybe we will eventually. Those lamps made it possible to create this story. We share a sense of emotional bonding with these cave people. I am overtaken with respect for them. I feel a sense of being with them, feelings of love.”
Jim said, “I have spent a large portion of my adult life studying and pondering ancient social and cultural formats. It grabbed me early in my career. The ancients were more aligned with Earth, and its natural offerings. They had yet to create superficial material wealth. Money came later, as human density increased, and congregated. Urban zones formed, and agriculture advanced to accommodate population expansion’s food requirements. During the time of our cave family small groups were geographically widespread. Likely some trade and bartering went on, when contacts were made, but in general, their lives emulated animals of the forest.”
Rebecca asked, “So, is our modern species better off than the ancients? As population expansion and politically infused dominance replaced the close-knit, rhythmic lives demonstrated by ancient cultures. The power of money opened a wide door for social corruption, at every imaginable level and design. How can we ever achieve cultural balance demonstrated by early humanity?”
Jim responded, “It may not be possible. I feel much of the current era’s misdirection is human density. To feed, house and educate the masses is a huge challenge, and because modern design manifested so differently than ancient cultures, it must collectively adapt to influences associated with its social structure, which is what the ancients did; although, they looked to the Earth directly, with physical attachment for survival. Modern civil structure is self-created, and directed away from Earth’s natural configurations. This modern design we live in today represents a fraction of the human timeline. Our cave people were a more advanced hunter-gatherer group, but ancient Neanderthal was nearly as skilled, and lasted as a species over 300,000 years. The Bronze Age was a pivot point, when more efficient agriculture tools were invented. Urban zones expanded, and the entire civil structure changed course, becoming attached to fiscal power with strict government’s ruling influence. Governmental power, and geographic boundaries, ultimately manifested large-scale warfare, and agricultural tools were reshaped into weapons. Harvest sickles were altered to become swords, and we expanded weaponry from that base to where we are today, and still expanding.
“Even today in very isolated areas we can find people continuing to embrace the hunter-gatherer approach to living, at least on a limited scale.”
The team continued their excavation all summer and found many relics. Horace and Jim found another gravesite. It was a single grave and they concluded it was the scribe’s partner. It remained a mystery what happened to the scribe. Richard and Rebecca found many intact pottery vessels and were delighted to discover these precious items. Horace and Jim carefully packed the bones from the double gravesite marking them either one or two to associate bones from the individual graves. The single gravesite was cataloged separately.
Fall arrived, and the nightly campfires were more appreciated. As the team discussed things overall everyone felt positive emotions as their job wound down. Crates and boxes filled Jim’s truck and Richard and Rebecca also had a pick-up truck and it was loaded also.
Rebecca said, “One major disappointment is we were unable to find one of those pitch lamps. I so wanted to find one since these lamps played such an important part in the story. We combed every square inch of that cave.”
Jim said, “It is a mystery, they must have had many such lamps they used over the years.”
Horace exclaimed, “Look at the cave.”
Everyone stopped talking, and looked at the cave. The cave was emitting light. It startled the team, and they all took flashlights and climbed to the cave.
As the team entered the cave it was a moment of a lifetime. Four pine pitch lamps, flickering with bright flames in a square pattern, and in the center of the square was a single lamp, which was unlit, sitting on a small mound of beautiful selected stones. The team fell silent, and stared in disbelief, not knowing how to respond. They looked at each other seeking explanation for this event.
Rebecca looked at Jim with tears in her eyes. “It’s the cave people, their spirits remain here, and they are telling us they love us. We have touched their lives and this is their gratification gift to us.”
The team members fell silent; they were mesmerized and unable to respond.
Jim spoke, “Rebecca, the unlit lamp is a gift to you, and I feel we should leave the other four to remain in this cave. Horace plans to plant saplings covering the cave entrance and the cave will remain a secret, only to be known by those who participated in this amazing event. One day, we may all gather again at his place, but for now our job is complete.”
Jim found a museum for the precious artifacts. Horace would not take payment, saying he had plenty of money, and Rebecca had her lamp. In years to come Horace became a permanent member of the search team, and traveled with Jim to many newly discovered archeological digs. The brightly flickering lights remained fixed in the minds of those who shared that special moment in the cave. The lamps of love will never be forgotten.