sign in a cave in Laos

23 November 2008

Cave dwellers of modern times - BT

Published on The Brunei Times (

Still living down to earth as modern cave dwellers

One of the region's oldest human settlement (Top): A replica of the Perak Man dig site. Far from the crowd: Even today some people still choose to live in caves. (Above and Middle) In Malaysia, there are some people that have chosen a nice small dry cave and converted it into a home. Pictures: Liz Price

Sunday, November 23, 2008

WHEN humans first started walking on this planet, they used caves as shelters. Caves were ideal places as they provided shelter from the natural elements such as rain, storms, cold or heat. Often the caves chosen were on high ground or on hill slopes in valleys.

These provided a good view over the surrounding plains and countryside. From here the inhabitants could see any predators in the form of wild animals or other humans, and also see animals which were suitable for hunting.

At that time humans were hunter gatherers. These people belonged to a society whose primary subsistence method involved the direct procurement of edible plants and animals from the wild. They foraged and hunted and probably lived a nomad lifestyle. They possibly hadn't started the process of domestication of plants or animals.

Traditionally men were the hunters of wild animals, and women the gatherers of plants for food, medicines and handcrafts. This way of life was in existence for some two million years, from the early Hominids during the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, through the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age until the start of the Neolithic or New Stone Age.

During that time people had stone tools. These were used as arrow and spear heads, and as cutting and scraping implements. So they were able to hunt large animals, and then prepare the carcass for various purposes. None of the animal was wasted as what couldn't be eaten was used in other ways, such as the skin for making clothes, and the sinews and bones used to make tools.

Man knew how to use fire, so was able to cook the meat and other foods, and later on could improve some tools by heat. It was a simple existence and probably quite comfortable if they had chosen a good cave.

Evidence of this lifestyle has been found by archaeologists from caves all over the world. Digging in caves has revealed plenty of remains of these ancient people.

Some caves show existence of prehistoric burials, others have remains of fire and food items. There might be old tools buried as well as jewellery used by those people. All these items can be dated to reveal how long ago people lived in those caves.

Cave man also spent his leisure time drawing paintings on the walls. Often these scenes depicted hunting parties and the animals that existed at that time. The oldest known cave paintings are in Europe and date back some 30,000 years.

Jumping forward to the present time, we find that humans still use caves. One of the most common uses is for religious purposes.

Temples and shrines are built into caves and provide peaceful places for worship and meditation. This is particularly common in caves around Southeast Asia.

Some caves are also used as homes for hermits and religious people who want to escape from the modern day world. Caves have been used as factories and stores and hideouts, especially during periods of war.

Today caves might be used as wine cellars (for storage), or for growing mushrooms or aging and storing cheese and wine, as they have a relatively constant temperature and absence of natural light.

Many of the more beautiful caves have been turned into commercial sites and fitted with electric lighting and walkways so the general public can enjoy the beauty of the underworld. These show caves are particularly popular and some really stunning examples can be seen throughout the world.

And even today some people still choose to live in caves. In Malaysia I've seen a few examples where people have chosen a nice small dry cave and converted it into a home. However more commonly people use cliffs and rock shelters; they build wooden houses in front of the cliff, using the natural wall as the back of the house.

There is a danger of course from rockfalls and there have been some tragedies in the past where cliff dwellers were killed by falling rocks. But over time people return and build new houses.

Of course today these cave dwellers don't have to hunt their food, they can simply go to the local shop or keep their own livestock and crops.

They even have an electric supply so can enjoy modern luxuries such as refrigerators and televisions. I've even seen a barber shop built into one cliff face and with the walls painted white, it provides a unique setting to have a hair cut.

Caves have been an important part of Man's existence since prehistoric times, and will probably continue to be used by people in the centuries to come. The Brunei Times

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