Grotty Grotte

Trip Start May 22, 2009
Trip End Feb 16, 2010

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Flag of France  , Midi-Pyrénées,
Thursday, October 15, 2009

The set up for working at Las Laous is a 2 day on, 1 day off system.  This works great because it means that we have a full day to go and do things and we aren’t really restricted for time.  Also, the fact that Justin and Emily have lent us a car makes it even better!  We can go farther that we could on foot or bike. 

One of the main things we were interested in seeing was the Grotte de Naiux (Caves).  Part of the fun of spending time in the mountains, is exploring the caves which lie within.  Amazing to look at these huge hulks of stone - you would think that they are solid inside as roads and towns dot the tops, but it’s far from the truth. 

This cave's claim to fame is the prehistoric art paintings on the walls.  They estimate that they are between 13 000 and 14 000 years old!  The paintings also span approximately 1000 years as well.  These caves were used  by Nomadic tribes and returned to year after year to seek shelter from the harsh weather outside.  When inside the cave, they would dwell fairly close to the entrance to take advantage of the natural light, but these paintings are deep in the cavern - some almost 3 km in!

So why did these people venture all that way with only little lamps and torches to paint pictures?  Who knows!  Walls lined with images of bison, ibex and horses (which are found in caves all throughout Europe).  Yet evidence has found that these were not the animals that they consumed.  What were they trying to say?

Walking along the uneven ground avoiding the stalagmites that pop up to perfect tripping height.  Everyone with his own flashlight to guide the way.  Further and further into the cave as daylight recedes and eyes adjust to the new light, wonderful images are revealed.  Wide expanses of huge underground rooms - like a palace.  Richly adorned with cathedral ceilings, arched entryways, dangling chandeliers, and stone sculptures filling in the corners.  Walking through this grandeur with tips of toes and hushed whispers watching as the scenery continually changes.  One moment there’s a wide expanse to the right, then it opens all around, then it‘s a tight passageway with new sights only coming into view just as you arrive there.  Catching glimpses from different flashlights playing and bouncing off of different areas on the sides of the cave, creating new shadows and deepening depths in between.  Condensation causes shimmering light and shining rocks add crystal to the chandeliers. 

Finally we arrive at the Salon Noir.  All lights had to be turned off and left on a rock by the entrance.  You can faintly hear a few exclamations from those who have a fear of the dark as the group becomes one tight mass shuffling along waiting for instructions from our guide.  Far enough now, and the group waits in solid silence for what comes next. 

Perfectly positioned, the guide turns on a single light and we’re blinded with a whole wall full of images!  Not just simple line drawing either - they are quite detailed.  Many make use of the natural contours of the rock and the shadows that it creates to add life and depth to the images.  A truly remarkable sight as image after image are revealed.

This area of the Salon Noir is an amazing room with a ceiling that corkscrews upwards creating some interesting acoustics.  A single clap lasts for over 5 seconds.  Voices are lifted upwards and bounce around changing as they go.  I can only imagine what it would be like to hear a celebration of instruments and song in a place like this.  Perhaps this is part of the significance and why people returned year after year. 

Retreating, we paused to look at some other markings that had been left:  a series of lines and dots.  Perhaps a primitive form of communication, these too have been found in many caves throughout the area.  Unfortunately, they have yet to be deciphered, so as yet we do not know what they were saying with this writing and other images. 

But also on the walls are some writings that are clearly distinguishable to the modern eye.  A more recent addition of names accompanied by dates.  Locals exploring the area long ago and the first few archaeologists to grace the entrance marked their territory with the addition of a slightly more distinguished ‘so-in-so was here’.  Dates of 1655 and 1848, with the earliest being 1602.  Of course no one is allowed to do this anymore since the cave has been open to the public, but I think that my name and date would be very interesting in 300 years time!
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