I came across an unusual reference while researching the history of archaeological cave sites.
I found Cave Illustrations Before 1900 by T. Shaw and the book literary fell off of the shelf as I was pulling out another reference. I thumbed through the catalog and I became intrigued with Cave Illustrations’ references to “imagined” caves – caves that didn’t really exist, but were included still included in the catalog of sites.
For a publication underwritten by the British Speleothology Society, I found the idea of including “imaginary” caves in the same volume that rigorously and extensively detailed paintings, engravings, and etchings of real caves…curious.
I tracked down one of the references for an “imaginary” cave to a publication I had never heard of. Half Hours Underground: Volcanoes, Mines, and Caves. When the book finally arrived from the British Library, I found myself with a quaint publication – part of a charming Victorian library set entitled the Half Hour Library of Travel, Nature and Science for Young Readers. Other volumes in the Half Hour Library include: Half Hours with a Naturalist, Half Hours in Many Lands, and Half Hours in the Air and Sky. If I were to guess the target age of Half Hours’ audience, I would venture it was in the neighborhood of 10-12 year old. (And we should definitely offer congratulations to Bertha Sims, for her second class prize of this particular volume, 1896.)
The archaeology in the volume receives interesting treatment, even for a young adult readership. Although publication of several real Paleolithic caves in Europe were available for the authors to describe, the authors opted to invent a cave – create an “imaginary” cave. (Although the authors do suggest that their readers look to Kent’s Cave, UK, for examples of what is described and illustrated in the volume.) The chapter begins:
“Once upon a time, so long ago that no man can tell when...”
The authors use this imaginary cave to talk about the cave formation processes, its associated artifacts, what we can infer about human behavior from those artifacts, the glacial processes of the Ice Age, and a Siberian mammoth for good measure. And a rather Victorian dose of moralism about all of the above.
The selection of an “imaginary” cave – inventing a cave – is an interesting approach to creating an archetype. Everything is put into this imaginary cave. It reads almost as a thought experiment of everything that could be attributed to “primitive” humans. Stone tools, complex tools, fire, ice ages, mammoths, etc. The stone tools that are drawn are composites of other tools – everything described is thus archetypical of “cave archaeology” and “primitive” humans.
Lacking in subtly of category, perhaps, but this is a volume for young readers. It is, however, completely in keeping with Henry Fairfield Osborn’s complex tome, Men of the Stone Age, published two decades later.