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A cave or cavern is a natural void in the ground,[1][2] specifically a space large enough for a human to enter. Caves often form by the weathering of rock and often extend deep underground. The word cave can also refer to much smaller openings such as sea caves, rock shelters, and grottos, though strictly speaking a cave is exogene, meaning it is deeper than its opening is wide,[3] and a rock shelter is endogene.[4]

Speleology is the science of exploration and study of all aspect of caves and the cave environment. Visiting or exploring caves for recreation may be called caving, potholing, or spelunking.

Taíno petroglyphs in a cave in Puerto Rico

Throughout history, primitive peoples have made use of caves. The earliest human fossils found in caves come from a series of caves near Krugersdorp and Mokopane in South Africa. The cave sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai B, Drimolen, Malapa, Cooper's D, Gladysvale, Gondolin and Makapansgat have yielded a range of early human species dating back to between three and one million years ago, including Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus sediba and Paranthropus robustus. However, it is not generally thought that these early humans were living in the caves, but that they were brought into the caves by carnivores that had killed them.

The first early hominid ever found in Africa, the Taung Child in 1924, was also thought for many years to come from a cave, where it had been deposited after being predated on by an eagle. However, this is now debated (Hopley et al., 2013; Am. J. Phys. Anthrop.). Caves do form in the dolomite of the Ghaap Plateau, including the Early, Middle and Later Stone Age site of Wonderwerk Cave; however, the caves that form along the escarpment's edge, like that hypothesised for the Taung Child, are formed within a secondary limestone deposit called tufa. There is numerous evidence for other early human species inhabiting caves from at least one million years ago in different parts of the world, including Homo erectus in China at Zhoukoudian, Homo rhodesiensis in South Africa at the Cave of Hearths (Makapansgat), Homo neandertalensis and Homo heidelbergensis in Europe at Archaeological Site of Atapuerca, Homo floresiensis in Indonesia, and the Denisovans in southern Siberia.

In southern Africa, early modern humans regularly used sea caves as shelter starting about 180,000 years ago when they learned to exploit the sea for the first time (Marean et al., 2007; Nature). The oldest known site is PP13B at Pinnacle Point. This may have allowed rapid expansion of humans out of Africa and colonization of areas of the world such as Australia by 60–50,000 years ago. Throughout southern Africa, Australia, and Europe, early modern humans used caves and rock shelters as sites for rock art, such as those at Giants Castle. Caves such as the yaodong in China were used for shelter; other caves were used for burials (such as rock-cut tombs), or as religious sites (such as Buddhist caves). Among the known sacred caves are China's Cave of a Thousand Buddhas[21] and the sacred caves of Crete.

Caves and acoustics

The importance of sound in caves predates a modern understanding of acoustics. Archaeologists have uncovered relationships between paintings of dots and lines, in specific areas of resonance, within the caves of Spain and France, as well as instruments depicting paleolithic motifs,[22] indicators of musical events and rituals. Clusters of paintings were often founds in areas with notable acoustics, sometimes even replicating the sounds of the animals depicted on the walls. The human voice was also theorized to be used as an echolocation device to navigate darker areas of the caves where torches were less useful. [23] Dots of red ochre are often found in spaces with the highest resonance, where the production of paintings

Of these animals, the troglobites are perhaps the most unusual organisms. Troglobitic species often show a number of characteristics, termed troglomorphic, associated with their adaptation to subterranean life. These characteristics may include a loss of pigment (often resulting in a pale or white coloration), a loss of eyes (or at least of optical functionality), an elongation of appendages, and an enhancement of other senses (such as the ability to sense vibrations in water). Aquatic troglobites (or stygobites), such as the endangered Alabama cave shrimp, live in bodies of water found in caves and get nutrients from detritus washed into their caves and from the feces of bats and other cave inhabitants. Other aquatic troglobites include cave fish, and cave salamanders such as the olm and the Texas blind salamander.

Cave insects such as Oligaphorura (formerly Archaphorura) schoetti are troglophiles, reaching 1.7 millimetres (0.067 in) in length. They have extensive distribution and have been studied fairly widely. Most specimens are female, but a male specimen was collected from St Cuthberts Swallet in 1969.

Bats, such as the gray bat and Mexican free-tailed bat, are trogloxenes and are often found in caves; they forage outside of the caves. Some species of cave crickets are classified as trogloxenes, because they roost in caves by day and forage above ground at night.

Because of the fragile nature of the cave ecosystem, and the fact that cave regions tend to be isolated from one another, caves harbor a number of endangered species, such as the Tooth cave spider, liphistius trapdoor spider, and the gray bat.

Caves are visited by many surface-living animals, including humans. These are usually relatively short-lived incursions, due to the lack of light and sustenance.

Cave entrances often have typical florae. For instance, in the eastern temperate United States, cave entrances are most frequently (and often densely) populated by the bulblet fern, Cystopteris bulbifera.

Throughout history, primitive peoples have made use of caves. The earliest human fossils found in caves come from a series of caves near Krugersdorp and Mokopane in South Africa. The cave sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai B, Drimolen, Malapa, Cooper's D, Gladysvale, Gondolin and Makapansgat have yielded a range of early human species dating back to between three and one million years ago, including Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus sediba and Paranthropus robustus. However, it is not generally thought that these early humans were living in the caves, but that they were brought into the caves by carnivores that had killed them.

The first early hominid ever found in Africa, the Taung Child in 1924, was also thought for many years to come from a cave, where it had been deposited after being predated on by an eagle. However, this is now debated (Hopley et al., 2013; Am. J. Phys. Anthrop.). Caves do form in the dolomite of the Ghaap Plateau, including the Early, Middle and Later Stone Age site of Wonderwerk Cave; however, the caves that form along the escarpment's edge, like that hypothesised for the Taung Child, are formed within a secondary limestone deposit called tufa. There is numerous evidence for other early human species inhabiting caves from at least one million years ago in different parts of the world, including Homo erectus in China at Zhoukoudian, Homo rhodesiensis in South Africa at the Cave of Hearths (Makapansgat), Homo neandertalensis and Taung Child in 1924, was also thought for many years to come from a cave, where it had been deposited after being predated on by an eagle. However, this is now debated (Hopley et al., 2013; Am. J. Phys. Anthrop.). Caves do form in the dolomite of the Ghaap Plateau, including the Early, Middle and Later Stone Age site of Wonderwerk Cave; however, the caves that form along the escarpment's edge, like that hypothesised for the Taung Child, are formed within a secondary limestone deposit called tufa. There is numerous evidence for other early human species inhabiting caves from at least one million years ago in different parts of the world, including Homo erectus in China at Zhoukoudian, Homo rhodesiensis in South Africa at the Cave of Hearths (Makapansgat), Homo neandertalensis and Homo heidelbergensis in Europe at Archaeological Site of Atapuerca, Homo floresiensis in Indonesia, and the Denisovans in southern Siberia.

In southern Africa, early modern humans regularly used sea caves as shelter starting about 180,000 years ago when they learned to exploit the sea for the first time (Marean et al., 2007; Nature). The oldest known site is PP13B at Pinnacle Point. This may have allowed rapid expansion of humans out of Africa and colonization of areas of the world such as Australia by 60–50,000 years ago. Throughout southern Africa, Australia, and Europe, early modern humans used caves and rock shelters as sites for rock art, such as those at Giants Castle. Caves such as the yaodong in China were used for shelter; other caves were used for burials (such as rock-cut tombs), or as religious sites (such as Buddhist caves). Among the known sacred caves are China's Cave of a Thousand Buddhas[21] and the sacred caves of Crete.

The importance of sound in caves predates a modern understanding of acoustics. Archaeologists have uncovered relationships between paintings of dots and lines, in specific areas of resonance, within the caves of Spain and France, as well as instruments depicting paleolithic motifs,[22] indicators of musical events and rituals. Clusters of paintings were often founds in areas with notable acoustics, sometimes even replicating the sounds of the animals depicted on the walls. The human voice was also theorized to be used as an echolocation device to navigate darker areas of the caves where torches were less useful. [23] Dots of red ochre are often found in spaces with the highest resonance, where the production of paintings was too difficult. Here, singing is to be the most efficient way to explore caves. [24]

Caves continue to provide usage for modern-day explorers of acoustics. Today Cumberland Caverns provides one of the best examples for modern musical usages of caves. Not only are caves utilized for the reverberations, but for the dampening qualities of their a

Caves continue to provide usage for modern-day explorers of acoustics. Today Cumberland Caverns provides one of the best examples for modern musical usages of caves. Not only are caves utilized for the reverberations, but for the dampening qualities of their abnormal faces as well. The irregularities in the walls of the Cumberland Caverns diffuse sounds bouncing off the walls and give the space and almost recording studio-like quality. [25] Caves provide importance in both their echos and their silence alike. During the 20th century musicians began to explore the possibility of using caves as locations as clubs and concert halls, including the likes of Dinah Shore, Roy Acuff, and Benny Goodman.[citation needed] Unlike today, these early performances were typically held in the mouths of the caves, as the lack of technology made depths of the interior were inaccessible with musical equipment. [26] In one circumstance, a stalagmite hanging from the ceiling of a cave was converted into a functioning organ. Unlike an organ, this instrument responds percussively like a piano, using mallets to strike the stalagmites to produce different pitches. [27]