Index Page Back Page Forward Jaskinie - The Caves Page 9
Though cave bearing areas constitute only a minor part of Polish territory and the caves, as a rule, are not very big ones, Poland has a long tradition of cave exploration and study.

Early acheological works in Jaskinia Maszycka Early acheological works in Jaskinia Maszycka. Etching by T. Adjukiewicz from 1883.

History of the exploration and study of caves in Poland to 1900

Wojciech W. Wisniewski

Unfortunately, the history of speleology in Poland is little known abroad, as is shown by the fundamental study "History of Cave Science (to 1900)" by Trevor R. Shaw (1992), where Poland is mentioned only once ("underground rivers noted 1721 "). This essay presents an outline of the history of cave studies in Poland1 to 1900, similarly as in the Show's study.

Caves in the highland belt of south Poland (Krakow-Wielun Upland, Nida River Basin, Swietokrzyskie Mountains, Podolia) provided a favourable habitat for early humans. Traces of Palaeolithic man have been hitherto found in more than 50 caves on the Krakow-Wielun Upland. The oldest ones,120,000 years old, were found in Jaskinia Ciemna near Krakow. Jaskinia Raj (Swietokrzyskie Mountains) with its traces of inhabitation 50,000 years ago is the northemmost Middle Palaeolithic site in Europe. An Upper Palaeolithic industry has been named Jerzmanowice industry after findings in a cave near Krakow.

In Podolia Neolithic men penetrated quite deep into caves. In Jaskinia Werteba burials were found as far as 350 m from the entrance. It is to be noted that artifacts found in this cave were so beautiful that the site was referred to as the "Pompeii on the Dnester".

Even in the caves of the remote parts of the Pieniny mountains people dwelled during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic Periods. Artifacts belonging to the Palaeolithic Aurignac stage were found in the Aksamitka cave, while in Jaskinia w Oblazowej, the only multilayered archaeological site in the whole Carpathians, the world's oldest boomerang was found, dated by 14C method at 18,200 BP.

The caves in the highland belt of south Poland were visited and used in Roman times too. Also in Medieval times and later throughout ages (in fact till 1950s) hundreds of caves provided shelter for population of this region during invasions and wars, so frequent in the history of Poland. The scale of this phenomenon is demonstrated by the information that one of the Podolian caves provided shelter for up to 15 000 people! Written reports prove that the hiding was not always safe. It happened that people hidden in remote parts of caves were killed by, smoke when the invaders set fires at the entrances (in 1648 among others). Several caves in the Krakow-Wielun Upland were incorporated by castles; one of the castles - Olsztyn (German - Hohler Stein) - even took his name from a cave.

The area of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains is an ancient mining and metallurgical center, hence exploration and study of local caves was being undertaken there for centuries. Flint was exploited in underground mines in jurassic limestone as early as Neolithic Period, while native copper and galenite, whose deposits are of karstic nature, were mined since at least l4th century. The ancient miners not only visited the caves, they also locally used them as access routes to the ores, and later transformed them . into mine galleries.

Polish caves belong to the world's earliest mentioned caves. The oldest written note about a Polish cave comes from ca.1190. It says about Smocza Jama beneath the Wawel royal castle in Krakow. The same cave is mentioned in two texts from l3th century and one from the early l4th century. The next mention of a cave in Poland is a document from 1320 which defines the boundaries of a newly established village and mentions a cave in Czorsztyn (the Pieniny Mountains).

The Jan Dlugosz's famous chronicle appeared in the middle of l5th century. Besides Smocza Jama it also describes a karst lake in Roztocze, from which water periodically "soaks with a great noise into a nearby rocky mountain, through underground and hidden narrow openings" and it mentions an underground course of one of the nearby rivers.

An unusual court document from 1543 instructs owners of two properties in Podolia to jointly keep in good shape ladders which secure access to a cave which served as a shelter for local population.

The first cave picture from Poland was published in 1544. It presents, besides the legendary dragon, the entrance to Smocza Jama (Dragon's Hole). This is the only cave illustrated in "Kosmographie oder Beschreibung aller Lander". The work had more than 40 editions and it could contribute to the widespread knowledge of this cave all over Europe, as since that time the cave is repeatedly mentioned in European literature as a well known curiosity, also for the vine shop established in it because of its cool air (the cave is mentioned among others by M. Zeiller 1647, A. Cellarius 1659). In 1565 a king of Poland ordered to wall some of its galleries to keep water from the nearby river off.

Even caves in the Tatra Mountains, despite the difficult access, have been visited by man for a long time. The entrance parts could provide shelter for hunters already in Middle Ages and for shepherds later. The deeper parts had to be visited first by ore prospectors and miners who began exploitation late in l4th century, or even earlier. The caves provided an insight into the geological structure underground, and hematite concretions were mined from the walls of one cave. The deeper parts of caves were also visited by locals in search for "stone milk" (moonmilk) used for medication. They used tree trunks to climb walls and pitches. The oldest dated traces of visitors to caves in the Tatra (engraved inscriptions) are. From the middle of l6th century In l7th century some caves in the Beskidy Mountains also attracted ore prospectors (1643 among others).

1 Even territories wchich are now outside Poland, for example Podolia, a great area of gypsum karst (over 20 000 km2), whitch several very long caves, including the world's longest gypsum cave Optimisticheskaya) - which since the dawn of history till 1939 where a part of Poland. It is now behind Polish frontiers, but it should be mentioned here as it is closely connected with the history of Polish cave studies, especially from the point of view of the history of cave exploration. It was there that the longest cave in Poland was explored before the World War II - 8 km in the Krysztalowa cave, and 4 km of another one where known. It is a cave from this area which is covered by the first Polish publication devoted to a single cave ("Przewodnik po Jaskiniach w Krzywczu",1933 -"The Guidebook to the Caves in Krzywcze") and it is also this area which is dealt þvith in the first specialist monograph "Kras Gipsocwy Podola Pokuckiego" (1938; Gypsum Karst of the Pokutian Podolia).

Index Page Back Page Forward Jaskinie - The Caves Page 9