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Exploring the Underground Mysteries of Socotra

The underground waters of Dahaisi cave run deep. (Photo by Daniel Britton)
The underground waters of Dahaisi cave run deep. (Photo by Daniel Britton)

The first part of our adventure saw us making the arduous journey to Dahaisi cave and braving the legendary giant white snake that lurks in its recesses. Having made it to the final chamber the expedition team has been working long hours in the dark to fully document all the natural features and extraordinary rock art within the cave.

The Technology

An important part of this process was to create a detailed map of the entire cave and accustom ourselves with all aspects of this hidden realm. This task fell to our geologist and caver Peter de Geest. Instead of the traditional tape measure, inclinometer, and compass used by cavers, Peter used a combined digital-compass/clinometer/laser-range-finder device that he paired to his Android phone via Bluetooth. This allowed him to gather a huge range of data simply by pointing the laser at the cave walls and clicking a button.

Seeing the red beam that would shoot out of Peter’s hand after every click was like watching him fire a blaster ray, and it did not take a lot of imagination to feel like you were in another dimension being attacked by aliens.

An ancient pathway stretches out into the dark. (Photo by Daniel Britton)
An ancient pathway stretches out into the dark. (Photo by Daniel Britton)

Completing the survey took Peter about 14 hours and resulted in a cloud of more than 8,000 data points. Only by dragging a 3-D laser scanner into the cave could we have come close to the level of detail achieved by Peter and his blaster ray.

The Observations

The next step in this survey was to note down details about the cave. This allowed us to understand more about the morphology of the cave, how it was formed, where water could be found, and how it was used by people in the past.

Julian standing at the ancient pathway with the cut stalagmite in front. (Photo by Daniel Britton)
Julian standing at the ancient pathway with the cut stalagmite in front. (Photo by Daniel Britton)

The results were spectacular. We were able to determine that the only reason it was possible to enter Dahaisi was that sometime in the distant past the roof at the entrance had collapsed, opening up the cave to its first visitors. Analyzing the well-worn gravel deposits within the cave also allowed us to determine that during the monsoon, occasional flash floods would have washed down into the cave at a velocity of around 3,600 meters per second, filling the sump within the final chamber. The presence of all this water during the dry months would have been important for people and it may have been one of the reasons for the rock art to have been drawn there.

The People of the Past

The most exciting find made was an ancient pathway that threaded its way along the floor of the cave. The glow that these well-worn rocks gave in the torchlight was reminiscent of the trail left behind by a snail. In some of the narrower sections of the cave, stalagmites had been smashed apart to make it easier to pass, and in the steeper areas rocks had been laid on the floor to make a kind of staircase. These findings give you a real sense of the ancient people who also made this journey into the depths of Dahaisi cave, and switching off your torch it was almost possible to hear them walking past you.

Julian Jansen van Rensburg viewing the majestic beauty of the Dahaisi speleotherms. (Photo Daniel Britton)
Julian Jansen van Rensburg viewing the majestic beauty of the Dahaisi speleotherms. (Photo Daniel Britton)

 

In the final chamber we found that the edge of the rocks at the entrance had been worn smooth by countless hands that, like our own, had sought something to grab hold of before levering themselves into and out of the chamber.

Sitting quietly in the final chamber looking at the artwork and worn rock it was easy to imagine seeing people climbing down to fetch water and draw the art on the walls. Looking at the antlered men and numerous types of crosses spread across the walls one cannot help but think that this part of the cave had some form of religious function, and may have been a religious sanctuary.

The underground waters of Dahaisi cave run deep. (Photo by Daniel Britton)
A wider view of the image at top shows the surprising scale of the caves. (Photo by Daniel Britton)

The Next Mystery

Despite the long dark days that turned to starlit nights and the increasingly bad smell of people who have forgotten what it was like to wash, there was nowhere else anyone of us would have rather been. That was until the pool of water within the final chamber gave an ominous bubble as something large moved deep within it …

Read All Posts by Julian Jansen van Rensburg

Comments

  1. Duncan Jones
    England
    May 29, 2015, 1:48 pm

    Hey Julian a great article and fantastic pictures, keep up the good work!