24 APRIL 1915, Page 37


AIR. BALCH tells us in his foreword that his aim in writing this book "has been to combine scientific accuracy with a readable style, which shall make an otherwise possibly dry subject interesting to the ordinary reader." He has certainly succeeded in his endeavours, for lie has the art of conveying to others some of his own enthusiasm for his subject, and thereby illuminating not only the physical darkness of the Mendip caves, but the mental dimness in which many people grope when their thoughts turn to the being vaguely known as " primitive man." This book is also interesting from the fact that its author is, if not a Mendip man, a citizen of Wells, that charming little cathedral town lying literally at the foot of the hills, and close to Wookey Hole. His researches into the lives of the cave-dwellers, both man and beast, have there- fore been carried out with the sympathetic insight of a neighbour (we had almost said of an old friend) as well as with the clear reasoning of a man of science. Professor Boyd Dawkins, whose work at Wookey Hole is well known, speaks, in the preface to this book, of Mr. Balch 's adventurous and scientific explorations of the caves. "In this particular," he remarks, "the monograph ranks with the works of M. Martel on Speleologie."

The introductory chapter gives the reader a, conduct and interesting account of the general aspects of the caves

"Here are relics of all the ages of mankind. In the little cave called the Ifyiena Den were found remains of Paleolithic man, together with the whole range of Pleistocene creatures which were his contemporaries. On the slopes around beautiful implements of the later Stone Age abound, whilst in the debris on the floor of the great cave we have unearthed the relics of an occupation which commenced at an undefined time in the Early Iron Ago, and terminated only with the abandonment of Britain by the Romans. And in the abundant human remains of the cave floor is written plainly the story of ninny a tragedy, many a tale of 'old, unhappy, far-off things' such as fiction could never invent, tales that no doubt, carried down through the ages by word of mouth, gave the caverns the reputation of being haunted."

This sinister reputation has perhaps saved the caverns from the " tramplinge " of inquisitive but superstitious country people, though it was not sufficiently alarming to deter the Trustees of Babwith's Charity from granting permission for the removal of the stalactites of the Great Cave "for the decoration, it, is said, of the poet Pope's artificial grotto at Twickenham "!

Mr. Balch gives us a very interesting account of the life led by "our forgotten progenitors," a small, dark race of men, some of whose physical characteristics may still possibly exist in the Somerset people of to-day. In these pages, and with the help of Mr. Hassall's pictures, we can enter into the routine of life in the cave, and follow the men on their expeditions against their enemies, whose dwellings they may have attacked with red-hot sling-stones of baked clay. (The bird-catchers of Southern India to this day use clay pellets, as Lady Lawley and Mrs. Penny tell us in a book which we noticed in these columns on April 10th.) We can not only recon- struct their methods of warfare and of work, such as weaving and the making of pottery, but with the help of the natives of Northern Nigeria we can almost take a hand in the games of the cavedwellers. Their near neighbours, the people of the lake villages of Glastonbury and Mears, live again for us in the work of Dr. Bulleid and of Mr. St. George Gray, and the discoveries there and in the caves point to a close connexion between the inhabitants of these places and other British tribes, as well, Professor Boyd Dawkins assures ue, "as to a commerce with those of the Continent, extending as far south as the highly civilized peoples of the Mediterranean."

• Wool:ay Huh Cayes and Cora Dweller.. By Herbert E. Bala, P.S.A. With an Introduction by Prof....tor Boyd Damian., Illnatn.ted by Period Restoration.; and nnmerou. Drawings by J. 110,11.11, R.I.. Photograph.; an4 Diagrams by J. U. Savory. Loudon: Humphrey Milford. 1-25s. not.] In speaking of the "Bones of the Cave" Mr. Balch admits (a little reluctantly we suspect) that, "at least on occasion, the people who occupied the Cave for some time before, and during the early part of the Roman occupation, were guilty of cannibalism. The earliest people were not so, or If they were, they never left traces of their meals where they would bo found by us, and I incline to the belief that this depravity was developed later on."

However this may be, the cave-dwellers cooked and ate "long. pig" as well as wild boar, and the lake village folk impaled their enemies' skulls on their palisade, proceedings which, as Mr. Balch says, may well " clash with preconceived ideas as to the good behaviour of our forefathers" The cave people, too, seem to lack the excuse made for some cannibals, in that their supply of other animal food must have been abundant, There is a very interesting chapter on the "Hyena Den of Wookey Hole, one of the most celebrated bone caves of this country." It was that explored by Professor Boyd Dawkins in 1819. Mr. Balch brings vividly before us the clever ways of the hycenas, shows us how the packs hunted their prey. such as the mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros, elks, bears, or lions, "along the slopes of Mendip until they succeeded in driving them over the cliff" into the Den far below, where the maimed quarry could then be devoured at leisure and in comparative safety. He can point out to us the narrow ledge of rock to which the young hyenas retired with their share of the carcase, for have not the bones in this particular place only been gnawed by small teeth ? Mr. Hassall's picture of " Wookey Hole in Pleistocene Times" shows us the scene of a bunt, and it is interesting to know that "only a few years ago some dogs of the neighbourhood, returning to the savage habits of their ancestors, worried some cattle on the hillside, till at last they broke through the protecting fence at the head of the Wookey Hole Ravine, and were driven over it, two being killed outright, and a third so maimed that it bad to be destroyed. Thus did Professor Boyd Dawkins's theory receive ample proof, and the large accumulation of bones in the Den is readily explained."

Among the curious natural phenomena of the cave, perhaps the most striking are the remarkable noises that are occasionally to be heard in it. Clement of Alexandria, who died about A.D. 220, is, according to the Rev. C. Holmes, "supposed to refer to them in a well-known passage of the Stromata ; 'Those who have composed histories say that in Britain is a certain cave at the side of a mountain, and at the entrance a gap ; when, then, the wind blows into the cave and is drawn on into the bosom of the interior, a sound is heard as of the clashing of numerous cymbals.' " It is a curious thought that these musical sounds, which are produced by the ebb and flow of water in the caves, must have been heard "in ancient days," if not "by emperor and clown," then by the "sad heart of" these people, whose days were spent in many a fierce struggle against strange odds.

We have left ourselves but little space in which to praise Mr. J. H. Savory's beautiful photographs and the excellent plans and diagrams with which the volume is well supplied, but we most call the reader's attention to the adventures of the "cavemen" of to-day, and to Mr. Hassall's spirited sketches of them in some remarkably "tight places." The story of the narrow escape of an exploring party in a summer flood in 1910 reminds us of Coneuelo's subterranean adventure, for though Mr. Balch's friends had nothing to fear from a &lank°, they were as nearly engulfed by a rushing torrent as was George Sand's heroine.