UIS Commission on Karst Hydrogeology and Speleogenesis
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Original article
Mattes, J.
Höhlendunkel und wissbegierde - eine kulturgeschichte der höhlenforschung in europa von der antike bis zur romantik
Obscurity and curiosity - The cultural history of cave exploration in Europe from ancient world to romantic era
2012
63
-3
63
81
On the basis of the constructivist culture theory the traditional research interests of the history of science were renewed in the 1990ies. The article bases upon an oral presentation at the Austrian Society for the History of Science. In contrast to the dominating micro historic studies in the history of speleology, the paper provides an overview of the human activity in caves from ancient world to the beginning of the 19th century. This includes not only the scientific study of caves, but also sightseeing tours, the investigation and opening of caves undertaken by scientific laymen. The focus doesn’t lie on single explorers and their attainments, but concentrates on the changes in the perception and interpretation of the underground cavities as well as on the practice of the visitors and explorers. The results show an intimate correlation between the scientific and cultural discourses to the interior of the earth. The people in the antiquity and Middle Ages interpreted caves as sexualized areas, which refer to social taboos. Simultaneously caves were used for protection and as a place for religious meditations. During the Baroque period they became the location of bizarre objects, admiring promenades and aristocratic celebrations. In the Romantic period the netherworld was seen as an area of inwardness and edification. Geologists and paleontologists discovered them as archives of natural history; artists recognized caves as areas of spiritual revelation, where ancient myths were updated.