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Cave Art Mystery
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Carsten Peter

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Cave Art Mystery

    Our Dayak guide, Pak Masri, has a house on the shore of a little lake at the foot of a large limestone peak called Liang Ara Raya. When we arrived in Borneo, he told me about another cave with one or two painted hands and offered to take us there. After several hours hiking in the shade of a beautiful primeval forest, we found the small cave. But we were delighted to discover that, rather than just a couple of stenciled hands, there was a total of 32. I named the cave Gua Misna after Masri's youngest daughter.
    I had to jump into a gorge full of thorny bushes to avoid being hit by a helicopter that was taking Serge Caillaut, my caving partner, to the hospital. I got out of it a little bloody but still alive and kicking.
    A few days later I discovered two abscesses on my arm. I had gotten an infection from thorns that were still embedded under my skin. The pain was excruciating. One night when it was particularly bad, I asked Jufri, my Bugi guide, to use a scalpel to open the wounds. I gritted my teeth while he proceeded to suction out pus and blood with a snake-poison aspirator. Everyone was disgusted by it, but I felt so much better.
    Gua Tengkorak is big. The underground gallery is 66 feet (20 meters) wide and 33 feet (10 meters) high. It's full of stalactites that hang like curtains on one side and organ pipes on the other. Water has carved strange formations that have been around for millions of years. It's just fantastic.
    The archaeologists had been working there for two days, so I walked toward the end of the gallery with my little lamp fastened on my forehead to survey the area. After about 330 feet (100 meters) I found myself in a round hall. On the left, a beam of light between two rocks looked like an exit, but the passage was narrow. I retraced my steps and headed toward a tunnel that seemed to turn right. Finding my way was becoming very complex. Suddenly I heard voices in Indonesian. Had I ended up in a cave that had been taken over by bird-nest hunters? Then I moved around a large rock and observed an incredible sight: another team of archaeologists busy at work.  My lamp was small, so it wasn't until I got closer that I realized I had come full circle and walked upon my own group. A little embarrassed, I decided not to tell them about my misadventure.

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