It was mid day on the 21st of July, 1870. The sun was shining bright in a clear blue sky. The man was feeling very hot in his thick clothes and heavy workboots as he arrived at the entrance to the caves. Birds were singing in the trees above the entrance. The breeze brought the smell of new-mown grass from the fields in the valley below. The man left all that behind him as he squeezed into the narrow opening in the hillside.

Once inside he could not see a thing. He took a box from his pocket and struck a match. In the quiet of the caves the match scratched loudly along the side of the box and burst into flame. The man was blinded for a moment. He looked around him. The ceiling was high and difficult to see in the darkness above him. He quickly lit the candle he was carrying before the match burnt his fingers. He held the candle at arms length and found a solid wall a little way in front of him. With his other hand he touched the shadowy rock. In places it was smooth, almost shiny. He looked at his hand in the candlelight and found that it had become wet from touching the wall. In the candlelight the man could make out the different colours on the wall; green and grey, orange and white, purple and brown. He looked over his shoulder to see the huge black shadow he made on the opposite wall. It appeared to dance as he waved the candle to and fro.

The man had been working at the caves for many weeks now. He knew what to expect when he entered the underground passages. Despite the heat outside, with the air full of the sounds and smells of summer, the caves were still and quiet. The only sounds he could hear were the faint tapping of his workmate digging into the floor and the endless dripping of water, leaking in through the ceiling.The smell of the burning candlewax was the only strange smell to be noticed in the earthy, musty air of the caves.

As the man made his way deeper into the passage he kept feeling along the walls. The roughness in some parts showing where he had been digging the week before. In the dark he did not see the low part of the ceiling and he walked right into it. He banged his head badly as he was not wearing a hat. Tomorrow he would have a big lump there and it would be very painful. As he walked on over the loose stones on the floor, they crunched and cracked beneath his weight. The sound made him think of a great animal sitting in the caves in the past,crunching and cracking bones during a meal.

line drawing of a man working in the caves

In the distance he could see the twinkling of another candle. His workmate was already digging into the floor with his pickaxe. Yesterday they had started to dig in this part of the caves and today they were very excited at the thought of discovering something. The heavy pickaxe cracked the hard layer of stalagmite which covered the floor. Underneath, the mud which filled much of the caves, was quite soft and crumbly.

As the man held his candle low over the newly opened floor there was a pale,pointed object sticking up out of the ground. He scraped away a little more of the soft mud with his fingers and uncovered a large tooth. In the dim light the two men could just make out the shape of the ancient remain. They felt the smoothness of the top half, with the lower part that had held the tooth in the jaw of the animal being much rougher, covered with tiny grooyes and ridges. One of the men put the tooth into his pocket. They would look at it more carefully outside in the daylight.

As they turned to leave one of the men stumbled and fell against the other. They both dropped their candles and were plunged into total darkness. This made them both a little afraid. They stood completely still and for the first time heard the rustling and scampering of tiny feet running across the floor. Rats came into the caves in search of food. They liked the taste of the candlewax where the workmen's candles had melted all over the place. The rats also found crumbs lying around from the workers sandwiches. In the complete blackness the two men imagined huge monsters were coming towards them. One of the men quickly struck a match and relit the candles he found lying at his feet.

After their fright the two men quickly made their way out of the caves and relaxed once more in the sunshine outside. They looked more closely at the tooth they had found. They would soon discover that it had belonged to a bear who had gone into the caves to hibernate long, long ago. It would be added to the collection of things which they had discovered buried in the caves. They already had a piece of sharpened flint, a needle carved from a deers antler and bones from several different animals. These were the clues that other men in years to come would use to work out the stories of the people and animals who visited the caves in times gone by.



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