Like it nor not, this planet is covered in a weblike network of caves, and they run deeper than you’ll ever know. For every space we construct above ground, nature has made its own below. And most aren’t filled with couches and TVs like up here.
From 19th-century mines to billion-year-old isolated caverns, cave systems are everywhere and are every type of spooky. Over the centuries, they have amassed a seriously twisted collection of forgotten and deliberately hidden items, including people, left to gather dust in the crushing silence and blackness.
This list gathers ten of those lost artifacts that have since been found, ten of the most shocking things ever found in caves.
10 The Bone Theater
The Paris Catacombs are notorious for being one of the largest ossuaries on Earth. More than six million skeletons rest within its maze of tunnels, and the darkness doesn’t end there. The site has become both a mecca for paranormal researchers and a magnet for criminal activity. One such crime was discovered by French police in 2004, though there is zero chance they saw it coming.
Trespassers in the catacombs are common, but most take pictures and leave. In 2004, police discovered that trespassers, their number unknown, spent so much time in the catacombs that they had converted a section of it into their house. And what house would be complete without a restaurant and movie theater? The Guardian quotes the police as having found “an underground amphitheater, with terraces cut into the rock and chairs” and “an informal restaurant and bar. There were bottles of whisky and other spirits behind a bar, tables, and chairs, a pressure cooker for making couscous.” They went to say that “the whole thing ran off a professionally installed electricity system, and there were at least three phone lines down there.” Certainly a shocking find in the middle of a massive, off-limits boneyard.
In 2003, a team of archaeologists working in the Liang Bua cave in Flores, Indonesia, found sets of human remains that defied explanation. The bones clearly belonged to adults, and though those adults were clearly close relatives to ourselves, Homo sapiens, they stood only around three and a half feet tall. Naturally, they were swiftly nicknamed hobbits.
The discovery shocked the scientific community, as the extinct humans were smaller than any before, even a full foot smaller than the smallest of the African Pygmies. Naturally, many anthropologists assumed the skeletons simply suffered from a disease that left them short. Still, recent studies have strongly pointed to the opposite: the hobbits, real name Homo floresiensis, were otherwise normal, healthy, upright, intelligent people. They just happened to be the size of hobbits.
8 Confusing Giant Bones
While we’re on the subject of ancient bones, another cave hit the mainstream for the opposite reason. The Panxian Dadong Cave contained a trove of impossibly giant bones. Archaeologists searching one of the Panxian Dadong caverns in southern China found bones from more than 40 ancient species of mammal, most of them massive pack animals and herbivores. The issue was that the cave was 1,600 feet above sea level, with only a sheer rock face leading to its entrance.
Among the many hundreds of bones were ancient rhinos, elephant-like Stegodons, and even the Bigfoot-lookalike Gigantopithecus. Many showed signs of human manipulation like burning and cutting, suggesting ancient humans were responsible for the stockpile. But the question remains: how did our ancestors get the animals up there, to begin with?
7 A Witch’s Ghost
Though it began as a throwaway Reddit post from a couple of anonymous hikers, the story of the “Crone of the Catskills” grew into an enduring modern mystery. In 2016, the hikers were exploring caves in New York’s Catskill Mountains range when they stumbled upon an eerie effigy. In its own alcove was a small wooden statue of a woman with a noose hanging from her neck and nails hammered into her eyes. Though one hiker protested taking it, the other brought the cursed item home.
As the original poster put it, the statue “keeps moving from its spot… (His friend) can’t sleep at night because banging keeps waking him up… someone knocked on his door, but no one was there when he opened it, and he’s super weirded out.” They donated the item to a museum for the occult, and that’s where its story really gets good…
6 A Crystallized Human Sacrifice
Actun Tunichil Muknal is a major archaeological site in Belize that has yielded many Mayan artifacts. The most (in)famous discovery ever made within its walls is hinted at by its translated name: The Cave of the Crystal Sepulcher. (No, Indiana Jones, stay away from this one.)
The cave was clearly a site for ritual sacrifice. Skeletons lay among ceremonial artifacts, decorations, and even atop their own altars, all dead by human hands. They range in age from one to around 40, some of which exhibit skull-shaping. The real prize, though, is the fully-calcified remains of a 17-year-old boy (initially thought to be female), which has come to be known as The Crystal Maiden. His vertebrae are smashed, and it’s hypothesized that he died slowly and painfully, his suffering preserved forever; calcium crystals have completely covered his bones, making him look almost like the world’s most gruesome snow sculpture.
5 A New Dead Sea Scroll and a Time Traveler
The Dead Sea Scrolls were never really discovered, as in, we haven’t found all of them yet. Instead, they are comprised of thousands of scroll fragments that continue to be discovered. Archeologists have been finding fragments since the 1940s, and as recently as this year, 2021, more were discovered in Israel’s Cave of Horror.
The cave earned its nickname in the 1960s when the bodies of 40 Jews were discovered there. Researchers concluded that Roman soldiers murdered them in the second century. Revisiting the cave in 2021, researchers found dozens of new fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, curiously buried alongside the mummified remains of a young girl from 6,000 years ago.
4 Conspiracy Rocks
Sheltered from much of the Earth’s weather and biology, caves can provide an excellent space for unusual geology to form, even if it takes millions or billions of years. Because of this, odd rocks and crystals continually turn up, some inspiring wonder and some fueling ancient aliens believers.
One example is the Wolfsegg Iron, also known as the Salzburg Cube, which was found in a mine in the 1800s. People believed it to be a meteorite, and its unusual shape led many to believe that machines had worked it before it fell to Earth. Another example is the many Klerksdorp spheres, which, although three billion years old, also look as if precision machines have cut them. In reality, both are simply the products of unusual geology.
3 Skull Cups
Gough’s Cave is a massive cave system in Somerset, England, famous for containing the Cheddar Man, the oldest complete human skeleton ever found in Great Britain. In addition, the caves hold darker remains: ancient humans, including children, whose skulls were made into drinking cups.
Multiple human bones were found with cut marks that suggest cannibalism, a surprisingly common find with bones of that age. It’s the skull cups that truly surprise people, though. Fragments from five to seven skulls have been found, smoothed into drinking cups—one as young as three when they died.
2 A Rainforest
As a brief reprieve from the darker items found in caves, consider Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, which contains the largest cave chamber in the world. The cave is so big, in fact, that inside its rock walls, it contains its own rainforest.
After Eden itself, the rainforest was nicknamed the Garden of Edam, and it’s easy to see why. The garden is no mere collection of cave moss but rather a proper rainforest. Trees grow hundreds of feet tall within the cave. A full ecosystem thrives amidst the tress, including even birds and monkeys. The garden’s discovery was a shock, coming completely by accident, but of the best kind.
1 A 100-Year-Old Ax Murderer
Joseph Henry Loveless was a career criminal. In 1916, authorities brought him to jail on the suspicion that he had murdered his wife, Agnes, with an ax. Using a small saw-blade he had hidden in his shoe, Loveless escaped from jail and was never seen again. Not alive, anyway.
Loveless’s rediscovery was grizzly and protracted. In 1979, a family discovered an unidentified torso, beheaded and left to decay in a burlap sack in Buffalo Cave, Idaho. Twelve years later, in 1991, a matching hand was found, which prompted a search that yielded both missing legs and one arm. Eighteen years after that, the body was DNA-tested, suggesting it could be the long-lost Loveless. Loveless’s own grandson, now 87 years old, then provided DNA to clarify the results.
The brutally dismembered body was none other than escaped murder-suspect Joseph Henry Loveless, finally identified 103 years after he was last seen alive. The details of his death are still unknown, but some speculate that Agnes’s family found Loveless and got their revenge.