Cave Legends

Subterranean Urban Legends

Caves are often associated with legends, sagas or rumours. Some of these stories have a true core, a historical origin. Others are fantastic stories that spring from superstition. But then there is a small set of extremely widespread stories that can be found in many countries of the world and in the most diverse cultures, The dark legends (urban legends) of the underground are more likely to be memes. First of all, a small list of such legends:

  1. The Far Connection Legend:
    This legend tells the story of the connecting passage to a faraway place. Usually it is an extraordinary place, a mountain or lake, a town, or a special building. But mostly it is very far away, for example a 500 m long cave is postulated to have a connecting passage to a river 15 km away. In the case of a bunker, cellar or dungeon, it is an escape tunnel to a castle 15 km away. Or a tunnel connecting the castles of two hostile families. And it has always collapsed or been bricked up and the site forgotten. And not a single one has ever been rediscovered.
  2. The Hidden Treasure:
    Every ruin needs its ghost, every cave its hidden treasure. The stories are all similar: someone hides a treasure in the cave, but tells no one where, until he then dies and the location of the treasure is thus irretrievably lost. Of course, in the centuries that follow, there are always fools who destroy the cave without ever finding the treasure.
  3. The Robber's Hideout:
    Caves are obviously particularly popular with robbers. Where there were robbers, there was always a cave in which they hid. Normal people freeze after only 30 minutes of visiting a show cave, but robbers are probably made of different stuff. One wonders, however, why the law enforcers did not simply wait in the next best cave for the robbers to arrive.
  4. The Hidden Loot of Thieves:
    The last two legends are readily and frequently connected. There is a robber hiding in a cave after the deed is done. At some point he has to move on, but he wants the stolen treasure to be kept safe, as so much is stolen these days. So the thief hides the treasure in the cave, is killed on his escape, but the stolen treasure remains missing.
  5. The Mysterious Rediscovery:
    The story is simple and reminiscent of a hydrological dye tracing experiment: something is introduced into the cave and disappears, only to reappear a little later in an unexpected place. What these stories lack, however, is a suitable dye. Fish are released, ducks are thrown into swallowing holes, or pieces of bark. A dog gets lost in a cave after chasing a fox, or a sheep gets lost. Even jewellery or a key meets this fate. Days later, the lost animal or object is mysteriously rediscovered far away. From this, an underground connection is immediately deducted. But one wonders how the narrator could have recognized the fish/ducks/parts of bark at place A and place B as the same individuals! This is easier with a key, but how could the key, which hardly floats on water, have got from A to B, even if there were a connection? Such accurate details usually cover up the obviously impossible by distracting from it through complicated constructs.

All these stories do not stand up to serious scrutiny. For example, how could a 15 km tunnel have been built? In the Middle Ages, miners needed a whole year to dig three to four metres of tunnels. A simple calculation shows that it took 40 men 100 years to dig this tunnel. In the case of lost natural caves, there is usually no sign to be found. There is no collapse, no sinkhole on the presumed course of the tunnel. Often the geology is such that a simple glance at a geological map disproves the legend.

As for the treasures, this kind of story is quite plausible, but the fact that the treasure has not been found in centuries strongly suggests that there is none at all. Much more likely, there never was any treasure, or the lucky finder kept quiet about the find. We think that in the vast majority of cases there never was a treasure, because treasures are not very common. It is much more likely that an embezzlement was covered up by the robbery, the missing money is simply added to the loot. If much less is then found, another mysterious treasure is born.

All these stories sound plausible at first glance. At second glance, it looks quite different, and they can usually be exposed as false with the simplest logic. Thus, the probability of such a story is very low. On the other hand, there are hundreds of such stories all over the world. This alone suggests that most of them are fabricated.

So how do you deal with such legends? We suggest: don't be fooled and just enjoy the nice entertainment.