04 December 2008

What I did at the 2nd BSRC - VI - Thursday

Thursday 19 June - excursion to Maroneia

The planning for Thursday had the largest road trip of the week - to the cave of Maroneia in the Rhodope Prefecture. To get there we passed Philippi with its early Christian basilicas, Kavala, Xanthi, Komotini and we finally approached the cave of Maroneia, just outside the village of the same name. There, we were met by a team from the ministry of culture - ephorate of Palaeontology and Speleology for Northern Greece, together with some representatives of the local government. Markos Vaxevanopoulos of Cheiron Caving Club in Volos was our guide at the cave and explained to us what we would see inside. The cave is situated in nummulitic limestone (that is to say, limestone made up of small snailshells from another time). It has two main routes inside - one of which has archaeological interest and the other geological and biospeleological interest. The cave is home to more than 15 endemic species (not found anywhere else in the world) of which the two are bats. The large number of endemics is probably the result of the high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen created by the action of bacteria and other microorganisms on the bat guano, which literally forms large piles in the chambers of the cave.

The archaeological finds are also rather significant because they date to the early Neolithic and could therefore throw some light on the whole spread of agriculture / animal husbandry question. We were fortunate enough to be guided round the dig by Anna, one of the archaeologists from the ephorate who is working the site and is on hand every day. The dig is protected, and has been for some years, by a locked door which permits the bats to enter and exit. Without the help pf the ephorate, our visit would not have happened, and all of us who were there are very grateful to the team from the ministry who made the long drive up from Thessaloniki to receive us.

As an epilogue, I have to mention that the municipal authorities wish to give the cave over for tourist development, believeing in this way that they will bring income to the region and thereby improve the lot of the inhabitants. Fortunately, the ephorate is maintaining a very cautious stance because the destruction of this specific cave (it will surely be destroyed by even the most gentle of interventions for development) will constitute a huge crime against the country's natural heritage. The tension I felt this day between the representatives of local self government and the ephorate very clearly shows that there is still a great deal of work to be done by speleological groups to inform local authorities about the significance of the caves in their jurisdiction.

After many hours inside the cave, we went for a swim, ate at a nearby beach tavern and started the long journey for home.

Fossilised snail shell which, on account of its similarity to a small roman coin (nummulus), gives its name to a type of Eocene limestone

One of the chambers with archaeological finds in Maroneia - you can clearly see the wire grid used by the archaeologists to identify the findspot of each find

One of the bat hibernacula in Maroneia. You can also make out the tapes indicating the correct route through the cave to avoid damaging the fragile ecosystem

Brief video of our visit.

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