Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 59 Number 3: 132-136 -December 1997

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Overview of the Use of Caves in Virginia: A 10,500 Year History
Michael B. Barber and David A. Hubbard, Jr.


The human utilization of caves within the Commonwealth of Virginia began early in prehistoric times and has extended to the present. Such use often has focused on the exploitation of removable resources; knappable lithic materials for the production of stone tools is an important prehistoric example. During historic times, the mining of saltpetre dominates although other natural resources also were removed.

The human interaction with caves, however, extends well beyond raw material extraction into the realm of ceremonialism and supernaturalism. Within a Virginia context, Native American use of caves includes both human interments and the codification of symbols. Cave burials have long been known and appear to include attitudes of elaborate ceremonialism as well as less intricate body disposal systems. The mud glyph cave phenomenon has been recorded in Virginia with incised designs and anthropomorphic figures apparently mediating between the sacred and the mundane. Such symbols have roles in rites of passage.

Historic use usually is framed in a more functional light. While resource extraction is an obvious utilization realm, the historic use of caves for other purposes is prevalent and includes resort recreation, scientific study, aesthetics, and general exploration. Caves can be discussed in terms of modern symbols and ceremonialism.

This page last updated: 7 May, 2003 18:50
Web Author: Jim Pisarowicz