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a cavity in the earth's surface usually large enough for a person to enter. Caves may be formed by the chemical and mechanical action of a stream upon soluble or soft rock, of rainwater seeping through soluble rock to the groundwater level, or of waves dashed against a rocky shore. Volcanic action (accompanied by the formation of gas pockets in lava or the melting of ice under lava) and earthquakes or other earth movements are also sources of cave formation. Limestone regions almost invariably have caves; some of these are notable for their stalactite and stalagmitestalactite and stalagmite
, mineral forms often found in caves; sometimes collectively called dripstone. A stalactite is an icicle-shaped mass of calcite attached to the roof of a limestone cavern.
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 formations or for their magnitude and beauty. Some cave systems are entirely or large underwater

The preserved remains of prehistoric humans and animals and indications of early human culture have been discovered in some caves. Caves have served as burial grounds and shelter since prehistoric times. One such cave is Alabama's Russell Cave, where human evidence dates back 9,000 years. Speleology, the scientific study of caves and their plant and animal life, contributes to knowledge of biological adaptation and evolution. Some cave animals lack sight, and both plants and animals living where light is excluded show loss of pigment. Deep cave ecosystems, lacking the sunlight necessary for photosynthesis, depend on bacteria that use chemosynthesischemosynthesis,
process in which carbohydrates are manufactured from carbon dioxide and water using chemical nutrients as the energy source, rather than the sunlight used for energy in photosynthesis. Much life on earth is fueled directly or indirectly by sunlight.
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 to create energy.

Among famous caves in the United States are Carlsbad Caverns National Park (N.Mex.), Mammoth Cave National Park (Ky.), Wind Cave National Park (Black Hills, S.Dak.), Luray Caverns (Va.), and Wyandotte Cave (Ind.). In Europe there are celebrated caves in Belgium, Dalmatia, Gibraltar, Capri, Sicily, Postojna, and England (Kent's Cavern and Kirkdale). The caves of the Pyrenees and the Dordogne are famed for their prehistoric paintings (see Paleolithic artPaleolithic art
, art produced during the Paleolithic period. Study and knowledge of this art largely have been confined to works discovered at many sites in W Europe, where the most magnificent surviving examples are paintings in a number of caves in N Spain and S France, but
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), and those of Ajanta, India, and Dunhuang, China, for their Buddhist frescoes. Among the deepest known caves are Krubera in the nation of Georgia, which extends some 7,200 ft (2,190 m) below the surface, and Lamprechtsofen in Austria.


See C. E. Mohr and T. L. Poulson, The Life of the Cave (1966); D. R. McClurg, The Amateur's Guide to Caves and Caving (1973).



a large cavity in the upper layers of the earth’s crust having openings that connect it to the surface of the earth. Caves are formed in many ways. Karst caves result from the leaching and erosion of such water-soluble rocks as limestones, dolomites, and gypsums. Others are formed as a result of the suffusion and underground erosion of weathered cracks (“clay pseudokarst”). Caves may be formed by abrasion, the deflation of particles resulting from the weathering of hard rocks, the formation of open tectonic cracks, and the uneven deposition of certain geological formations (for example, travertines). Lava caves form when the solidified crust of a lava flow ruptures and the fluid lava underneath flows out. Ice caves, or grottoes, form as a result of the thawing of ice.

The largest caves are karst caves, which consist of intricate systems of passages and halls. Their total length is usually several dozen kilometers. Karst caves, particularly those of limestone, frequently have various types of colored dripstone and sinter formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and curtains. They also are characterized by underground streams, rivers, and lakes.

Caves may be horizontal or may drop down steeply. Some consist of more or less horizontal cavities that alternate with steep and vertical underground passages descending to great depths. The deepest karst chasms in the world are the Pierre St. Martin Cave (1,171 m) and the Puits Berger (1,141 m), both of which are in France. Multistory caves occur frequently.

The climatic regime of a cave depends on whether the cavity is directed upward from the entrance (warm caves) or downward (cold saclike caves). A cave may also have two outlets, providing good ventilation. Saclike caves and caves with through circulation have ice formations, such as crystals and icicles, year-round. Such caves are called ice caves (the Kungur Cave in the Ural region and the Balagansk Cave in the Angara River region).

Caves are characterized by a unique fauna, some representatives of which are also found outside caves under similar conditions. Some caves were used as human dwellings during the Stone Age. Tools and the bones of extinct animals and primitive humans have been found in such caves. There are also drawings and paintings on the walls and ceilings. Stone Age caves include the Altamira Cave and the Kapova Cave. Speleology is the comprehensive study of caves. Many of the world’s caves are tourist attactions.


Gvozdetskii, N. A. Problemy izucheniia karsta i praktika. Moscow, 1972.
Gvozdetskii, N. A. “Noveishie dannye o razmerakh samykh krupnykh karstovykh polostei mira i SSSR.” Vestn. MGU: Ser. geogr., 1973, no. 5.
Maksimovich, G. A. Osnovy karstovedeniia, vol. 1. Perm’, 1963.
Chikishev, A. G. Peshchery na territorii SSSR. Moscow, 1973.


What does it mean when you dream about a cave?

Caves often represent a place to hide or seek refuge. Coming out of a cave may mean the emergence of the self. A cave may also symbolize the womb, childbearing, new life, contemplation, or creativity. (See also Hole, Pit).


A pit or tunnel under a glass furnace for collecting ashes or raking the fire.
A natural, hollow chamber or series of chambers and galleries beneath the earth's surface, or in the side of a mountain or hill, with an opening to the surface.
(mining engineering)
Fragmented rock materials, derived from the sidewalls of a borehole, that obstruct the hole or hinder drilling progress. Also known as cavings.
The partial or complete failure of borehole sidewalls or mine workings. Also known as cave-in.
A heavily shielded compartment in which highly radioactive material can be handled, generally by remote control. Also known as hot cell.


1. an underground hollow with access from the ground surface or from the sea, often found in limestone areas and on rocky coastlines
2. Brit History a secession or a group seceding from a political party on some issue


(Computer Automatic Virtual Environment) A virtual reality system that uses projectors to display images on three or four walls and the floor. Special glasses make everything appear as 3D images and also track the path of the user's vision.

CAVE was the first virtual reality system to let multiple users participate in the experience simultaneously. Known as a "spatially immersive display," it was developed by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois in the early 1990s. See head mounted display and virtual reality.

Simulating New Architecture
CAVE is used to simulate a newly designed train station to evaluate its functionality. (Image courtesy of Fakespace Systems Inc.)

Training People
This CAVE system teaches people how to operate a Caterpillar bulldozer. The steering wheel on the left meets the real steering wheel in virtual space, appearing to the man as the actual wheel he is turning. (Image courtesy of Fakespace Systems Inc.)


Caves are rich and thought-provoking dream symbols. At times, a woman with reproductive issues may have a cave dream, in which case it represents the womb. The cave, as the womb, can represent new life, creativity, warmth, and safety. The cave can be a general symbol of a safe place, a sanctuary or a refuge. If you are experiencing much anxiety in daily life, in your dream state you may retreat to a warm cave where you cannot be disturbed by worldly demands. The cave could also represent the mysterious and unexplored parts of self. It could be symbolic of the unconscious mind, which could be a pleasant or a frightening experience. Your personal associations and experiences with caves, as well as the details and the emotional content of this dream, need to be carefully considered before making an interpretation.
References in classic literature ?
I was knocked backward fully a dozen feet before I fetched up against the ground, and I remember, half-stunned, even as the blow was struck, hearing the wild uproar of clucking and shrieking laughter that arose from the caves. It was a great joke--at least in that day; and right heartily the Folk appreciated it.
He took me up the open space, between the caves and the river, and into the forest beyond, where, in a grassy place among the trees, we made a meal of stringy-rooted carrots.
My only alternative seemed to lie in flight and my decision was crystallized by a recurrence of the rustling sound from the thing which now seemed, in the darkness of the cave and to my distorted imagination, to be creeping stealthily upon me.
The crisp, fresh mountain air outside the cave acted as an immediate tonic and I felt new life and new courage coursing through me.
"That I should have lived to witness the reality of the fabled Carrion Caves! If these indeed be they, we have found a way beyond the ice-barrier.
"At the opening to the subterranean passage that led to their haven of refuge a mighty battle was fought in which the yellow men were victorious, and within the caves that gave ingress to their new home they piled the bodies of the dead, both yellow and green, that the stench might warn away their enemies from further pursuit.
Not caring to venture back into the canyon, where I might fall prey either to the cave bear or the Sagoths I continued on along the ledge, believing that by following around the mountain I could reach the land of Sari from another direction.
After this came other parties, and two or three groups who passed out of the forest and up the cliff-face to enter the same cave. I could not understand it.
What a cave it must be, I thought, that houses an en-tire tribe!
For long moments no sound broke the sepulchral silence of the cave. Then I heard a movement on the part of the creature near me, and again it touched me, and I felt something like a hairless hand pass over my face and down until it touched the collar of my flannel shirt.
So Umslopogaas rose and crept through the narrow mouth of the cave. There, above him, a great grey peak towered high into the air, shaped like a seated woman, her chin resting upon her breast, the place where the cave was being, as it were, on the lap of the woman.
At the end of the victorious campaign the surviving ape-folk were driven across the plateau (their wailings were horrible) and established in the neighborhood of the Indian caves, where they would, from now onwards, be a servile race under the eyes of their masters.