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Koněprusy Caves

Characteristics / History

Prehistoric life

Rich evidence of fossil life on the Golden Horse hill as well as underground has been preserved in the unusually thick loamy fills of the caves.

The oldest found and dated bones originate from the earliest part of the of the Quaternary Period (Pleistocene – Biharium) approximately 1.5 million years ago and were found in the Prošek Dome. Remains of bats and rodents are predominant here. Slightly younger are the skeletal remains of prehistoric bears (Ursus deningeri) accompanied by those of smaller fauna and other remains. Above them, other layers have preserved rich deposits of mollusc shells and remains of small vertebrates. The skeletal findings mostly come from the surface of the mighty talus cone found beneath the chimneys in the Prošek Dome and the Barren Dome. They originate from the most recent ice age in the upper Pleistocene and the early Holocene. Here, bones of large vertebrates prevail. In that period, the caves were open up to the surface via chimneys; many animals fell through these openings down into the caves. There were also species living in the caves that fed on these remains.

On the loams of the Prošek Dome, human remains have also been also found; they belonged to a women who lived approximately 13,000 years ago. The grave was probably located in a higher segment of the chimney not very far beneath the surface and later fell through to the cave.

History

The Koněprusy Caves were well known as early as the 15th century. One of the tales relating to this site tells of a young shepherd who grazed his sheep on the hill. One day he went to search for a lost sheep; he saw smoke rising from a hole and, because he was a courageous boy, he decided to climb down into the hole. When he reached the bottom, he saw a long-haired robber counting a heap of coins. Both were frightened of one another at first, but soon they made a deal – the robber gave the shepherd a handful of coins and the boy promised that he would not disclose the robber's position to anyone. But once he climbed out, he ran into the village and revealed everything. The villagers, of course, wanted the reclaim the money so they took their pitchforks, rakes, scythes, and flails and hastened up the hill with the shepherd. But alas! There was no hole! so they thrashed the young shepherd and took his money instead.

It was long thought that the hole in the tale was just a figment of the imagination. After the discovery of the upper floor, however, it was revealed that it was grounded in reality.

The initial written reports on the caves are interesting in that they testify to the fact that segments of the caves were open to the surface at various times and were known to the local people. The oldest report comes from an 1822 book by Laurenz Albert Dlask entitled Versuch einer Naturgeschichte Böhmens. It shows that the indoor areas gradually discovered by Koněprusy workers in 1950 were known as early as the beginning of the 19th century.

Two groups of people participated in the first rigorous surveys of the caves: quarrymen working with Jaroslav Petrbok, to whom they delivered all of the skeletal findings – often unearthed in an incompetent manner and damaged – and scientific staff (Kukla, Prošek, etc.).

After an accident in the Letošník Abyss, the managers of the quarry closed the caves, permitting access only to expert personnel.

To save the caves from being destroyed by the expanding quarry as well as to protect them from vandals and collectors of bones and minerals, the Czechoslovak Karst Authority, part of the Czechoslovak National Board of Research, formed a special committee that met on 6 December 1950. This body charged the Archaeological Institute of CAS, the Central Institute of Geology, and the Karst Section of the Society for the National Museum in Prague with the task of carrying out a systematic survey of the caves under the leadership of F. Prošek and J. Kukla. Any further expansion of the quarry toward the cave was also stopped. For the systematic activity of KC exploration, it was implemented in stages as follows:

1950–1951 Stage 1: Archaeological survey of the Main Dome (Prošek)

1952 Stage 2: Archaeological survey of the Main Dome (Prošek)

1953–1956 Archaeological survey of the Medieval Money-Forging Workshop (Radoměrský and Hejna)

After the discovery of the caves, a decision was made – after a rather long time of hesitation – to make the caves accessible to the public. Preparations for this commenced in late 1958, and the caves opened to the public on 2 August 1959. At that time the route was still not a full-length tour; the next season, beginning on 1 May 1960, however, the route was already almost identical to the one we follow today. In February 1967, the route was extended with a circular sub-route added near the Swan Chamber. Since the opening, over five million visitors have taken a tour of the caves.