About 12 thousand years ago, in summer or spring, a family walked into a cave at the foot of a mountain. Before entering, this family collects branches from a pine tree, tie them together, cover them with resin and light them, so that they obtain simple torches to illuminate the interior of the cave. The group is made up of two adults, a man and a woman, and three children: a three-year-old, a six-year-old, and a pre-adolescent no more than 11 years old. They are accompanied by dogs. Today we know that it is summer or spring because if it were winter they would not have dared to enter a cave inside which a bear could be hibernating.
About 150 meters inside, the family comes to a long, low hallway. Walking in single file, illuminated by torches, they cross it. The little boy goes last. The hallway suddenly turns into a tunnel as the floor slopes up, leaving little room to crawl. His knees leave tracks on the clay floor. Entering the cave, they dodge stalagmites and large stone blocks, down a steep slope and across a small underground lake. Finally, they come to an opening, a section of the cave that archaeologists of a future geological age will call the Sala dei Misteri (the Chamber of Mysteries).
While the adults leave their handprints on the ceiling using charcoal, the youths gather clay from the floor and smear it into a stalagmite, modeling with their fingers, drawing lines in the soft substance. Each stroke corresponds to the height of the child who made it. It is assumed that the family achieved what they had set out to do, or maybe they just got bored. Either way, after a short time in the chamber, they emerged from the cave into the light of the Ice Age.
This family outing, for anthropology and archaeology, represents a small pivotal moment of understanding the past. It was not until 1950, in Liguria, Italy, when the cave was discovered and baptized as Bàsura, that they began to try to reveal the story of the nameless family excursion, which contributed the most to revealing the remote past of Humanity. .
More or less this is how archaeologist April Nowell, a professor at the University of Victoria, in Canada, describes it. The article appeared about a month ago in Aeon magazine, and there Nowell acknowledges that at first glance it may seem like a trivial story, but it took many years, a lot of study, a lot of field work to reveal this simple journey, an example of the daily life in the Ice Age. But the most extraordinary thing about this family outing is that it brings to the fore a presence hitherto omitted in Upper Paleolithic archaeological studies, that is, those dedicated to unraveling what happened on Earth in the period between 40 and 10 thousand years ago. years: children
Archaeologists have always been reluctant to unravel the clues left behind by our underage ancestors: unlike the usually straight forward path of adults, those of children are always random, messy, and unpredictable; suddenly they stop and it reappears later; a firm and defined trace can become an unbroken line, or suddenly multiply indefinitely. Why’s that? Because the children of the Palolithic, like the current ones, play. They do not accept the methodical progress of adults, they continually get distracted and fight boredom.
What the Garbage Grotto says in an exemplary way, with astonishing clarity, is that children, ours, those from before, continue to be the same.
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