Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/586

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Prehistoric Underground Chambers.—The subterranean works called by the people of Poitou "gueriments" are little known, though the tradition of the country assigns their origin to prehistoric times. I purpose to describe one of these which I visited, with my brother, in 1878, and which may be regarded as a type of the whole series. The chalk of Beaumont, stretching south of Chatellerault, resembles a vast ants'-nest, so numerous are the galleries with which it is honeycombed. The one that I am about to describe is at a place called La Fuye, and is only a few hundred yards from the old Roman road between Colombiers and Jaulnay. We went down into a hole, A, overgrown with bushes, that looked very much like a fox's hole, and came upon a large hall, B, on which abutted the passages G and R. The passages are of about the height of a common-sized man, but less than two feet wide. They appear to have once been tightly closed by doors and fortified by beams. After going in about a hundred metres, and making a number of turns, I came to a sudden descent, and fell into the hole K (see the section D K II). When I came to myself, and was able to examine the place, I found that the narrow passage led to a steep ladder of five steps, L, at the end of which was the hole into which I had fallen, about six feet deep. Hence led another narrow gallery, which we explored with great difficulty, but at the end of which we came to the spacious chamber D, where we found a quantity of large bones, charcoal, and blocks of flint, and, by digging, a badly decayed piece of coarse pottery.PSM V23 D586 Prehistoric underground chambers.jpgGallery E opened out from this passage, but it had become choked up. Returning, we climbed up the passage K with the aid of the foot-holes M M in the wall, and went through the gallery I, into the chamber C, which contained a number of circular pits, J, N, P, suggesting the form of a cistern, but they could not have been used to hold water. The galleries O and Q were choked up. Returning to the first chamber, and passing the half-filled pit F, we went by the corridor R into the galleries s, u, t, v, y, in which we remarked two tubes, pierced at t and s, so as to form a direct communication between W and B. The construction of all the "gueriments" is analogous to that of this one. They are cut in the rock itself, and consist of large chambers connected by narrow galleries, and present a striking similarity of aspect to those dwellings which insects hollow out in the trunks of trees. The openings of descending passages had been closed by trap-doors and fastened by wooden cross-beams. Niches in which lights could be placed were cut at convenient distances. Many "gueriments" communicated with a well; and, as some of the galleries have been wholly stopped up, at some more or less remote period in the past, the only entrance now is by the well. I have only visited three caves of this kind, but I know of a considerable number of them that can not be explored because of the presence of an excess of carbonic acid in them.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from La Nature.

[Note by the Editor of Popular Science Monthly. Strabo, in his accounts of the Siculi around Lake Avernus in Central Italy, says: "Ephorus assigns the place to the Kimmerioi, and says they lived in underground dwellings which they called argillai, and through certain excavated passages passed about to each other, and conveyed strangers to the oracle, which was constructed deep in the ground."]