Jamaican Caving Notes
Charles Town Cave
July 18, 2008
Team: RS Stewart, J Pauel, IC Conolley.
Notes: RS Stewart
Charles Town Cave was the first site visited during the July 2008 expedition. One of the team, Ivor Conolley, who is involved with archaeological studies at UWI, had been told in the months before that there were petroglyphs present. Subsequently, he did a brief recon of the site, and this visit was the follow-up to examine it more fully.
The entrance is roadside, and easily found. A dry passage leads to a muddy rising pitch after 25m, which currently has an old ladder in place. It then carries on at a higher level for another 10m with much fresh guano on the floor. An extension descends to the right, becoming too tight after 10m.
Much trash is found in the outer part of the cave, including putrid material such as the usual dirty disposable diapers.
No archaeological artefacts, petroglyphs, or pictograms were observed. The cave is not typical of Taino sites (which are usually higher, more open, dryer, and airy). Proximity to the Buff Bay River, which is across the road, may increase the chance that the cave has been used by Taino or Maroons, but we saw no obvious evidence for it.
The bat roost located beyond the muddy pitch is small, with low numbers, but there is a deep deposit of fresh/fluff guano on the floor of the passage, about 1m wide and 10m long. It has been mined by locals occasionally, but to a limited degree due to the conditions. The ladder itself ends at a point a couple of metres below the level part of the upper passage, with a final, muddy slope making the ascent quite risky. The cave has large numbers of fungal gnats which make breathing very difficult (the author of this report had a sudden onslaught of sinus congestion and clogged lungs not long after entering the cave, which lasted for the duration), and the air quality in the roost is poor.
The deep guano supports a great variety of invertebrates, including mites, and beetles. Trog spiders are common, as are their flying prey species. The cave is a good candidate site for investigations into cave-adapted biota.
The site is vulnerable to further disturbance by guano mining, and some degree of protection is in order. A good first step would be to remove the ladder. It is doubtful that it would be replaced any time soon, and without it, it is very difficult to reach the roost.
It should be noted by all who read this report, especially those who are tempted to clean out the guano, that the risk of histoplasmosis is very great in this cave. The JCO team that conducted the mapping and assessment is now immune due to past encounters with it, but you are probably not. It should also be understood that the amount of guano present is not enough to make it worth the effort. What is there is sufficient for the creatures that live on it, and depend on it, and nothing more. It should be left undisturbed to allow them to carry on as is.
Please regard the roost in this cave as off-limits for any activity other than research.
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