In Paris, at the Russian Center for Science and Culture, the Kapova Cave - also known as Cave Shulgan-Tash - was nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List. The nomination dossier is being prepared by about 20 scientists from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Kemerovo and Kazakhstan.
“This is a monument of world significance, the only one in Russia with Paleolithic drawings ,” says Yuri Lyakhnitsky, chairman of the Speleology and Karstology Commission of the Russian Geographical Society. “There is radiocarbon dating from the cultural layer, which gives a maximum value of 18-19 thousand years. Although there is every reason to believe that people used the cave since more ancient times.”
There are two versions on the origin of the name "Kapova". The first comes from the sound of dripping water constantly occurring inside; and the second is from the word “kapishte” (Slavic pagan temple), since there is evidence that in prehistoric times the cave was used as a temple (cave drawings were made for the same purpose).
An equally common name for the cave is Bashkir "Shulgan-Tash". The word "tash" means "stone", and Shulgan - "disappeared." We are talking about a river flowing out of a cave and flowing into a large river - Belaya: i.e. "disappeared under the stone." In addition, Shulgan is a character in the Bashkir epos "Ural-Batyr", the elder brother of the protagonist, and the lord of the underworld.
According to scientists, the cave, for at least 18 thousand years, was an ancient sanctuary, where different people came to perform their cults. About 200 drawings were found on the walls of the Kapova cave.
“Our work for over the past 20 years has helped to discover dozens of new drawings of different themes and different preservation. More recently, an image of a camel was discovered, unique for the Paleolithic caves in general, because they have not yet found anything like it,” says Yuri Lyakhnitsky, chairman of the Speleology and Karstology Commission of the Russian Geographical Society.
In recent decades, thanks to the work of Yuri Sergeyevich, 173 drawings or their relics - colorful spots - have been described. The drawings were made mainly with ocher - a natural pigment based on animal fat. With it, mammoths, horses and other animals, complex characters, anthropomorphic figures are depicted. There are rare charcoal images.
“The inclusion of the Kapova Cave on the UNESCO World Heritage List will mean international recognition that there was not only a Pyrenees-Cantabrian paleontological center of art, but also Eurasian,” said Anton Yushko, secretary of the Karstology and Speleology Commission of the St. Petersburg city branch of the Russian Geographical Society.
According to Yuri Lyakhnitsky, the drawings "are in difficult natural conditions that do not favor long-term preservation." The drawings are in varying degrees of preservation: some of them are hidden under calcite incrustations, some were autographed by vandal tourists, some are washed off by the moisture flowing along the walls. The problem of finding reliable methods for preserving the drawings has not yet been resolved. At the moment, there is a small excursion route that is localized to the closest part of the cave. It does not harm the originals of the drawings, as tourists look at copies. However, preserving the originals is a difficult scientific task that has not yet been resolved.
“The inclusion of the cave on the UNESCO World Heritage List will allow us to communicate with specialists who are involved in Western European caves, where the study and protection process has been established for a long time at a good level,” said the chairman of the Speleology and Karstology commission of the Russian Geographical Society. “In Europe there are experts who can help us. In addition, UNESCO’s control of the state of the monument will help to preserve it better. It is necessary to use their many years of experience. The UNESCO Fund exists to preserve the cultural heritage for future generations.”
At the moment, to protect and study the unique cave art, a museum complex is being built next to the Kapova Cave. Local authorities also plan to develop the reserve, install high-speed Internet and improve the condition of roads to attract new tourists.
About 35–45 thousand tourists come to see the Kapova cave annually. Thanks to the inclusion on the UNESCO List and the development of service, there is a hope to increase the flow of tourists up to 150 thousand a year.
Scientists note the great role of the Russian Geographical Society in the preservation and study of the Kapova Cave.
“The basis for moving towards the inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List was laid by speleologists of the Russian Geographical Society. An important stage was the publication of an album catalog with drawings from the Kapova Cave with the logo of the Russian Geographical Society. In 2013 it was published in Russian; and in 2015 - the English version was presented at the International Speleological Congress in Sydney. It received no prizes, but was noticed,” says Anton Yushko, secretary of the Karstology and Speleology commission of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Geographical Society.
In 2016, the Russian Geographical Society issued a media grant for the filming of an educational film about this unique monument.
Watch film "Cradle of Art. "Shulgan-Tash""