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A cave is a perfect mystery: dark, dangerous, and filled with pristine evidence. The caves underneath western Virginia attest to million-year geological transformations, but they also harbor intrigue on a human scale. The discovery of these subterranean wonders in the 1800s spawned a genre of local lore and popular fiction–call it “the romance of the cave”–in which crystal caverns became theaters for passion and politics. Many cave romances were European fantasies of ancient North America, featuring stereotyped Indians as well as mythical races like Phoenicians and lost tribes of Israel. Caves became gateways to an imagined past for a country with a very short recorded history. Meanwhile, centuries of tourism and amateur exploration have destroyed archaeological evidence that could have revealed a more realistic story of early Native American cultures. Full article at: