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Leg Bone

Frank started to take a seat when he was halted by Doctor Chamberlain's commanding voice.


"Mister Curtis."


He turned to see his teacher holding a news clipping.


"Perhaps you can explain to the class how a fellow who failed this course came to receive credit for an important discovery in the field of anthropology."


Frank heard the sarcasm intended by the emphasis of the word discovery.


"I believe this is a picture of you with the caption The foot bone is connected to the ankle bone. Today, you take the floor and I'll take a seat to hear how the site of an archaeological dig has been named for you."


Doctor Chamberlain had frequently assigned members of the class a day to present a chapter from the text. Never had Frank been able to speak with such confidence.


"As you know, I went to France as a member of a group to view the caves at Les Eyzies. When John Maynard and I heard the news of the massive mud slides in Russia, we left France and hurried to see that natural disaster. We traveled to the village of Sarpa in the State of Georgia. Sarpa lays at the foot of a bluff north of a delta of the Volga river. Everything south from there to the Caspian Sea is much like the bayous of Louisiana."


Going to the board, Frank sketched an outline of the river and hillside.



"The face of the hillside, saturated by the month-long rains, had slipped into the valley exposing a cave which had previously been unknown. Of course, an old spelunker like me couldn't resist checking out the extent of the cavern.


"The cave terminated within a few yards of the opening. From what I could see, it had been perpetually flooded until the face of the hillside fell away. I slipped on the slime coating the floor and landed in a mass of muck along one wall. As I braced myself to stand, my hand found what I thought was a bear's paw, Maynard believed it was the foot of a man. We were both wrong, and how."


Stalling to give himself time to organize his thoughts, Frank said, "Ask any questions you have as I go along."


"Did you think it was a villager who got to the cave before you?"


"Maybe at first. We uncovered only enough of the body to confirm we had found a mummified body. It was old."


"Who did you tell about the find?"


"Through the American consulate in Ankara I contacted Doctor Johnson at the University of Chicago. He came to supervise the excavation of a large chamber adjacent to the entrance of the cave.


"While we waited for Johnson's arrival, Maynard and I surveyed the plateau above. The land was typical karst topography, pockmarked with craters."


Addressing his teacher, Frank said, " See Doctor Chamberlain, I do know some of the technical terms."


Returning to his experience, Frank continued, " I recognized the craters as sinkholes, indicating an extensive cave system which had been collapsing."


"How many men worked on the dig?"


"Johnson and an assistant hired a pair of villagers to help remove the bodies from the chamber. Representatives of the Academy of Science in Moscow took possesion of the family and directed their preservation. Maynard returned to school while I stayed to observe. That was Johnson's polite term for me as his go-for."


"How many cave people did you find?"


"In all, we recovered ten."


"These were complete recognizable bodies?"


"Yes."


"How where these bodies preserved so well?"


*Doctor Johnson agrees with my guess that originally two caves existed, one above the other. Over time the limestone floor of the upper one collapsed into the lower until only a small chamber remained above the flooded section below. Vegetation and soil drained from the sinkholes on the plateau into the chamber and ultimately resulted in an underground bog. A number of petrified bodies have been found in bogs in Europe."


"How old is this site?"


"Forty thousand years. At that time the hillside probably looked pretty much as it does today with a cave on top of the bluff and a spring below the entrance. The difference being that what was a spring then is now the cave and the upper cave has completely eroded away."


Doctor Chamberlain interrupted to romanticize the scene. "This community of ten lived in a small dry cave overlooking a river. At their doorstep water seeped from a chamber, surfacing as a spring. Game coming to the river supplied meat and from the plateau they gathered roots and berries. Sounds idyllic. Pardon the interruption. Go on Mister Curtis."


"When the last section of the dry cave collapsed, the cave dwellers fell into the bog. The slightly acid soil retarded the growth of bacteria and tumed their skin to leather."


Doctor Chamberlain ended the flow of questions from the class with two of his


"Mister Curtis, what makes this find important? What have we learned we didn't know before?"

"In one of your lectures, Doctor, you taught that it is accepted that Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals were contemporaries. The unanswered question was, did they interact? The contents of this cave proves they did. Doctor Johnson has long believed that if we could get samples of DNA from bodies as well preserved as these, we would be able to establish the relationship of those hominids and ourselves. From a few clues he has a theory which is frankly a little far out.


"Of the ten, seven were Cro-Magnon and three Neanderthal. The attire of the two Cro-Magnon women, three men and one child was a wraparound suited for warmth and comfort. The garments of the Neanderthal offered more freedom of movement. The most significant factor was that the Neanderthal woman was cradling a Cro-Magnon infant. Doctor Johnson proposes the docile Neanderthal's were kept as workers, servants or slaves by the more aggressive Cro-Magnon's."


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