The Cultural Life of Caves: from Palaeolithic Shamans to Seven Sleepers
Sponsored by Suna-İnan Kıraç Foundation, İstanbul Research Institute, Istanbul (Turkey) in collaboration with Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University (USA)
Wednesday, January 18, 2012 to Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pera Museum Auditorium
Meşrutiyet Caddesi No.65 Tepebaşı - Beyoğlu - İstanbul
Istanbul, IST 34443

Free and open to the public.

For a symposium program and abstracts, see attached document or  visit:


Caves are unorthodox places, places that fire our imagination in distinctive ways with a mixture of fear and desire. In most cultural contexts, they are primordial sites of shelter and ritual practice, going back to the darkest reaches of human history. With their threatening darkness and pagan mystery, caves offer alternate realms to the luminous and polished spaces of our civilized everyday life. Conversely, "here in the grotto" wrote Victoria Nelson recently "you are inside the magical simulacrum of the universe" writing about the Italian grotesque gardens (2001): the grotto is the "heavenly cave" there. Yet, the deep and unfamiliar spaces of caves connect us to worlds other than our own, the underworld, the endless karstic corridors of a subterranean watery universe, the world of the ancestors and deities. As monuments built by natural forces, they offer us a chance to adhere to geological temporalities and the mytho-poetic deep time. After all, caves hosted the famous Seven Sleepers of the Eastern Mediterranean Christianity and Eshab-ı Kehf of Early Islam, offering human bodies a sweet drift into centuries of oblivious sleep. Travelers take shelter in caves and their stories overlap with animal companions who often protect them, as in the case of Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr's story of the spider web in the Cave of Thawr near Mecca. Caves provoke fascination with their miracles, hidden secrets, glittery lakes, sculptural virtuosity of their geological formations, and often get transformed into cult places of the most archaic type, as in Minoan Crete, Hittite Anatolia or among the Maya, who made sacrificial offerings to the maw of the earth monster.

This interdisciplinary conference will bring together scholars in the humanities and the social sciences to reflect on the rich cultural life of caves and caved spaces throughout history. By definition the conference will offer cross-cultural perspectives on the various ways through which societies imagined, took shelter in, altered, painted, fantasized about, desired and feared the caves around them. As in Byzantine Cappadocia, man-made caves imitating natural caves were conceived as spaces of worship as well as shelter. From Palaeolithic rock art to Minoan and Mayan sacred caves, from sites of pilgrimage such as Ashab al-Kahf to Plato's allegory of the cave, we invite scholars to discuss the cultural perceptions of, and human engagement with natural caves, ritual practices associated with them. We also hope to address the historical processes in the making of man-made caves and rock-cut architecture for dwelling, shelter, burial or worship. Approaches that particularly emphasize bringing together geological, environmental, speleological research with indigenous knowledges, oral histories, ethnographic and historical accounts as well visual representations of caves are particularly encouraged.

Proceedings of the event will be published as a joint publication of the Joukowsky Institute Publications and Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, İstanbul Research Institute Publications.

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