Text and photograph by Trevor Frost
Seven years after National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Mike Fay walked across Gabon on the Megatransect, this small tropical country still has many secrets. Some of those secrets are locked in an area with hundreds of caves that few people have visited or even know about. Over the past 20 years, the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement's Dr. Richard Oslisly and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Dr. Lee White (Mike Fay’s partner in establishing Gabon’s National Park System) have been exploring the caves and have made some incredible discoveries.
In 1994, while deep inside one of the caves, Paouen 1, they found stone tools, stone arrows, and charcoal. Carbon dating placed the tools and arrows to roughly 7,000 BP. In analyzing the charcoal, Dr. Oslisly and Dr. White also found that two of the plant species harbor deadly toxins used to poison arrows, while the third plant species was used for intoxication. They concluded in a 1994 Nature article that these caves held elaborate weapon-making rituals. This discovery, and a host of others, has placed the caves under consideration for Gabon's second UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, there are still many caves and archaeological sites to be found and explored. Our team will be trekking through dense rain forest, navigating 30-foot waterfalls, and documenting the secrets inside these mysterious caves. Stay tuned for updates.