Out of the cave: French isolation study ends after 40 days

In this photo provided by the Human Adaptation Institute on Saturday, April 24, 2021, a member of the team taking part in the “Deep Time” study explores the Lombrives Cave in Ussat les Bains, France. After 40 days in voluntary isolation, 15 people participating in a scientific experiment have emerged from a vast cave in southwestern France. Eight men and seven women lived in the dark, damp depths of the Lombrives cave in the Pyrenees to help researchers understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments. They had no clocks, no sunlight and no contact with the world above. (Human Adaptation Institute via AP)In this photo provided by the Human Adaptation Institute on Saturday, April 24, 2021, a member of the team taking part in the “Deep Time” study explores the Lombrives Cave in Ussat les Bains, France. After 40 days in voluntary isolation, 15 people participating in a scientific experiment have emerged from a vast cave in southwestern France. Eight men and seven women lived in the dark, damp depths of the Lombrives cave in the Pyrenees to help researchers understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments. They had no clocks, no sunlight and no contact with the world above. (Human Adaptation Institute via AP)
Members of the French team that participated in the “Deep Time” study pose for a photo after exiting the Lombrives Cave in Ussat les Bains, France, Saturday, April 24, 2021. After 40 days in voluntary isolation, 15 people participating in a scientific experiment have emerged from a vast cave in southwestern France. Eight men and seven women lived in the dark, damp depths of the Lombrives cave in the Pyrenees to help researchers understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments. They had no clocks, no sunlight and no contact with the world above. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)Members of the French team that participated in the “Deep Time” study pose for a photo after exiting the Lombrives Cave in Ussat les Bains, France, Saturday, April 24, 2021. After 40 days in voluntary isolation, 15 people participating in a scientific experiment have emerged from a vast cave in southwestern France. Eight men and seven women lived in the dark, damp depths of the Lombrives cave in the Pyrenees to help researchers understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments. They had no clocks, no sunlight and no contact with the world above. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)
Members of the French team that participated in the “Deep Time” study, emerge from the Lombrives Cave after 40 days underground in Ussat les Bains, France, Saturday, April 24, 2021. After 40 days in voluntary isolation, 15 people participating in a scientific experiment have emerged from a vast cave in southwestern France. Eight men and seven women lived in the dark, damp depths of the Lombrives cave in the Pyrenees to help researchers understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments. They had no clocks, no sunlight and no contact with the world above. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)Members of the French team that participated in the “Deep Time” study, emerge from the Lombrives Cave after 40 days underground in Ussat les Bains, France, Saturday, April 24, 2021. After 40 days in voluntary isolation, 15 people participating in a scientific experiment have emerged from a vast cave in southwestern France. Eight men and seven women lived in the dark, damp depths of the Lombrives cave in the Pyrenees to help researchers understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments. They had no clocks, no sunlight and no contact with the world above. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)

Ever wonder what it would feel like to unplug from a hyperconnected world and hide away in a dark cave for 40 days?

Fifteen people in France did just that, emerging Saturday from a scientific experiment to say that time seemed to pass more slowly in their cavernous underground abode in southwestern France, where they were deprived of clocks and light.

With big smiles on their pale faces, the 15 left their voluntary isolation in the Lombrives cave to a round of applause and basked in the light while wearing special glasses to protect their eyes after so long in the dark.

“It was like pressing pause,” said 33-year-old Marina Lançon, one of the seven female members in the experiment, adding she didn’t feel there was a rush to do anything.

Although she wished she could have stayed in the cave a few days longer, she said she was happy to feel the wind blowing on her face again and hear the birds sing in the trees of the French Pyrénées. And she doesn’t plan to open her smartphone for a few more days, hoping to avoid a “too brutal” return to real life.

For 40 days and 40 nights, the group lived in and explored the cave as part of the Deep Time project. There was no sunlight inside, the temperature was 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) and the relative humidity stood at 100%. The cave dwellers had no contact with the outside world, no updates on the pandemic nor any communications with friends or family.

Scientists at the Human Adaption Institute leading the 1.2 million-euro $1.5 million) “Deep Time” project say the experiment will help them better understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments.

As expected, those in the cave lost their sense of time.

“And here we are! We just left after 40 days … For us it was a real surprise,” said project director Christian Clot, adding for most participants, “in our heads, we had walked into the cave 30 days ago.”

At least one team member estimated the time underground at 23 days.

Johan Francois, 37, a math teacher and sailing instructor, ran 10-kilometre circles in the cave to stay fit. He sometimes had “visceral urges” to leave.

With no daily obligations and no children around, the challenge was “to profit from the present moment without ever thinking about what will happen in one hour, in two hours,” he said.

In partnership with labs in France and Switzerland, scientists monitored the 15 member’s sleep patterns, social interactions and behavioural reactions via sensors. One sensor was a tiny thermometer inside a capsule that participants swallowed like a pill. It measured body temperatures and transmitted data to a computer until it was expelled naturally.

The team members followed their biological clocks to know when to wake up, go to sleep and eat. They counted their days not in hours but in sleep cycles.

On Friday, scientists monitoring the participants entered the cave to let the research subjects know they would be coming out soon.

“It’s really interesting to observe how this group synchronizes themselves,” Clot said earlier in a recording from inside the cave. Working together on projects and organizing tasks without being able to set a time to meet was especially challenging, he said.

Although the participants looked visibly tired Saturday, two-thirds expressed a desire to remain underground a bit longer in order to finish group projects started during the expedition, Benoit Mauvieux, a chronobiologist involved in the research, told The AP.

“Our future as humans on this planet will evolve,” Clot said after emerging. “We must learn to better understand how our brains are capable of finding new solutions, whatever the situation.”

Renata Brito, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Franceresearch

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As the BC CDC reports on May 5 declining pandemic numbers and only one case of COVID-19 in Prince Rupert, the vehicles parked outside the local testing center also decrease. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert COVID-19 numbers down again

Second outbreak at Acropolis declared over

Northern Health Authority is requesting local residents to refrain from attending the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital unless necessary, as some services have been affected by a fire on May 5. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Fire at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital creates a reduction in services

Northern Health is asking residents to not attend hospital unless necessary

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

Prince Rupert Firefighters Dylan Sidoni, Jon Bonneschranz and Derek Kormendi were commended in April with receiving the department’s first life-saving award, after they rescued a male victim from a burning building on Oct. 5, 2020. Tim Dopko, not present, was awarded Firefighter of the Year. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert Firefighters receive awards

New awards presented commending outstanding efforts for life-saving and firefighter of the year

Shawn Pettitt retired as Port Edward Fire Cheif and was honoured by the crew with the presentation of a specially engraved fire axe on April 20. (Photo: Supplied)
30-years of dedication to fire department

Retired Port Edward fire chief’s service is honoured by department

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Members of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. (File photo)
B.C.-wide #DayOfMusic to feature 100-plus free virtual concerts May 15

‘Our colleagues across the province have figured out new ways to perform and connect,’ VSO boss says

Two passengers were recently fined thousands of dollars after they faked their pre-flight COVID-19 test results. (Paul Clarke/Black Press)
2 passengers in Canada fined thousands for faking pre-flight COVID-19 tests

The government issued a warning Thursday to others thinking of doing the same – do it and you’ll be ordered to pay

(File)
With revenge porn on the rise in 2021, B.C. seeks feedback for new legislation

New legislation could help victims take down images and receive compensation

(Kamloops This Week file photo)
Federal police unit takes over probe of B.C. regional district’s spending

Financial Integrity Sensitive Investigations Unit is now reviewing the case

A black bear made a visit to downtown Vancouver Tuesday, May 4. The animal was spotted on train tracks in Gastown shortly after at 2:30 p.m. (Twitter/Craig Minielly)
VIDEO: Black bear spotted meandering around downtown Vancouver

The bear was reportedly tranquilized by conservation officers Tuesday afternoon

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Interior Health locks out Kelowna martial arts gym following COVID violations

Actions were taken after all other steps to gain compliance were exhausted, says health authority

A man who allegedly spat at and yelled racial slurs at an Asian family was arrested for hate-motivated assault Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
Arrest made after man spits, yells anti-Asian racial slurs at Victoria mom and kids

The man was arrested for hate-motivated assault near Quadra Elementary School Tuesday

A lady wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada may find it challenging to reach herd immunity from COVID-19, experts say

Level of immunity among the population changes with the variants, especially the more transmissible strains

Most Read