Paviland Cave (Goat's Hole) and the Red Lady of Paviland

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One of the most famous caves in the world, for its archaeological find during the 1800s, the pear-shaped cave entrance 10 metres high by 7 metres wide, is found within the limestone cliffs of Paviland. Goat's Hole West/Hound's Hole is one of the larger Paviland caves.

Paviland cave

The cave was formed by the sea when sea levels were up to 8 metres higher than today's. Within the chamber, daylight gleams from the chimney 20 metres above, barely illuminating two hollows upon the cave floor. These depressions are the remnants of the two major excavations of the cave, dated 1823 and 1912.

Early human remains

Goat's Hole was first excavated in 1822 by Mr. L W Dillwyn and Miss Talbot of Penrice Castle. Interested by the discoveries made here, Reverend William Buckley re-excavated the cave the following year. It was during this secondary and more substantial exploration that one of the World's most important archaeological finds was uncovered. At the time, however, the discovery was completely misidentified. Buckley was the first Professor of Geology at Oxford at the time and was later to become Dean of Westminster. He was also a devout Christian and it was this latter fact that led Buckley into not recognising the full importance of his find.

Buckand believed that no human remains could be dated earlier than the Great Flood that is recorded in the Bible. Misguided by this preconception, his dating of the skeleton was drastically inaccurate. Modern tests have dated the remains to be 24,000 BC!

The Red Lady

The remains uncovered by Buckland consisted of a whole side of an adult skeleton that had been covered with red ochre and buried with goods made from bone, antler and ivory. Perforated seashell necklaces also accompanied the body and it was largely these decorative items that led Buckland into identifying the skeleton as that of a female, probably a Roman prostitute or witch. This misidentification of the skeleton, plus the red staining of its bones by the red ochre that had been sprinkled over the body at the time of its burial, gave Buckland's find the title of "The Red Lady of Paviland." A large Mammoth's skull, also uncovered at the site and which marked the site of the ritual burial, was later lost by Buckland and has yet to be rediscovered.

A further excavation of Goat's Hole, Paviland, and a re-examination of the "Red Lady of Paviland" skeleton was made in 1912 by Professor Sollas. Armed with more scientific means of dating and identifying the remains of Buckland's earlier discovery, Sollas identified the "Red Lady" as, in fact, a male and dated it to around the Stone Age.

In total, finds at Goat's Hole also include over 4000 worked flints, animal teeth, necklace bones, stone needles and mammoth-ivory bracelets. These can be viewed at Swansea Museum and the National Museum of Cardiff. The "Red Lady of Paviland" itself, is housed in the University Museum of Oxford, where it was first presented by Buckland - there being no suitable museum in Wales at the time of his excavation of the cave. Currently on temporary loan to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, the skeleton has over the years been subject to much debate regarding its final resting place. Local people of Gower, Swansea and Wales as a whole, firmly believe that the ancient human remains should be respectfully returned to Wales, preferably to either Swansea or even Gower itself. A small campaign group led by local Druid, Cyt ap Nydden, recently highlighted the need to return the remains to the sacred ground of Paviland Cave, from which it was originally unearthed. He insists that something is spiritually 'amiss' with the cave since the the burial site was desecrated by the removal of the bones and artefacts. Ancient skeleton to return home.

The skeleton of the "Red Lady of Paviland", as it is still fondly known, is now recognised as belonging to one of the earliest orders of modern man and offers one of only a few examples of the biology and behaviour of our ancestors. His bones are still receiving scientific attention but they have already revealed a wealth of information on how this individual lived his life.

The "Red Lady of Paviland" died no earlier than his 21st year of life and had hitherto been a rather healthy person. During his life, Britain (which was still attached to the rest of Europe at the time) had a rather different climate to that experienced today. With cool summers but very harsh winters its climate can be approximated to that currently experienced in Scandinavia. The Bristol Channel was just a shallow river which meandered through the very rich hunting ground of Paviland. From this river, it can be speculated, the "Red Lady of Paviland" fished to supplement his diet. This addition of fish to his diet, as proven by recent studies of the "Red Lady's" skeleton, marked Modern Man apart from Neanderthals who did not vary their diet from their staple of meat and grain. The fact that the "Red Lady" could vary his diet gives one clue as to how Modern Man survived through the various hardships of nature that threatened his survival whilst the Neanderthal race died out. Although no clothing was discovered with the "Red Lady", it has been established that the people of his time wore adorned clothes and would often wear periwinkle necklaces as fashion pieces.

Shaman

Paviland is now recognised as an exceptional archaeological site and, given the rather grand nature of his internment, the "Red Lady" is considered to have been a very important man amongst his people. It is believed that the "Red Lady's" grave was visited as a magical Shamanic site and attracted visitors from far afield. A person of significance during his life, his fame also continues after his death - his being one of the oldest dated modern human remains discovered in the United Kingdom and the oldest known ceremonial burial found in Western Europe.

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