Site of Coygan Cave, near Laugharne

Site of Coygan Cave, near Laugharne

A wooded hill juts up from the level farmland west of the Wales Coast Path here. About 60 metres up the hillside was Coygan Cave, used by Neanderthal people and later by hyenas! Limestone quarrying has destroyed the cave and most of the remnants of a Romano-British fort which occupied the top of the hill.

Coygan Cave was used by Neanderthals between 64,000BC and 50,000BC. Hand axes (stones with one end sharpened) found inside the cave are typical of tools used by Neanderthals. It’s unlikely that people lived in the cave, which was probably a shelter for hunters or a tools cache. Six stone tools were found in archaeological digs from 1866 to 1963. These remains survived in the cave through the last Ice Age (which ended c.12,000 years ago).

During the Ice Age, the cave was a hyena den. Archaeologists found remnants not only of hyenas inside but also woolly rhinoceros, reindeer, mammoth and brown bear – probably prey which hyenas had dragged to the cave.

Flint objects indicate that the hill was used by hunter gatherer groups 10,000-6,000 years ago. In the 4th century BC a hillfort was built on top of the hill. This continued to be occupied throughout the Iron Age, the Roman period and the into the early medieval period.

At that time, the land below the hill would have been salt marsh. The marsh belonged to Sir Guy de Brian by the late 13th century, with the burgesses of Laugharne having rights to use part of it. In the 16th century, Sir John Perrot, Lord of Laugharne, cheated the burgesses out of their rights in order to expand his sheep farming operation on the marsh. He left them with just a small area known as The Lees – still owned today by Laugharne Corporation.

Sea walls were built nearby in the 17th and early 19th centuries, turning the salt marsh into high quality farmland. Since the Second World War, much of the former marshland has been part of a Ministry of Defence experimental firing range.

With thanks to Ken Murphy, of Dyfed Archaeological Trust

Postcode: SA33 4RP    View Location Map