Britain’s oldest burial site, Gower

button_lang_frenchBritain’s oldest burial site, Paviland, Gower

A cave near here is the oldest known formal burial site in western Europe. Please stay on the footpath and do not attempt to go down to the cave – the cliffs here are dangerous.

© Oxford University Museum
of Natural History
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The prehistoric human whose remains were found here was named “The Red Lady of Paviland” after it was discovered in 1823. The bones were discovered in Goat’s Hole Cave by Dr William Buckland, who thought they were Roman. Scientists have dated the bones to c.33,000 years ago.

The bones are kept at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and are the remains of a young man, in his early 20s. They were coloured by red ochre, a naturally occurring compound which has been found at many prehistoric burial sites in Europe.

He lived before the last Ice Age, which peaked c.20,000 years ago and made what we now call Wales an uninhabitable area. Humans returned c.15,000 years ago.

Dr Buckland recalled that farmers already knew there were bones in the pair of caves at Paviland, and that a curate and surgeon had found elephant teeth and part of tusk there in 1822. He recorded that he had found almost the entire left side of the human, although the skull and vertebrae were missing, and that the bones were stained “brick red”. They were under about 15cm (six inches) of earth when he found them.

Dr Buckland (1784-1856) was an Anglican priest and, from 1813, professor of mineralogy at Oxford University.

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