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Kents Cavern

About

Another favourite of ours for many years!

There is a very profound reason, too! With global warming, conservation, and sustainability as immediate concerns, when we look back, we realise what damage we have been doing over the recent past. Our ancestors did not worry about streaming TV channels, supermarket prices, or what car to drive; it was about survival, which may be in our interest to consider soon! Life is no doubt better these days. We live longer; we have modern healthcare and warm homes, so let's look back and see what the world was like and consider whether we wish to return to those days, long gone.

Kent's Cavern is in Wellswood, a few hundred yards from Meadfoor Beach, and you can imagine that thousands of years ago, the man was not just the hunter but the hunted. Fortunately, there is also a great cafe at Kent Cavern, so there is no need to worry about that.

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The Geology

Kents Cavern consists of limestone formed beneath the sea over 3,000 miles away during the Devonian period. This limestone was created from marine organisms' compressed and hardened remains that extracted calcium carbonate from seawater to build their shells and bones.

 

Approximately 300 million years ago, tectonic movements during the Variscan Orogeny pushed this limestone to the Torbay area. The cave itself began to form around 2 million years ago through the process of solution. Rainwater mixed with carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid, which dissolved the limestone, creating fissures that eventually expanded into caves. These formations expanded over time, with water eroding the rock and leaving behind large circular passages and canyons.

Calcification within the cave has led to stalactites, stalagmites, and other calcite structures, created as carbon dioxide in water dissipates and deposits calcium carbonate over thousands of years. These formations can grow into spectacular shapes like curtains, columns, and helictites.

Sediments began to fill Kent's Cavern about half a million years ago. Initially, breccia, which contained early human tools and ancient fauna, blocked passageways. Stalagmite floors then sealed this layer, and during the last Ice Age, more sediments known as 'cave earth' introduced additional archaeological and paleontological finds. Subsequent stalagmite layers preserved these deposits until their excavation millennia later.

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A Unique Place

In Britain, archaeological findings have identified four different human species: Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens, with Homo sapiens inhabiting Britain for approximately 40,000 years.

 

Interestingly, this timeline coincides with the extinction of Neanderthals in the region. The discovery of a 40,000-year-old Homo sapiens jawbone at Kents Cavern represents the oldest modern human fossil found in Britain, and it is displayed at Torquay Museum.

Kents Cavern stands out as the only show cave in the world where remains of three different human species have been discovered, excluding Homo antecessor. This distinction, along with the presence of Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens, solidifies Kents Cavern's status as a critical prehistoric site with a significant link to human history spanning over half a million years, making it one of Europe's most important prehistoric caves.

In 1927, excavators at Kents Cavern made an unprecedented discovery: a fragment of a jawbone and three teeth, which have since been recognized as the oldest evidence of modern humans in North-West Europe.

In the 1920s, interest in Kents Cavern had waned to a degree but the discovery of a 15,000-year-old skull in a small crack on the cliff where the cave is located reignited interest in the site. In 1927, an unprecedented discovery was made: a fragment of a jawbone and three teeth, which have since been recognized as the oldest evidence of modern humans in North-West Europe.

The significance of the jawbone, radio-carbon dated to be between 41,000 and 44,000 years old, cannot be overstated. It represents the oldest known human fossil in North-West Europe, indicating that Kents Cavern was inhabited by humans like us over 40,000 years ago.

Lets all be careful that we do not have to live in caves again and be discovered 40,000 years later!

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