Image of the standing stones at Stonehenge

The Stone Age

Examining the evidence that exists for the country's earliest inhabitants - Neanderthal man and early humans.

Pontnewydd Cave: St Asaph - 1.8 million - 100,000 BC

Come to the first human beings in Wales, this cave provided shelter for a group of hunter-gatherers 250,000 years ago.

Pontnewydd Cave in St Asaph
Pontnewydd Cave in St Asaph

It was when the cave was being used as an ammunition dump during the war that archaeologists found the bones and teeth of Neanderthal men and children, as well as stone and flint axes, scrapers and arrow heads.

These early axe heads would have been attached to straight pieces of wood, and sealed with pine resin and beeswax to make some of the earliest weapons in Wales.

Paviland Cave: Gower - c. 28,000 BC

Of the Gower's 95 caves, 22 provided shelter for pre-historic hunters some 30,000 years ago. In 1822, the Reverend William Buckland led an excavation in the Paviland Cave and unearthed the first ever pre-historic man. As well as 5,000 artefacts and bones, a shallow grave holding 'The Red Lady of Paviland' was discovered.

Paviliand Cave (Image by Ruth Davies)
Paviliand Cave

Now known to be a man, the person was buried with ornaments like shells, ivory and mammoth bones, and the skeleton packed with red ochre. This find provided invaluable evidence about ritual, the kinds of wild animals of the time, including reindeer, hyenas and the woolly rhinoceros and helped in our understanding of the spread of man through Europe.

It is still a mystery as to why the man was buried here: did it hold some spiritual or mythical significance?

Severn Estuary - c. 6,500 BC

About 8,500 years ago, a 5'6" man with size 11 feet walked along the Severn Estuary at 2.6 miles per hour carrying a heavy load on his right shoulder.

8,500-year-old footprints
8,500-year-old footprints

Archaeologists deduced all this from a series of footprints cemented in the hard clay of the Severn Estuary.

Mesolithic man would have lived in skin tents, close to the grazing animals they would hunt with flint weapons. The Severn estuary was prime hunter-gatherer territory as evidenced by footprints of men, red deer, pelicans and some of the earliest sheep in the British Isles.

Parc le Breos: Gower - c. 4,000 BC

This ancient burial chamber dates back 6,000 years: a time when people started to trade, farm and build communities. Worshipping the moon, death took on a new spiritual significance, symbolised by hand-built chambers which pointed to the close relationship with the departed, and their home on earth.

Le Breos burial chamber
Le Breos burial chamber

Remains of bones confirm that these chambers were used for depositing dead bodies. Bodies would have been left to rot away outside though, before being dragged in and buried.

There was evidence that men were repeatedly accessing the chambers, and that people gathered in the large forecourt to feast and celebrate the dead. The landscape was truly alive for Neolithic man.

Arthur's Stone: Gower - 2,500 BC

Typifying the type of burial chamber stretching into West Wales, Arthur's Stone or Maen Ceti is a typical 'portal dolman' monument. It is an enormous capstone precariously supported by smaller slabs underneath.

Arthur's Stone
Arthur's Stone

The capstone would have been lifted from where it was lying, with men digging below it to insert the smaller stones: the resulting gap was used as a burial place.

Situated on a long ridge of open land, in view of the mountains, this monument undoubtedly had spiritual significance, and is part of a whole network of chambers across the Gower.


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