The county of Devon in South West England is famous as a popular holiday destination, and since 2007 it has also been home to the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark. The most important archaeological site within the Geopark area is Kents Cavern, a prehistoric cave system with an extensive labyrinth of caverns and passages. The cave has been thoroughly excavated and many of the finds are on display in the nearby Torquay Museum.
What makes the cavern unusual is the fact that it has been open to the public as a show cave for over 100 years. Privately owned, the caves are open every day and attract 80,000 tourists a year. Visitors’ needs are catered for by a visitor centre with a restaurant and gift shop.
This part of England gives its name to the Devonian geological period some 385 million years ago, which is when the limestone rock surrounding the caves was formed. The caverns and passages here were formed by water action in the early Pleistocene period or Ice Age. Archaeological finds at Kents Cavern are exceptional for two reasons – firstly, because they show that the cave was inhabited or used in every major period of time from Palaeolithic to late Medieval; and secondly, as evidence of human occupation, in the same location, by three separate species of ancient humans – Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.
The first major excavation at Kents Cavern was carried out in the 19th century and lasted for 15 years from 1865 to 1880. Palaeolithic tools found here are probably around 600,000 years old, making them amongst the oldest ever found in Britain. Finds on display in Torquay Museum demonstrate the variety of wildlife that has inhabited the region in the last million years, including mammoth, woolly rhino, cave bears, lions, hyenas, hippopotamus, extinct elephants and giant deer.
Since 1952 the cave has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and since 1957 as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Text Alun Harvey
Source Wikipedia / Torquay Museum website