The Red Lady of Paviland

By Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Location of Red Lady Cave on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea Google maps

The Gower Peninsula near Swansea in South Wales is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled stretches of small bays and sandy beaches in the British Isles. At Paviland, between Port Eynon and the headland of Rhossili, is a series of limestone caves which were excavated in 1823 by William Buckland. In one of these, known as Goat’s Hole, he discovered a skeleton which became known as the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’.

Buckland was a theologian, geologist and palaeontologist who became the first Professor of Geology at Oxford and later Dean of Westminster. Unfortunately his Christian beliefs led him astray in identifying and naming the skeleton. Believing that no human remains could exist earlier than the Great Flood recorded in the Bible, he decided that the skeleton must date from the time of Roman Britain. From the jewellery found with the skeleton he deduced that it was a lady and that she had probably been a prostitute.

Subsequent analysis showed that it was in fact the skeleton of a young man, aged about 25 years and dating from the Palaeolithic Era around 24,000 BC.

Goat’s Hole Cave on the Gower Peninsula

The adult skeleton had been covered with red ochre and buried with goods made from bone, antler and ivory as well as perforated seashell necklaces. The site was marked by a large mammoth skull but this was later lost by Buckland and its whereabouts are unknown.

Finds from Goat’s Hole, including more than 4,000 worked flints, animal teeth, necklace bones, stone needles and mammoth-ivory bracelets, are on display at Swansea Museum and at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The skeleton of the “Red Lady of Paviland” itself was presented by Buckland to the University Museum in Oxford.

Red Lady of Paviland from the head Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia. By Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Red Lady of Paviland from the feet Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia. By Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The skeleton of Paviland is now recognised as being among the earliest modern human remains discovered in Britain and the oldest known ceremonial burial found in Western Europe. Given the rather grand nature of his internment, covered in red ochre, the “Red Lady” must have been a very important man among his own people.

Text Alun Harvey

Source Explore Gower / Wikipedia


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