Rare evidence of prehistoric Homo sapien life found in cave under a castle in Wales

Archaeologists have found evidence of hunter-gathering settlements dating back tens of thousands of years in a cave in Wales.
Shubhangi Dua
Excavation underway at Wogan Cavern, a cave buried beneath Pembroke Castle in Wales
Excavation underway at Wogan Cavern, a cave buried beneath Pembroke Castle in Wales

Sonja Ooms / iStock 

An excavation team has found stone tools and animal bones dating back the last Ice Age at Pembroke Castle’s Wogan Cavern, in Wales.

So far, the team of archaeologists, led by Dr Rob Dinnis of the University of Aberdeen and Dr Jennifer French of the University of Liverpool, have only excavated a small part of the cave, but their discovery has already established the the site as one of the most significant archaeological caves in UK.

“In the early 13th century, a wall was built across the cave mouth. It is now accessed via a spiral stairway from the castle above,” said a statement from the University of Aberdeen.  

Considering the limited number of Homo sapiens sites in the UK, the new discovery is a rare occurrence. 

Ice Age remains

Other sites were almost entirely excavated out during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Dr Rob Dinnis said that the work at Wogan Cavern has already proven to be an extremely important site, but finds it most intriguing that scientists discovered it at the beginning of their expedition, considering how little they’ve excavated so far.

“It’s a big cave, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Who knows what else we might find in coming years? Could there be evidence for even earlier occupation, by our Neanderthal cousins? Given what we’ve found so far, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” he said.

After conducting an analysis of the stone tools discovered during an archaeological dig in 2022, it seems the tools were left by some of the earliest Homo sapiens who came to the UK during the middle of the last Ice Age, tens of thousands of years ago.

The tools were located alongside the bones of Ice Age animals, including reindeer, wild horse and woolly mammoth. 

New excavation methods

Scientists are testing new excavation methods and cutting-edge analytical techniques for the first time at the site, with archaeologists collecting sediment samples, under controlled conditions, to be screened for ancient human and animal DNA.

According to Dinnis, the UK is lagging behind European countries in understanding the first local appearances of Homo sapiens

However, he is hopeful that the discovery of Wogan Cavern can change that perception. The team can catch up by continuing to use modern archaeological methods to learn much more about this crucial period.

“When exactly did these people come to Britain, where did they come from, and how did they live in their Ice Age environments? These are all questions we can now try to answer, thanks to this incredible cave,” says Dinnis. 

The University of Aberdeen reports that new excavation projects are set to commence this summer, the undertakings will be sponsored by the Natural History Museum, London the Pembroke Castle Trust.

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