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Paviland Cave (Wales)

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View from  Paviland Cave, Gower Coast of Wales

View from Paviland Cave, Gower Coast of Wales

Phillip Capper
Definition:

Paviland Cave, also known as Goat's Hole Cave, is a rockshelter on the Gower peninsula of South Wales in Great Britain that was occupied for different periods and in different intensities from the Early Upper Paleolithic through Final Paleolithic, approximately 35,000 to 20,000 years ago. It is considered the oldest Upper Paleolithic site in Great Britain (called British Aurignacian in some circles), and it is believed to represent an inmigration of early modern humans from mainland Europe, and currently associated with the Gravettian period.

The "Red Lady"

It must be said that the reputation of Goat's Hole Cave has suffered somewhat because it was discovered before the science of archaeology had a strong foothold in antiquarian research. No stratigraphy was apparent to its excavators; and no spatial data was collected during the excavations. As a result, its discovery nearly 200 years ago has left a fairly muddled trail of theories and suppositions about the age of the site, a trail only clarified the first decade of the 21st century.

In 1823, the partial skeleton of a person was discovered within the cave, buried with mammoth (extinct elephant) ivory rods, ivory rings and perforated periwinkle shells. All of these items were heavily stained with red ochre. At the head of the skeleton was a mammoth skull, complete with both tusks; and marker stones were placed nearby. The excavator William Buckland interpreted this skeleton as a Roman-period prostitute or witch, and accordingly, the individual was named the "Red Lady".

Later investigations have established that this person was a young adult male, not a female. Dates on the human bones and charred animal remains were in debate--the human bones and associated charred bone returned quite different dates--until the 21st century. Aldhouse-Green (1998) argued that this occupation should be considered Gravettian of the Upper Paleolithic, based on similarities of the tools from sites elsewhere in Europe. These tools included flint leaf points and ivory rods, both common in Upper Paleolithic sites.

Chronology

The largest and most substantial occupation at Paviland cave, including the "Red Lady" burial was initially determined to be Aurignacian, based on the presence of so-called "busked burins". Busked burins which themselves have been reinterpreted and are now recognized as exhausted cores which had been used to flake off bladelets: bladelets are associated with Gravettian period sites.

In 2008, re-dating and comparison with other sites with similar stone and bone tools indicated to researchers that the "Red Lady" was buried some ~29,600 radiocarbon years ago (RCYBP), or about 34,000-33,300 calibrated years before the present (cal BP). This date is based on a radiocarbon date from an associated charred bone, backed up by similar aged tools elsewhere, and has been accepted by the scholarly community, and that date would be considered Aurignacian. The tools within Goat's Hole Cave are considered late Aurignacian or Early Gravettian in appearance. Thus, scholars believe that Paviland represents an early colonization of the now-submerged Channel River valley during or just before the Greenland interstadial, a brief warming period about 33,000 years ago.

Archaeological Studies

Paviland Cave was first excavated in the early 1820s, and again in the early 20th century by WJ Sollas. The significance of Paviland is clear, when the list of excavators is obtained, including Dorothy Garrod in the 1920s, and JB Campbell and RM Jacobi in the 1970s. Re-investigations of the previous excavations were conducted by Stephen Aldhouse-Green at the University of Wales, Newport in the late 1990s, and again in the 2010s by Rob Dinnis at the British Museum.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the Upper Paleolithic and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Aldhouse-Green S. 1998. Paviland Cave: Contextualizing the "Red Lady". Antiquity 72(278):756-772.

Dinnis R. 2008. On the technology of Late Aurignacian burin and scraper production, and the importance of the Paviland lithic assemblage and the Paviland burin. Lithics: The Journal of the Lithic Studies Society 29:18-35.

Dinnis R. 2012. The archaeology of Britain's first modern humans. Antiquity 86(333):627-641.

Jacobi RM, and Higham TFG. 2008. The “Red Lady” ages gracefully: new ultrafiltration AMS determinations from Paviland. Journal of Human Evolution 55(5):898-907.

Jacobi RM, Higham TFG, Haesaerts P, Jadin I, and Basel LS. 2010. Radiocarbon chronology for the Early Gravettian of northern Europe: new AMS determinations for Maisières-Canal, Belgium. Antiquity 84(323):26-40.

Also Known As: Goat's Hole Cave

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