The island on which we live is steeped in history. From ruins of Roman towns to Medieval Castles, you can find history wherever you turn in the United Kingdom. But history of man on the island far exceeds medieval kings and queens and even ancient Rome and we experienced this history first hand a couple weeks ago when we took a cave tour in Kents Caverns.
Located in Torquay, Devon, these caves aren’t just historic, there PREhistoric. The caverns have been continuously occupied by humans and animals for 40,000 years but evidence has been found inside the caves that humans occupied the area nearly half a MILLION years ago. In 1927 archaeologists found a jawbone that dated to 41,000-44,000 years ago! This jawbone is the the oldest known piece of human remains found in North-Western Europe.
Today neither animals or people live in the caverns, but you can take a guided tour through the magnificent rooms. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and funny and made the tour very interesting. I took notes while we walked because I knew I wouldn’t remember all the information I wanted to share with you all (I hope that if he’s reading this he’s realizing I wasn’t texting or not paying attention.)
Unlike many caves with ancient remains in them, Kents caverns were never officially “discovered” because they were consistently in use for thousands of years. Roman coins uncovered in the silt and brachia prove that the caves were in use even after prehistoric times. This also made it difficult for later archaeologists to prove that modern humans didn’t plant the artifacts there.
In the1800s William Pengelly, set about excavating the caves. Prior to this the cave floors were significantly higher, grown with layers and laters of breccia (solidified silt and mud). When Pengelly excavated between 1865 and 1880 he dug out these layers using mostly explosives. Unfortunately while clearing out much of the caves to what we see today, it also destroyed most stalagmites and stalactites that were located in the caves. Luckily, a few stalactites still exist in the caves. You’ll see the fastest growing one which has a calcite water drip on it every four to six seconds. This beast us growing rapidly at .06 mm/year. You can read more about the early explorers of the caves here.
You’ll learn much more on your tour of Kent’s caverns but I don’t want to spoil it all for you. I think it’s definitely a must visit when you head down to the south of England. We really enjoyed the history and beauty of the caverns. It made for a great way to spend the morning.
NB: With the current social distancing measure in place, The Caverns have done a great job ensuring small tour groups go through the caves and there is ample space for everyone to stand socially distanced while the tour guide talks. Make sure you book in advance before heading there to ensure you have a spot on your desired tour.
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