Mesolithic and Neolithic human remains from Foxhole Cave, Gower, South Wales.

Rick J. Schulting, Linda Fibiger, Richard Macphail, Rowan McLoughlin, Emily Murray, Catherine Price, Elizabeth A. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper presents an overview of the results of two brief excavation seasons (2008 and 2010) at Foxhole Cave, Gower, south Wales, placing them into the wider context of mid-Holocene Britain. No prehistoric pottery was found and the few pieces of worked flint recovered are diagnostic of the Mesolithic period. Typically for the Carboniferous limestone caves of Gower, bone was well preserved, however, and though much of the material in the heavily disturbed upper metre or so of the deposits was modern sheep and rabbit, scattered fragments representing the remains of at least six humans were also recovered, of which two have been directly radiocarbon-dated using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS 14C) to the Late Mesolithic and two to the earlier Neolithic (the remaining two providing Romano-British and medieval dates). Their associated stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values indicate a significant difference in diet between the two periods (contrary to the results from an earlier excavation in 1997), with marine foods contributing around half of the protein for the Mesolithic individuals and little or none for the Neolithic individuals. The new results are consistent with those from Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire, some 30km to the west. The floor of the cave has still not been reached at around 2m depth; limited investigation of the lowermost levels has yielded a Pleistocene fauna (including reindeer, aurochs or bison and collared lemming) with dates back to approx 33,500 cal bc, though with no definite evidence for human activity so far. A small, dark-stained fragment of human cranium was recovered from what may be pre-Holocene levels, but this failed to produce sufficient collagen for dating. In addition to a marked dietary shift, the combined stable isotope and dating programme provides further support for an equally striking temporal gap of some two millennia between the Mesolithic and Neolithic use of caves for burial.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalAntiquaries Journal
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2013


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