Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, contains
a site that shows us our cave-dwelling prehistoric ancestors.
Around 12,000 years ago humans lived in this
area, and some of their bones have survived. But these bones
seem to tell a rather gristly story of death, dismemberment,
and even cannibalism.
The bones have been found in pockets along the
cave walls. This would have been a good place to live because
the inhabitants would have had a fairly dry place that would make
a good camp, and where they would have a good food supply from
the land immediately outside. The gorge would have channelled
animals such as horse and red deer quite close to the caves, and
this would have been a good position from which to set up ambushes
to trap the game as it went past.
Looking at the stone tools and the working
of the bone and ivory, it can be understood that these people
were very sophisticated hunter-gatherers. They would have used
the caves on a long term basis rather than just as a temporary
It also had some possible greater significance.
Some of the objects found there are very unusual ones. These
include a piece of rib that had been cut and shaped with a series
of notches along the edge of the bone that makes it seem to be
some kind of counting device, or even a basic calendar, which
suggests that the cave site was important to the people there.
This leads to the conclusion that there could have been some
kind of ritual activity taking place.
Human bones have been found, and these were
in a strange condition. Many of them had marks on them which
were made by stone tools, found to occur on the edge of the
chin, on the side of the head at the jaw, and on the back of
the neck, along the vertebrae. The marks are just the same as
marks found on animal bones.
These people would have systematically butchered
the animals that they captured, and would have done a clean job
with their flint tools, taking the bones apart and then smashing
the longer ones to remove marrow.
The markings and the breakages on the animal and
human bones are exactly the same.