Wookey Hole Caves - History - Cave Archaeology

Cave Archaeology

Archaeological investigations were undertaken from 1859 to 1874 by William Boyd Dawkins, who moved to Somerset to study classics with the vicar of Wookey. On hearing of the discovery of bones by local workmen he led excavations in the area of the hyena den. His work led to the discovery of the first evidence for the use by Palaeolithic man in the Caves of the Mendip Hills.

Herbert E. Balch continued the work from 1904 to 1914, where he led excavations of the entrance passage (1904–15), Witch's Kitchen (Chamber 1) and Hell's Ladder (1926–1927) and the Badger Hole (1938–1954), where Roman coins from the 3rd century were discovered along with Aurignacian flint implements. The 1911 work found a 4 to 7 feet (1.2–2.1 m) of stratification, mostly dating from the Iron age and sealed into place by Romano-British artefacts. Finds included a silver coin of Marcia (124BC), pottery, weapons and tools, bronze ornaments, and Roman coins from Vespasian to Valentinian II.

E. J. Mason from 1946 to 1949, and G. R. Morgan in 1972 continued the work. Books by Dawkins and Balch are now prized items amongst those with an interest in cave archaeology.

Later work led by Edgar Kingsley Tratman (1899–1978) OBE DSc MD FSA explored the human occupation of the Rhinoceros hole, and showed that the fourth chamber of the great cave was a Romano-British cemetery.

During excavations in 1954-7 at Hole Ground, just outside the entrance to the cave, the foundations of a 1st century hut and Iron Age pottery were seen. These were covered by the foundations of Roman buildings, dating from the 1st to the late 4th century.

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