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Goat's Hole Cave, Paviland

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Goat’s Hole Cave is located on the coast of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales and is accessible only at low tide. It is perhaps the most abundant cave site for Early Upper Palaeolithic artefacts in Britain, though there is evidence for hominin presence here predating 30,000 years ago. Goat’s Hole famously produced the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’, one of the oldest known ceremonial burials in Western Europe.

The cave is an eroded limestone cleft which takes the form of a 22-metre passage with a maximum width of 6 metres. It is tallest at the entrance, standing at 10 metres, before tapering towards the rear - the only roof feature being a chimney on the East side around 7 metres in.

Neanderthal presence here is evidenced by Mousterian culture discoid cores and a handaxe and ‘proto-levallois’ flake. Six ‘Leaf Point’ flint tools, only one complete, were also discovered at Goat’s Hole and dated to c.38-27,000 BP through comparison to examples at other British sites. Whether these ‘leaf points’ were made by modern humans or Neanderthals is difficult to conclude. The majority of artefacts at Goat’s Hole Cave are from the Aurignacian period, which comprises most of the 5000 Early Upper Palaeolithic finds here. This assemblage is dominated by busked burin and nosed and carinated scraper flint tools but worked ivory and the infamous ‘Red Lady’ also belong to this period. Comparatively few artefacts from later Palaeolithic cultures have been discovered here. One Gravettian lithic fragment has been found and only 27 Later Upper Palaeolithic finds have been made – including two Creswell points, two Cheddar points and one Penknife point. Numerous animal bones have been found, mainly dating to the Aurignacian occupation period, though those without clear evidence of human alteration are difficult to distinguish from predator debris.

The famous ’Red Lady’ is actually a young adult male who some academics believe was a hunter due to the associated tools and animal bones. The skeleton was found with numerous worked ivory ornaments and perforated seashells. The entire area of the burial was covered in red ochre which stained the ground and assemblage. Multiple radiocarbon dates have been obtained from the ‘Red Lady’ over the last 70 years but most recently in 2008 advanced radiocarbon techniques produced a date of c.33-34,000 BP.

The first excavation at Goat’s Hole, and the discovery of the ‘Red Lady’, was conducted in 1823 by William Buckland, a geologist from Oxford University. He originally concluded that the skeleton was a Romano-British woman due to both the presence of Romano-British material in the cave and his belief in the Genesis ‘deluge’ as a historical event. In 1912 William Sollas, also a Professor of Geology at Oxford University, conducted a second excavation which produced a large lithics assemblage which he later analysed. Sollas concluded that the ‘Red Lady’ and most of the lithics were Aurignacian, with some Mousterian lithics. Proceeding investigations of Goat’s Hole were mainly typological until a 1996 project was conducted. This project, sponsored by the SCARAB Research Centre and National Museums and Galleries of Wales, aimed to restudy the existing artefacts and conduct a field study of the site. It also obtained 44 radiocarbon dates from NERC Scientific Services from animal and human remains at Goat’s Hole.

Goat’s Hole cave is a internationally significant site for the Palaeolithic period in Wales and Western Europe as a whole and is a Scheduled Monument (Cadw, GM504). It contains a large Aurignacian lithic assemblage but most importantly the ‘Red Lady’, with his current date of 33-34,000 BP, has implications for the timeline of the settlement of Britain and the spread of Aurignacian culture. Considering this, Goat’s Hole Cave is a site deserving of more attention and hopefully application of modern archaeological techniques might reveal more about the nature of the site.

Context: Welsh Palaeolithic

The Palaeolithic, also known as the ‘Old Stone Age’ is an era defined by the advent and use of lithic technology by hominids. This period sits within the Pleistocene or ‘Ice Age’ global epoch which lasted from around 2.5 million to 10,000 years before present and contained multiple dramatic climate shifts. Mainland Europe’s Palaeolithic occurred around 1.4 million to 10,000 years ago, but as an era defined by hominin behaviours and presence, the span of the Palaeolithic differs between locations.

The earliest evidence of Welsh hominins comes from Neanderthal remains dated to around 230,000 years ago. However, due to climactic changes in this period, Wales was only occupied intermittently. The first modern human remains found in Wales, known as ‘the Red Lady of Paviland’, date to between 33,000 – 34,000 years ago but the area would later be abandoned between 21,000 to 13,000 years ago. This includes artefacts from one of the last phases of the era, the Early Upper Palaeolithic (38,000-27,000 years before present). Humans in this period continued to rely on lithic technologies and operated in mobile hunter-gatherer social units which were capable of cultural complexities such as ritual burials and art. 

Sources include:

Aldhouse-Green, S. and Pettitt, P. (1998) “Paviland Cave: Contextualizing the ‘red lady,’” Antiquity, 72(278), pp. 756–772. Available at:  

Cadw Scheduled Ancient Monument GM504

Glamorgen Gwent Archaeological Trust HER PRN 04671w

Hutton, R. (2011) “Romano-british reuse of prehistoric ritual sites,” Britannia, 42, pp. 1–22. Available at:  

The 'red lady' of Paviland (no date) Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Available at:  (Accessed: March 30, 2023).

Sommer, M. (2004) “‘an amusing account of a cave in Wales’: William Buckland (1784–1856) and the red lady of Paviland,” The British Journal for the History of Science, 37(1), pp. 53–74. Available at:  

B. Irvine, April 2023

This record was enhanced by B. Irvine (University of Southampton) as part of an MA/MSc work placement with RCAHMW (January to May 2023).

application/pdfRCAHMW ExhibitionsBilingual exhibition panel entitled Morgannwg: Y Cyfnod Cynhanesyddol Cynnar. Glamorgan: Early Prehistoric, produced by RCAHMW, 2009.