LE GROTTE DI PANTALICA
UNA GROTTA di PANTALICA
has been inhabited for over a quarter of a million years, first by Neanderthals
and then by modern humans. Traces of these early
inhabitants can be found in caves around the country.
The Palaeolithic or Early Stone Age
period is the time popularly known as the 'Ice Age'. It saw climate fluctuate between very
cold periods (known as glacials) when ice covered all of north Italy and warm
periods (interglacials), like the one in which we live today. It is against this backdrop
of changing climate that our early ancestors evolved from their African origins, migrated
across Europe and Asia, and developed into modern humans.
The first evidence we have for humans in caves
comes from sites . Excavations have identified the remains of an early form of
Neanderthal, that lived around 230,000 years ago.
Neanderthals were hunters and their tools show that they needed to get
close to their prey in order to kill. Neanderthal skeletons excavated around Europe have a
very high number of broken bones, suggesting that they may often have come off worst from
Cave was used briefly as a lookout
point by Neanderthals some time between 60,000 and 40,000 years ago. The cave was then
used as a den by hyeanas as the last glacial began.
It is possible that this deterioration in the climate is the reason for the extinction of
the Neanderthals, who died out around 35,000 years ago.
Modern humans, like us, first appear in Europe about 100,000 years ago.
Our appearance is marked by the use of new types of stone tools made from long thin blades
struck from a block of flint. These blades become the basis of tool kits which are much
more versatile for hunting, butchering and an enhanced range of activities than those of
In Wales no cave art has yet been discovered, but engraved and carved bones have been
found. Perhaps the most significant site to have produced this material is Paviland Cave
(Gower). This is home to the earliest human burial found in Britain, dating to around
26,000 years ago.
Other caves occupied during this early part of the last glacial include Cae Gwyn and
Ffynnon Beuno (both in Denbighshire), and Hoyles Mouth (Pembrokeshire). This latter cave
was used around 30,000 years ago. After this time, ice sheets spread across Wales reaching
their greatest extent between 20,000 and 18,000 years ago at which time all but the
southern margin of the country was covered by ice.
It is possible that people could have survived the climate in this ice-free area, using
skins and campfires to keep warm, but their prey had long since migrated south, leaving
nothing for them to eat, and forcing them to follow.
Around 18,000 years ago the ice sheets began a slow retreat and people recolonized
Britain. We believe they had returned by around 14,500 years ago, but the earliest
evidence from Wales dates to around 12,500 years ago at caves such as Paviland and Hoyles
With the end of the last glacial, about 11,500 years ago, the quantity of evidence for
people living in Wales increases greatly and changes in character. This date is used to
mark the end of the Early Stone Age and the start of the Middle Stone Age (or Mesolithic).