Caves((=grotte)) 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 these encounters.

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 the Neanderthals.

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 Mouth.

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).