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Evolution of Man

Did you know that Britain has had only four types of humans inhabit it. Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. Incredibly, three of those humans have lived in Kents Cavern.

Evolution of man:

The earliest evidence of humans in Kents Cavern can be traced back to half a million years ago. Flint hand axes and other tools which have been uncovered in the cave revealed our earliest ancestors. During the colder periods humans would be able to walk between continents, via a land bridge called Doggerland (yes you read that right). Migration meant that often humans would be populating Europe and moving into Britain. During warmer stages the land was far more habitable as plants and animals were more abundant. Humans were often camping outside the cave entrance, making tools out of flint and using the nearby rivers as a water source. Often their bones were washed into the cave during the shift between cold and warm periods and sediment debris flows went into the cave carrying tools and bones with it.

HOMO ERECTUS

Our history began with Homo erectus, a primitive hominid around up to two million years ago, making its way from Africa and towards the edge of Europe. Homo erectus lived in a time now classified as the Lower Palaeolithic or old Stone Age and they were early tool makers.

HOMO HEIDELBERGENSIS

The oldest skeletal human remains were uncovered in a German gravel pit near Heidelberg. The jaw, whilst similar to Homo erectus also showed signs similar to our own. Estimated to be around 500,000 years old these remains are similar to bones found in Boxgrove, Sussex, England. These early Europeans were occupying the nearby area of Kents Cavern and their tools were unearthed in the breccia sediment of Kents Cavern which flowed into the cave around the same time. Homo heidelbergensis is now believed to be the key evolutionary link to other species of human, (including us!) and they occupied Britain and Europe.

NEANDERTHAL

Also named after their discovery in Germany (the Neander Valley to be precise), Homo neanderthalensis are one of the most famous human species. Neanderthal's had prominent eye ridges and large jaws teeth and denser bones. Their brains however, were around the same size as ours, although more focused on sight and primary senses. Many tools of Neanderthal were found in Kents Cavern demonstrating the evolution of their tool making; a real skill! It's now believed that Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago although the reason for their extinction is still debated today.

HOMO SAPIENS

The move into the upper Palaeolithic period came with the evolution of a more modern man. Just over 40,000 years ago we begin to see the emergence of some of the oldest human fossils belonging to Homo sapiens, including the Kents Cavern Jawbone (KC4) found in the Vestibule Chamber in 1927. This jawbone or maxilla is the earliest evidence for Homo sapiens found in Britain and North-west Europe.

MESOLITHIC

The Mesolithic or middle Stone Age, occurred at the end of the last Ice Age. Flint implements and tools are found in the cavern continuing a long history of human occupation.

NEOLITHIC

Since the arrival of Homo sapiens around 40,000 years ago Kents Cavern has had all almost continuous occupation of modern humans up to present day. Humans from the new Stone Age or Neolithic began farming and using bone for tools and flint for crude implements, again found in layers of Kents Cavern sediments.

BRONZE AGE

Did you know that copper was actually the first metal used by man? It could be worked in various shapes or even melted and poured in moulds. When mixed with tin our ancestors found that they got an even better material; bronze. Throughout the Bronze Age, trade began to develop and man began to acquire even more specialised skills. Pottery, copper casting, wood working and farming became more recognisable. Devon, particularly Dartmoor, has evidence of Bronze Age sites.

IRON AGE

By forging copper into tools, weapons and ornaments our ancestors were able to hone their skills even more, eventually smelting metals like iron. Iron Age artefacts include; cauldrons, helmets, buckets, shields pins and broaches. Increasing trade with Europe created the need for defence and Ice Age forts. Defendable homesteads in Devon included ones at Walls Hill, Torquay and Berry Head in Brixham.

ROMAN

Evidence of Roman occupation in Devon and particularly Torquay has been noted and small pockets of soldiers may have inhabited parts of Torbay. In particular evidence of Roman burials was found in Ash Hole Cavern, Brixham and Roman coins were also found in Kents Cavern underneath the most recognisable formation; The Face.