Early explorers

Father John MacEnery : 1825

Chaplain to the Cary family who lived at Torre Abbey manor in Torquay MacEnery developed an interest in archaeology in the ruins of the abbey.  During summer retreats to the 13th century Ilsham Chapel, situated across the valley from Kents Cavern, MacEnery began to explore the caves and uncovered bones of extinct prehistoric animals and man-made flint tools lying side-by-side under thick stalagmite floors. 

MacEnery invited the Rev William Buckland to his excavations in the caves.  Buckland had just published VindiciƦ GeologiƦ in 1820,  "The Connexion of Geology with Religion Explained" reconciling geological evidence and dinosaur fossils with the biblical accounts of creation and Noah's flood.

Drawings of his findings were prepared for publication but he could not raise the funds to publish his muddled manuscripts. He needed to arrange his recordings but he found them such a jumbled mass of contradictions that he ended up convincing himself that he was wrong.

Today we know that MacEnery had indeed discovered that man had  lived in the caves thousands of years ago before 4004BC, the generally accepted date of man's origin according to biblical chronology.



William Pengelly : 1865 - 1880

Pengelly was inspired by MacEnery's work but it was the discovery of a cave in Brixham that convinced Pengelly he should excavate Kents Cavern. While excavating foundations for a row of houses in what is now Mount Pleasant Road, Brixham, a builder broke into a large cave.  It contained bones of extinct animals and man-made flint tools lying side-by-side in the cave.  Here was tangible proof of the antiquity of man as no modern person could possibly have placed these artefacts aloneside each other in this cave.   

The work carried out by Pengelly and his team between 1865 and 1880 laid the foundation stone for modern archaeological work. His meticulously work recorded every object found, its location and its level in the cave earth.

Pengelly was a prolific writer and would send the results of his findings and prehistoric artefacts to museums around the world. Some of the man-made hand axes his team unearthered have now been dated to 450,000 years old.



Arthur Ogilvy : 1925 and 1941

Arthur Ogilvy was curator of Torquay Museum and let two excavations in the caves, in 1927 and 1941.  His greatest find was a human jawbone which in 2011 has been dated 41-44,000 years old. It remains the oldest human fossil from modern man ever found in northwestern Europe and makes Kents Cavern the earliest known human settlement in this part of Europe.

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