Britain's oldest human settlement

The Kents Cavern Jawbone is over 41,000 years old

Jawbone story at

Jawbone story at BBC News

Jawbone story at Natural History Museum

The human jawbone, unearthed in Kents Cavern, is between 44,200 and 41,500 years old making it the oldest modern human fossil in northwestern Europe and certainly in Britain according to research published today in Nature, the internationally renowned science magazine.

The Kents Cavern jawbone, a maxilla (upper jawbone), was found in 1927 and has been intriguing scientists for decades.  In 1989 it was dated at 31,000 years old and tests were carried out recently to determine if it could be Neanderthal. 

This latest study was carried out by Dr Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford and Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.  It confirms the jawbone is not Neanderthal but in fact the oldest anatomically modern human fossil ever to have been discovered in this part of Europe.

Nick Powe, fifth generation owner of Kents Cavern said: "This is hugely exciting for Kents Cavern which has always been one of the UK’s classic prehistoric caves.   With mounting interest in the origins of humankind this research is likely to elevate the cave’s status, and indeed that of the English Riviera Global Geopark, to a whole new level.

"My great-grandfather, Francis Powe, gave the Curator of Torquay Museum permission to excavate the Vestibule Cave in 1927 and it’s thanks to the continuing interest in the Kents Cavern collection by the team at Torquay Museum and all the other academic institutions involved, that such a significant scientific discovery has been made."

James Hull, general manager at the cavern, which attracts 80,000 visitors a year, said: "Confirmation that the jawbone is modern human, and contemporary with Neanderthals places Kents Cavern in the top league of prehistoric Ice Age sites on the planet.

"Since the 1820s Kents Cavern has been at the centre of discussions on the antiquity of man and this new date continues the story.  Of course, the landscape of Torquay would have been completely different 42,000 years ago with animals such as mammoth, rhino and hyenas roaming around a harsh, barren cold landscape.

"What is fascinating for visitors is the fact that early humans and Neanderthals shared hunting grounds and used Kents Cavern to shelter from the extreme weather. The cave hasn’t changed much and there is no better experience than entering the actual place where these ancient humans lived."

Kents Cavern is open every day for guided tours and more information can be found at  or email [email protected].


Kents Cavern is a visitor centre for the English Riviera Global Geopark, an international designation supported by UNESCO’s Earth Sciences Division and awarded to areas of outstanding geological interest to encourage the use of geological heritage for the benefit of the local economy.

For further information on filming or for any other interview or photography requests at Kents Cavern contact Nick Powe at Kents Cavern on (01803) 215136 or e-mail: [email protected]