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Cave art

In recent years Gower has excitingly been confirmed as the home of Britain’s oldest cave art. The engraved image of a reindeer was discovered in the Cathole Cave in September 2010 during excavations.

Cathole Cave is a limestone cave within a dry valley, located close to Parc Cwm burial chamber. Although the valley is now dry there is evidence that a watercourse used to run through it: the surface of the cave roof features rippled patterns, suggesting that it was probably formed by water erosion. The cave is made up of connected chambers and has two entrances: one, Lower Cathole, being 20 metres north and 3-4 metres lower than the main entrance.

Scratch marks found upon the walls of the cave in 2007 seem to be those of a European Brown bear and were probably made following a period of hibernation. Before being identified as claw scratches, these marks were originally thought to be human.

The cave art was discovered in 2010 during explorations of the cave by archaeologist Dr George Nash. The drawing was found on a wall in the rear section of the cave and measures approximately 15 x 11 cm. It is made up of a series of thin, straight lines and appears to be the head, antlers and front legs of a reindeer; the body has been filled in using both vertical and horizontal lines. The scratch marks are covered in a fine powder, most likely deposited by water – this means that the image is not as sharp or fine as it would have been originally. It appears that a piece of flint, or similar, was used to make the engraving and that the artist was right handed.

Uranium series dating has placed the engraving between 12,500-14,500 BP (before present), with a plus or minus of 560 years. That’s around 14,000 years ago in the Upper Palaeolithic period. This makes it the oldest rock art in Britain and possibly the oldest in North Western Europe. The dating means that when this reindeer was drawn the artist would have experienced summers of a shiveringly cold minus 10 degrees and a few kilometres north of their ‘warm’ cave would have been an extensive ice sheet.