Earlier this month, 6 'Beneath the Ridge' Volunteers, visited an excavation at the remarkable Ffynnon Beuno cave near Tremeirchion in North Wales.
This is part of a limestone cave system of international importance, said to be the last known occupied site of Northern European Neanderthals before their extinction (approximately 42000 years BC). It was also occupied by Homo Sapiens some 37000 years BC, and is one of only three sites in Britain known to contain artefacts from both periods.
In 1885, Victorian archaeologist 'Henry Hicks' excavated bones from woolly mammoth and rhino, hyena jaws and early flint tools. Regrettably, he only preserved the larger items and the smaller fragments were simply discarded in an enormous spoil tip on the hillside below the cave.
Access to modern technology now makes it worthwhile to sieve through the tip, learning from the tiniest of fragments. Excitingly, therefore, Dr Rob Dinnis and his team of students have been uncovering further quantities of evidence. They have also dug additional trenches within the cave.
Probably the most remarkable of the finds shared with us, was part of the tooth of a woolly rhinoceros. It is not often that we get reminders of the remarkable fauna that roamed our land in the intervals between the ice ages, fifty thousand years ago. Someone asked 'Don't rhinos prefer a warmer climate?' and was told 'Yes, that's why these were woolly!'.
Our own caves in Cheshire are, of course, formed in sandstone and are very different in both their history and conditions to the limestone of North Wales, but we know that Palaeolithic flint tools have been found at Carden Park, so there is every reason to hope that our survey beneath the Ridge may lay the groundwork for similar discoveries in the future.
We will be resuming our search next winter and hope to be able to assess further possibilities next spring.
Incidentally, for anyone visiting the Fynnon Beuno site, the excavation is now over, but it is a lovely area in which to roam and anyone who took part in our recent 'Ridge Rocks and Springs Project' will be interested to see the ancient Beuno's Well close to the Tea Hut by the road-side with a spring issuing from what resembles a Celtic Head.