When you visit Wookey Hole Caves your guide will relate the 50,000 year history of the caves as home to both humans and animals. Archaeologists’ finds indicate man has lived in and around the caves for 50,000 years.
For people in ancient times, the caves at Wookey Hole were a safe and even comfortable place to live. They were dry, easy to defend, warm in winter and cool in summer.
The bones of tropical and Ice Age animals, such as rhinoceros, bear, mammoth and lion, were found in the Hyena Den, along with flint tools.
Archaeologists reckon that the cave was occupied by hyenas and man alternatively between 35,000 and 25,000 BC.
It seems that packs of hyenas drove their prey over the cliff edge and then ate the remains. There is even a theory that early man may have done the same!
Witch of Wookey
During the Dark Ages the Legend of the Witch of Wookey grew.
Some said King Arthur came over from Avalon and slew her, others that the Abbot of Glastonbury sent Father Bernard to exorcise her, and he turned her to stone by sprinkling holy water on her.
The Celts were farmers who had lived in or near the cave entrance for more than six hundred years. They used the part near the entrance because it was still quite light.
They burnt animal fat in simple lamps to explore deeper into the caverns. They reached as far as Chamber 4 which they used as a burial chamber.
2,000 years ago the Romans arrived to settle the region, build roads and exploit the rich mineral resources of the Mendip Hills. They subdued the local Celts in order to safeguard their newly opened lead mines and transport routes.
Not a lot is known of the history of the cave until the 18th century, when the poet Alexander Pope visited it and had several stalactites shot down out of the roof to take home as souvenirs!
The Caves Today
Today the caves are home to different animals. Horseshoe bats hibernate in the caves during the winter and sleep there at other times of the year.
There are no fish but divers have seen frogs, eels and freshwater shrimps in the underground waters. Insects such as moths and mosquitoes spend their winters in the caves.
They are food for the only creature that lives there all the year round – the cave spider.
The Witch is said to remain in residence in the caves to this day – watching over all these creatures.
The Wookey Hole Caves site has provided rich pickings for archaeologists and anthropologists over the years, and several exciting excavations have been undertaken.
In 1912 an archaeologist Herbert Balch found the almost complete skeleton of an old woman, the remains of some goats, a dagger, some household items and a polished alabaster ball among Iron Age remains.
Workmen digging the canal in 1857 found the remains of prehistoric man, including flint tools, as well as the bones of animals such as hyenas, mammoths, rhinoceros and lions.
Many of these are now on display at the nearby Wells City Museum, but most were retained and are now housed in Wookey Hole Cave’s very own museum.