Hyenas Den

Hyena 1
Hyenas Den

As we emerge from the dimly lit caves into the bright sunshine (well, this is a virtual visit!) of the tree-lined canal path, we can look back up the hill and see the escape of the River Axe as it too arrives above ground, descending in dozens of little waterfalls.

The canal was dug in 1857, to bring the waters of the River Axe from the cave mouth to the papermill. Building the canal dam raised the water level in the caves by about 1.5 metres – flooding Chambers 4 and 5 in the process.

The water in the canal is so clear that it appears to be shallow and still. It is in fact two metres deep and flowing steadily. The clean water is ideal for papermaking and driving the Victorian papermaking machinery.

Progressing down the canal path, on our left are the caves known as Hyena Den, Badger Hole and Rhinoceros Hole. Hyena Den, with its 30cm thick bed of bones, was discovered by the workmen digging the canal. The bones of tropical and Ice Age animals, such as rhinoceros, bear, mammoth and lion, were found here, 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!

Badger Hole and Rhinoceros Hole, the second and third small caves in the ravine, are also important prehistoric sites. Their excavation has added to our understanding of climatic change and the evolution of plant and animal life in the area.