Palaeolithic hand axes discovered at Coygan Cave, Carmarthenshire
(Photo National Museum Wales)


Environmental Studies

The flora and fauna of the Palaeolithic varied with the changing climate, from widespread forest during warmer periods to an open landscape in areas not covered with ice during glaciations. Bones and teeth of hippopotamus and straight-tusked elephant have been found at Cefn Cave in Clwyd, dating to the last warmer interglacial, while mammoth and woolly rhinoceros remains are recorded at a number of Welsh sites including the caves at Coygan, Carmarthenshire, and Paviland.

Stalactites and stalagmites growing within limestone caves contain a record of climate changes that can go back thousands of years. As they only accumulate at warmer temperatures, when there is water flow, periods of warm and cold can be identified in their growth rates. The level of decay of uranium within the deposits can also be measured to date these changes of climate. No stalagmite deposition occurred within any cave on the Gower coast at the time of the Paviland burial, which therefore was a time of increased cold.

Insect species found within Palaeolithic environmental samples have been compared to those known today and many insects taken from samples dated to 29,000 years ago show they were species adapted to cold climates. The most common of these is the Tibetan dung beetle, nowadays only found on the Tibetan plateau, indicating therefore a time of increased cold.