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Site Details

NPRN 305612

Map Reference SS59SW

Grid Reference SS53779002

Unitary (Local) Authority Swansea

Old County Glamorgan

Community Ilston

Type of Site CAVE

Broad Class DOMESTIC

Period Palaeolithic

Site Description Cat Hole Rock, a precipitous outcrop on the north side of a dry limestone valley (Parc Cwm) located about two kilometres from the south coast of the Gower peninsula, is the site of a cave with a history of irregular human occupation spanning at least 30,000 years from the Palaeolithic to Medieval periods.
Cathole cave has the form of a narrow cleft, wider at the base, which penetrates a considerable distance into the hillside. Its history of exploration dates from the mid-nineteenth century and the site is best known for its Palaeolithic finds. Recent exploration (2010) resulted in the discovery of an engraving on a vertical panel inside a small, almost hidden, niche north-east of the main gallery, approximately 10.5m from the cave entrance. It has been tentatively interpreted as representing the head, torso and antlers of a reindeer. Uranium Series dating of calcite which overlay the engraving provided a terminus ante quem of 12,500-14,500 years BP. This is only the second site in Britain (after Church Hole, Cresswell) where a find of Palaeolithic parietal art (executed on rock walls) has been confirmed by direct dating.
Several periods of activity have so far been identified at the site:
1. Gravettian (Early Upper Palaeolithic) in the form of distinctive points and tentatively dated to 33,000-32,000 cal BP.
2. Late Upper Palaeolithic (Cresswellian) occupation falling within the period 15,000-12,000 cal BP during the Late-glacial, revealed by points, burins, scrapers, flint awls, and a needle and awl of bone.
3. Mesolithic occupation when the cave was much used by hunter-gatherers.
4. Bronze Age activity in the form of a bronze socketed axe, sherds of burial urns and other vessels, and two human skulls.

Faunal remains associated with Late-glacial occupation include red fox, arctic fox, brown bear, tundra vole and possibly reindeer. Other fauna, some possibly earlier, found in the nineteenth century, include mammoth, woolly rhino, red deer and giant deer.
The cave is thought to have had a mortuary function in connection with the nearby Parc Cwm chambered tomb during the Neolithic period (see NPRN 93072).
A few sherds of medieval pottery were found in the latest levels.

Sources include:
RCAHMW, Glamorgan Inventory vol.I (1976), p.19-20.
S.Green & E.Walker, Ice Age Hunters (NMW Cardiff, 1991)
G.H.Nash et al. 'A discovery of possible Upper Palaeolithic parietal art in Cathole Cave, Gower Peninsula, South Wales', in Proceedings of Bristol University Spelaeological Society 2012, 25 (3), 327-336.

David Leighton, RCAHMW, 3 December 2012

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