Banwell Bone Caves

Banwell Bone Caves

Imagine entering a tiny opening on a hillside into a slippery, rocky cavern to explore pitch black chambers by candlelight, the lowest one revealing a turquoise blue lake and much later a further discovery of a cave filled with thousands of animal bones, the like you have never seen before.

In 1842, a human skeleton was found on the grounds of the estate close to the caves and remains an unsolved mystery to this day.

Banwell Bone Cave

Banwell Bone Cave

In the 19th century the reopening of this lost cave, followed by the second cave stacked with bones of animals no longer living in Britain found on Banwell Hill, caused a great deal of interest.

At the time, the land was owned by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, named George Henry Law who believed that the bones had been washed in by Noah’s flood.

He invited people to come and see the caves to witness the aftermath of Gods punishment of a wicked world as a warning of their own fate if they did not live their lives within the ideals of the church.

Nowadays, we know that the bones are from animals who lived in the ice age and the little known site in Banwell village has been classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and important to the scientific study of Ice Age Britain.

According to John Chapman, who made a short film about the caves, any bones found of the ‘same period of the Ice Age as these bones are known as ‘Banwell Type Fauna’ and the caves are one of the best areas in Britain for the protected species of Greater Horseshoe Bats.

The bones are now known to be from the Pleistocene period, 50,000 – 80,000 years old, it would have been arctic landscape in that time and the animals had been living above the caves on the land and their bones would have washed into the cave by melting ice and high rivers.

The Natural History Museum has identified the bones as:
Bison (Bison priscus)
Otter (Lutra sp.)
Wolf (Canis lupus)
Wolverine (Gulo gulo)
Arctic Hare (Lepus timidus)
Reindeer (Rangifer taradus)
Northern Vole (Microtus oeconomous)
Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus)

Whalebone cave entrance

Whalebone cave entrance

At the time of the discovery the public were fascinated by the site fueled by the Bishops wild religious beliefs and people flocked to see the caves, the Bishop planted woods on the hill and built follies, summer houses and a tower.

Then in 1834 he built a small Druids temple to show visitors how ‘the wicked Pagans were punished for their way of life.’

According to local men John Chapman and John Haynes the caves were popular for about 40 years but then people lost interest and the caves were forgotten for a long time.