There is a place in Wales known as Yellow Top; a massive span of lichen covered limestone overlooking the sea. Contained within the cliff-face of Yellow Top is a sequence of caves collectively known as Paviland. The Paviland caves are interesting and tempting to those willing to climb the cliff, but none are as important as Goat's Hole.
Easily accessed during low tide, the pear shaped entrance to Goat's Hole was formed by the continuous crashing of waves into the cliff. Thirty meters beyond the entrance is a chamber that leads to a chimney. Light from the chimney shines down upon the chamber, illuminating two impressions on the cave floor. The first was made in 1822, the second the following year when Reverend William Buckland decided to take a look around.
What Buckland found first was a mammoth skull followed by some interesting human remains. The skeleton he uncovered was stained red and accompanied by a perforated seashell necklace, ivory armbands and other trinkets.
The first Professor of Geology at Oxford, Buckland was an extremely devout christian. So deeply seated were his beliefs, that he did not see what he had found. He gazed upon what was obviously a burial, saw the staining from red ochre and the ivory jewelry and assumed it was a woman. Not only that, but his beliefs about the beginning of man's time on Earth prevented him from considering the mammoth artifacts when aging the remains. "He believed that no human remains could be dated earlier than the Great Flood that is recorded in the Bible." He pronounced to the world that what he'd discovered was a Roman prostitute or possibly a witch.
The remains and the artifacts found with them were put on display at the University Museum of Oxford, where they remain today.
In 1912 another university professor took a look at the Red Lady and the artifacts - minus one mammoth skull which Buckland lost and which has never been found. Armed with new scientific data he made a few announcements of his own. The Roman witch that Buckland had found was actually a man from the stone age.
Carbon dated at 24000 BC, the Red Lady (the name was never dropped despite the true sex of the remains) is the oldest evidence of modern human inhabitance in Wales. Had Buckland correctly identified the remains it would have changed some of the terminology we use today. Early modern humans might have carried Paviland in their name rather than being called Cro-Magnons after a site in France.
The Paviland remains continue to be examined today, and we continue to learn from them. Their importance in human history lies in different areas. We've learned that the Red Lady varied his diet with fish - which tells us how modern humans were capable of surviving while Neanderthal died out. Modern humans were the first capable of varying their diets.
We've also learned that ritualistic burials had began as early as 24000 BC. It's believed the mammoth skull served as a marker and the ivory and shell jewelry as offerings or demonstrations of the Red Lady's importance among his people. The usage of red ochre during burials continues today, with the red usually signifying blood.
Testing the DNA of the remains, we have also discovered a sequence that corresponds to the commonest extant lineage in Europe. The Red Lady's discovery is extremely important since it demonstrates the presence of this founding lineage in palaeolithic Britain over 26,000 years ago.
University of Wales College, http://www.newport.ac.uk/news/01/mar/mar0801.html
Paviland Caves, http://www.explore-gower.co.uk/pavilandcave.htm
Archaological Sites, http://emuseum.mnsu.eu/archaeology/sites/europe/paviland_cave.html
BBC History, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/timelines/wales/paviland.shtml
*For Tiefling, who told me about the Lady in the first place.