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Somerset Historic Environment Record

24355

Site Name: Wookey Hole Cave, Wookey Hole
Civil Parish: St. Cuthbert Out
Grid Ref: ST 5319 4801 (ST 54 NW)
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Public access:

As far as we are aware this site is open to the public at certain times. [Information last updated on 18 December 2002]

Details:

Wookey Hole cave was excavated in 1911 and later by Balch, revealing an average of 4-7ft of stratification, mostly Iron age sealed by Romano-British. Finds included a silver coin of Marcia (124BC), pottery from early Iron age to Romano British, iron weapons and tools, bronze ornaments, and Roman coins from Vespasian to Valentinian II. Further work in 1926-7, again by Balch, produced many similar finds mainly from the upper RB levels. Investigation of the river bed within the cave by divers in 1947-9 produced RB bowls and lead ewers, part of an C11-12 cooking pot, and two late C17 glass bottles. A considerable number of human bones associated with RB material was also found. Some of the pottery found by Balch was of Glastonbury type, and there were distinct resemblance between skulls found at Glastonbury and Wookey. A silt bank in the previously inaccessible fourth chamber, known as "Holy Hole", was excavated over short periods in 1973-7. Remains of at least 10 individuals were found accompanied by RB pottery and C2-3 ornaments. The burials here, and in other parts of the cave, may have been ritual, as they were almost all of young people and apparently not of entire bodies. {1}

An area was excavated in chamber 4 to investigate the sources of human bone found by the divers in 1946. 1350 pieces of human bone representing at least 28 individuals were discovered some in situ and associated with bronze jewelry and coins of 260-74. These had been disturbed by activity, including a fireplace, of probable C18 date. {10}

The caves represent a significant element in a pattern of Iron Age and Romano-British cave usage which includes sites throughout the Mendip Hills. Unfortunately the quantity of material found by Balch is not known and not all of his finds were published or recorded. Finds include pottery, coins, objects of copper alloy, lead, iron, stone and bone. The finds suggest that Romano-British occupation roughly began around the early second century to the late fourth century AD. The occupation appears to be domestic as the pottery includes cooking and eating vessels. Animal bones were discovered along with simple bone jewellery and tools. {11}

References:

1 Detailed records - Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division record card. Record ID: ST 54 NW 14 (1979) Location: HER files.
2 Excavation report - Balch, HE and Troup, RDR. A late celtic and Romano-British cave-dwelling at Wookey-Hole, near Wells, Somerset. Archaeologia  62 (1911), 565-92 Copy available in SANHS library at Somerset Heritage Centre.
3 Excavation report - Balch, HE. Further excavations at the late celtic and Romano-British cave-dwelling at Wookey Hole, Somerset. Archaeologia  64 (1913), 337-46. Copy available in SANHS library at Somerset Heritage Centre.
4 Description - Balch, HE. Wookey Hole: Its Caves and Cave Dwellers.  (1914)
5 Mention - Balch, HE. Excavations at Wookey Hole and other Mendip caves. Antiquaries Journal  8 (1928), 193-210 (page 193-7) Copy available in SANHS library at Somerset Heritage Centre.
6 Description - Balch, HE. The Great Cave of Wookey Hole.  (1947)
7 Excavation report - Mason, EJ. Note on recent exploration in Wookey Hole. Archaeological Journal  107 (1950), 93-4. Copy available in SANHS library at Somerset Heritage Centre.
8 Excavation report - Mason, EJ and Mason, D. Report on human remains and material recovered from the River Axe in the Great Cave of Wookey Hole during diving operations from October 1947 to January 1949. Somerset Archaeology and Natural History  96 (1951), 238-43
9 Museum accession number - OXFPR 1909.54.10.1, .11 and .13. Stored at Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (potsherds, animal bones, broken stone hone).
10 Excavation report - Hawkes, CJ, Rogers, J and Tratman, EK. Romano-British cemetery in the fourth chamber of Wookey Hole Cave, Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society  15:1 (1978), 23-52. Copy available in SANHS library at Somerset Heritage Centre.. Available online.
11 Description - Branigan, K and Dearne, M.J. The Romano-British finds from Wookey Hole: a re-appraisal. Somerset Archaeology and Natural History  134 (1990), 57-80. Copy available in Local Studies collection at Somerset Heritage Centre.
12 Description - Bryant, A. Iron Age cave use on Mendip: a re-evaluation. In Lewis, J. The Archaeology of Mendip.  (2011) at 139-57. Copy in SANHS library at Somerset Heritage Centre.

Record created in October 1985

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