December 20, 2011
It is now known that this cave, called Kents Cavern, outside Torquay in Devon, had been home to prehistoric hominids and animals extinct for half a million years.
In November, Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum announced that a human jaw found in the cave in 1927 is 7,000 years older than was thought and, at 42,000 years, this makes it the oldest Homo sapiens in northwest Europe.
This is yet more evidence that modern humans must have lived side-by-side with Neanderthals, an extinct cousin species, for tens of thousands of years.
But back in the 1820s, science knew nothing of humanity’s origins – or of what Britain was like millennia ago. Between 1825 and 1829, Father MacEnery made more astonishing discoveries. He unearthed the bones of extinct and exotic creatures, among them elephants, rhinos, sabre-tooth tigers, cave lions, bears and hyenas, from beneath the stalagmite cave floor.