A visit to Aveline's Hole and Goatchurch Cavern,
In July 2013 I visited Aveline's Hole, a cave in the side of Burrington Combe Somerset as part of the CBA Festival of Archaeology. The visit was led by Chris Binding of the Bristol University Speleological Society and a local caving trainer and lecturer.
The cave is a single large passage which was first discovered in 1797; two men chasing a rabbit entered a cave and found human skeletons on the cave floor.
Subsequent excavations between 1919 and 1927 found many human and animal bones. Thee have been dated to early Mesolithic times, but most of the remains were destroyed in Bristol during WW2 bombing. Evidence of hearths and seasonal occupation were also found in the first chamber of the cave.
We entered the cave using a short knotted rope hooked to the wall and then climbed and slithered deep into the cave. We reached a locked gate which our leader unlocked then climbed into a narrow passage. The passage came to a dead end and had no natural light filtering in. We were wearing helmets with head torches to see by. We were shown some criss-cross marks on the cave wall. These were discovered in 2003 and are said to be engravings made during,late Palaeolithic or early Mesolithic times. We looked at the markings taking photographs, and were told that there are many theories about their meaning though they are inconclusive.
Looking at the wall,face-on the marks were overlaid by layers of calcite. Near the top of the wall was a' formation of calcite in a curved shape with a ledge below it. The criss-crossed markings were underneath the Ledge, below the rock bulged out and then in again as it met with the ground. I moved further along the passage and viewed the wall from a cross section perspective and I immediately thought it resembled the shape of a pregnant woman. I was struck with the idea that the marks could have been put in that specific place because of the shape of the rock, which resembles a fertility figure.
I have seen many small portable fertility figures in the museum in Ankara, Turkey, and
during this year's Ice-Age Art exhibition at the British Museum I have also read about similar figures which have been found through out the world all dating to prehistoric times. I believe that this cave formation could have been similarly revered by the people who lived on Mendip in prehistoric times and this is why they made the marks on the stone as some kind of record or homage to the figure in the cave. I told my theory to Chris Binding who thought that this could be an important new idea.
Our second visit was to Goatchurch Cavern, halfway up the side of the Combe in the West Twin Brook Valley. This proved to be an even more slippery climb down into the cave, over layers of wet calcite.
At the far end we were shown marks of a conjoined V form. These were discovered by Chris who has researched them and identified them as ritual protection marks dating from the period 1550 - 1750. These may have been made for protection against supernatural powers, as they were close to a shaft leading into a lower chamber. The visit proved to be an exciting and fascinating experience. My theory about Aveline's Hole is one that I shall continue to research further in,the future.