Lynx Cave


Nestled between the twin peaks of Bryn Alyn there lies a Cave, its entrance so small and insignificant it hardly seemed worth exploring, but behind the tiny entrance lay a treasure trove of bones and artifacts that would change the archaeology of the area, becoming one of the most significant caves in North East Wales. It was discovered in 1962 and was excavated for the subsequent 50 years, the discoveries made there revealed its past for an incredible 13,000 years. It was an unnamed cave when excavation started, but within weeks, the jawbone of a very rare big cat, a Lynx, was found and so Lynx Cave was put on the map. The cave has been almost in constant use since the end of the last Ice Age, except for a short period in the Neolithic when a massive rockslide engulfed the entrance. 


In the Late Upper Palaeolithic, the cave was used on a number of occasions by hunter gatherers, some 13,000 years ago. They took respite in the cave and fortunately for us they left behind evidence of their tools, the animals they hunted and the fires that they used to keep warm, cook on and fend off any wild animals that might visit them in the night. The charcoal from their fires tell that they used the wood from Scots Pine and Downey Birch to cook on, some of the first trees to establish themselves as the ice slowly retreated. The animals they hunted were Reindeer, Red Deer and a large Auroch the size of a Bison. They had eaten the leg bones of these animals, leaving the charred and shattered remains, near the entrance, the smaller pieces being gnawed by Dogs were found at the back of the cave. 


There were three separate hearths uncovered in the entrance and the radiocarbon dates from the animal remains back up the theory that the cave was visited by the hunters on at least three occasions. The tools they used to cut up their meat joints were manufactured from flint and chert and a whole collection of them have been uncovered over the years, cutting tools, scraping tools and gouging tools, some broken, but some in good condition but probably mislaid amongst the cave earth. Other interesting tools were hammerstones, used to shatter the long bones so they could extract the nutritional marrow. The most interesting were the two pieces of a javelin cleverly cut, carved and polished from a long metatarsal bone probably from an Elk. 


There is no specific evidence from the Mesolithic but there were some small intricate tools (microliths) dating from the transitional period between The Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. There is nothing to suggest that the cave was ever used for habitation during this period but simply as a stopover for the hunter gatherers, maybe during inclement weather? It is interesting to note that some of Britain’s earliest visitors settled here in Wales. They would have been nomadic, following the herds of Reindeer and gathering fruits of the day on a seasonal basis. 


The next period the cave was in use by humans was during the late Bronze Age, during this period the cave was used for sepulchral purposes. In the early years of excavation, many human bones were recovered, they were all fragments of long bones, no vertebrae, no ribs, fingers, or toes. The bones had all been gnawed, possible by a large carnivore. When excavation started in the back chamber of the cave, a pile of stones revealed itself, containing yet more human bones in the same condition. It then became clear that the human bodies had been part of a sky burial, or excarnation, the bodies were probably placed on a trestle and left to let nature take its course. Sometime into this process the main limb bones have been tugged off the body by the Wolves in their search for food. The members of the tribe who left their loved ones to nature, returned, and reinterred their bones in the cave. At the entrance, there was a large flat boulder with evidence to suggest that it had been used on a number of occasions to block the entrance. Analysis of the bones suggested that the fragmentary remains represented at least eight individuals, male, female, and juvenile. They too left us an eclectic mix of tools and artefacts. A small burnt flake that might have been a leaf point, its condition was crumbly and poor, so there is a question mark over its identity.  A carved and polished antler point that had been shaped as a Horse's cheek piece. Two shale bracelets one for an adult the other for a child both broken with their terminals missing, possibly removed for their value and later recycled. A bronze Hair Pin that looks for all the world like a 6” nail. Finally, there was an antler point that appeared to be an arrowhead, intricately carved and polished from a piece of deer antler with two small unexplained notches at the end. Reconstruction archaeology proved how it could be used as a piercing tool, enabling the user to pierce leather hides and sow them together to make clothes. This tool was radiocarbon dated and came up with a date of 1,000 BC. During excavation a small fragment of bone was unearthed of a very rare bird, a Black Stork, there is no evidence of a Black Stork being recovered from any other archaeological site in the British Isles. Not only was it rare but it had cut marks around the bone made by humans, the big question was, why? The bone was part of the wing that carries the main wing feathers, these large feathers could be utilised in the manufacture of flights for arrows. This bone was radiocarbon dated and gave a similar date to the piercing tool. Both dates suggest a transitional period from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age.


Early in the excavation, a harp shaped brooch was unearthed, it was covered in Verdigris and thought to be an old Welsh Harp brooch, archaeologists who looked at it realised that it was a 2,000-year-old Romano-British trumpet brooch. It is complete and in near perfect condition, one of the best examples ever recovered from a cave site. The brooch is cast in bronze from a clay mould, and has an overall height of 56mm, from base to head. The curved top section of the brooch (the upper bow) represents an Elephant's head and is inlaid with silver, red and black enamel, and niello, (a compound of silver, lead, copper, and sulphur). Beneath the head is a small bracket that supports the spring clasp, the clasp pin and spring are cast as a length of bronze wire approximately 100mm long and wrap around each end of the spring pin to form a loop that rests under the head, making the tension required for the spring. Also attached to the spring pin is a figure of 8 wire loop, this enables the wearer to affix the brooch to the garment to prevent loss. The central part of the loop is joined together with a separate acorn style casting. Could this have held a precious stone? The catch plate is a delicate fretwork of 5 triangular and 3 round holes; both sides are incised with fine tool-work. The main stem (lower bow) is decorated on both sides with three crescents of raised silver; each has a dot of silver at its centre. An intricate moulding of raised acanthus leaves encircles the top of the stem and joins it to the mid bow where an inverted circle of acanthus leaves meets the upper bow. Similar trumpet brooches have been recovered from sites dating 100 – 150 AD. 


In more recent times the cave has been examined by miners looking for that elusive lead seam, leaving behind part of a broken clay pipe and an old hobnail. And more recently, a discarded shotgun cartridge, the cave being the ideal shooting butt where the modern-day hunter could lie in wait for the odd Rabbit or Deer to cross their path.


Throughout the last 50 years of excavation a considerable number of animal bones were recovered, from Pygmy Shrew to Elk, from the present day to the Polar deserts of the last Ice Age. The radiocarbon dates were taken from the food bearing animals that showed signs of butchery. The oldest was the Elk bone, the dates were taken from the carved javelin point 13,500 +/- 150 years, a similar date was obtained from the butchered leg bones of a Red Deer. The bones of Bos primigenius, a large Auroch, gave a date of 13,150 +/- 100 years. The charred and fractured bones of Reindeer gave a date of 12,900 +/- 250 years. Other animals recovered from the same layers were Mountain Hare, Northern Vole and Arctic Lemming. Who knew that Arctic Lemmings once played on the snow-covered hills of Bryn Alyn? Surprisingly, the minute jawbones of Lesser Horseshoe Bats were also recovered from these early deposits. A species that still resides there today. There is plenty of evidence of domestic animals during the Bronze Age, Sheep, Goat, Pig and Cattle. The Horse was also an important beast of the Bronze Age and Iron Age. A Horse’s tibia was recovered from the entrance passage, it had been placed in a dug-out pocket and covered over by a large stone. The significance of this deliberate act is unknown, but obviously played an important part in the ritualistic burial of their dead. Dogs also featured in the deposits, a Dogs canine tooth was found on a shelf above the main deposits, was this placed there to have a hole bored in it to be part of a necklace? No doubt Dogs played a part in their lives, helping with the hunt and retrieving prey, nevertheless, one fragment of a Dog skull showed knife marks where the ear had been removed, possibly deemed a delicacy?  The smaller mammals were also numerous, Field Vole, Water Vole, Bank Vole, Common Shrew and Wood Mice. There were quite a lot of fragile bird bones, but nothing out of the ordinary.  


John Denton Blore