Kent's Cavern, Torquay


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Torbay (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 93406 64128

Reasons for Designation

Palaeolithic caves and rock shelters provide some of the earliest evidence of human activity in the period from about 400,000 to 10,000 years ago. The sites, all natural topographic features, occur mainly in hard limestone in the north and west of the country, although examples also exist in the softer rocks of south-east England. Evidence for human occupation is often located near the cave entrances, close to the rock walls or on the exterior platforms. The interiors sometimes served as special areas for disposal and storage or were places where material naturally accumulated from the outside. Because of the special conditions of deposition and preservation, organic and other fragile materials often survive well and in stratigraphic association. Caves and rock shelters are therefore of major importance for understanding this period. Due to their comparative rarity, their considerable age and their longevity as a monument type, all examples with good survival of deposits are considered to be nationally important.

Kent's Cavern holds what are by far the most important known extant Palaeolithic cave deposits in Britain and also provides in situ stratified deposits extending from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age as well as later occupation evidence. The site preserves artefactual and palaeoenvironmental evidence of great significance to the development of Palaeolithic studies not only in Britain but internationally. As a show cave Kent's Cavern is a major tourist attraction and offers a rare and exceptional opportunity for the public to become acquainted with remote periods of prehistory.


Kent's Cavern, located on the west side of Lincombe hill, is a very large solution cave within a more extensive limestone rift system. The cave has two entrances which open onto a flat terrace platform halfway up Lincombe Hill, now containing the modern frontage of the show cave. The cave interior consists of a series of large galleries near the entrances, notably the `Vestibule' and the `Great Chamber', where many of the archaeological discoveries have been made; artefacts also occur in deposits of the `High Level' near the back of the cave. In addition to the two existing entrances, further openings provided access to the cave in earlier periods. These include the choked passages of the `Sally Ports', to the south of the present entrances, and, at one of the eastern extremities of the cave, a rising passage from the High Level Chamber, which is considered to connect with the surface. Archaeological investigations, begun in the 1820s, have established that the cave contains a long sequence of deposits from the Lower Palaeolithic to the post-Prehistoric period. Within the sequence are two major stalagmite floors providing dating evidence for the archaeological contexts. The upper floor seals material more than 10,000 years old, while the lower one seals deposits dating from 350,000 years ago. Above and within the upper floor are finds of post-Palaeolithic age. Artefacts of at least three distinct Palaeolithic horizons occur between the upper and lower stalagmite floors or in stratigraphically equivalent levels. They include bone, antler and lithic artefacts associated with human remains, themselves now directly radiocarbon dated to 31,000 years ago, making them the earliest anatomically modern humans in N Europe. There are also significant concentrations of Middle Palaeolithic finds probably dating from between 90,000 and 35,000 years ago. Beneath the lower floor are lithic tools of Lower Palaeolithic type which are by definition some of the earliest artefactual evidence in Britain. Faunal remains are prolific throughout the cave deposits, enabling reconstruction of climatic changes through a number of Glacial/Interglacial cycles from the Middle Pleistocene onwards. Although the cave was extensively explored in the 19th and 20th centuries by William Pengelly and then by the Torbay Natural History Society, considerable areas of undisturbed deposit still exist for future investigation. Within the cave they include stratified deposits near the entrances, in the Great Chamber and the Vestibule and all remaining deposits within the present cave system. Outside, there are extensive deposits making up the present talus and entrance platform in front of the cave. For this reason the monument includes the whole of the interior deposits of the cave and the area outside the entrances including the platform and the talus deposits as far as the valley floor. The scheduling excludes all buildings above the cave and the soil levels overlying bedrock, although fissures within the bedrock are included. Also excluded are the buildings and made up footpaths outside the cave entrances, although the deposits beneath them are included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Kents Cavern Ltd, , Kents Cavern, (1990)
SX96SW-004, (Kent's Cavern) SX96 SW 004, (1990)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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