Merlin's Cave, Great Doward


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1012448

Date first listed: 13-Jul-1992


Ordnance survey map of Merlin's Cave, Great Doward
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: County of Herefordshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Whitchurch

National Grid Reference: SO 55602 15256


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Palaeolithic caves and rockshelters 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 rockshelters 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.

Merlin's Cave is one of two caves in the Wye valley with evidence of Late Glacial human activity. It retains considerable potential for archaeological and environmental evidence of this period.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


Merlin's Cave lies on the south east side of Great Doward, overlooking the River Wye. The entrance to the cave is rectangular in shape and is located in the rock face about 5m above the top of a steep earthen slope which drops away 58m to the river below. The cave consists of a large north-south running rift which is about 4m wide and extends 18m back into the rock. On the east side of the entrance is a smaller rock cavity which may connect with the main cave but the link cannot yet be demonstrated. The cave was discovered in the 19th century during iron-ore mining. Further excavations in the 1920s identified substantial remaining deposits and uncovered human remains from Late Glacial contexts below a stalagmite floor. Drilled ornaments of shell and teeth in the same deposit are considered to be grave goods accompanying the burial, and are identified as being either of Late Palaeolithic or Mesolithic age. Faunal remains from adjacent deposits have been radiocarbon dated to about 10,000 years ago and confirm the cave was open during the latest Glacial period. Substantial traces of these deposits as well as the stalagmite floor are still visible within the cave. The monument includes all the deposits within the cave and smaller cavity on the east side extending from the entrance to about 18m into the cave.

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: 13692

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Bate, D M A, 'Geological Magazine, New Series' in A Short Acct of a Bone Cave in the Carb lstone of the Wye Valley, , Vol. 8, (1901), 101-6
Hewer, T F, 'Proc of the Univ of Bristol Spelaeological Society' in Second report of excavations in the Wye valley, , Vol. 2, 3, (1927), 216-8
Hewer, T F, 'Proc of the Univ of Bristol Spelaeological Society' in First report on excavations in the Wye valley, , Vol. 2, 2, (1925), 147-62

End of official listing