The Devon Karst Research Society
Cattedown, Plymouth, Devon, England, U.K.
©.2007 The Devon Karst Research Society, Cattedown Bone Caves pages all original text and images.
Updated on 13 December 2010.

The Cattedown Bone Caves Main Homepage is dedicated to the memory of the 19th Century Plymouth cave hunters and cave excavators

R N Worth and R Burnard, both of whom were former distinguished Members of the Plymouth Institution.


Providing a Foreword and Links to all other Cattedown Bone Caves Webpage Main Sections.
Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave :
Hominin - Skull.
[© Images Torquay Museum]

The City of Plymouth, England has had a remarkable and unique history of bone-cave discoveries since the very beginning of the 19th Century, when the working of the Admiralty Breakwater Quarries at Oreston first breached caves filled with fossil bones. The climax of these occasional encounters with the City's buried fossil heritage surely came with the breaching of a fissure at Cattedown in Autumn 1886, wherein were eventually discovered the remains of at least fifteen hominins, which were subsequently excavated and researched by a local naturalist, R.N. Worth and others. Owing to both the geographical location of the Cattedown discovery, in a European context, and to the quantitative and qualitative nature and physical disposition of the human remains, this is one of the most important discoveries ever documented about the history of "anatomically-modern humans" or Homo sapiens sapiens in Europe. There is currently no evidence of Homo neanderthalensis ever having been found in caves at Cattedown, Oreston, Stonehouse or Mount Batten.
Further occasional discoveries of rich bone caves within the City were made up until the end of the 20th Century.
One aspect of the present work in hand by the Society is to try to preserve the remnants of those sites and to guarantee their future scientific and environmental integrity. This work includes a constant effort to protect this internationally important site and its diminishing contextual karst environment from being further diminished in size and degraded by inappropriate adjacent development schemes, such as are currently in the City Council's official Planning Process. No other City or Country in the world would tolerate such a state of affairs as we have to constantly deal with here around an internationally important heritage location in Plymouth, England!

The Plymouth City Museum curates the Collections of surviving fossil bones relating to Worth's remarkable discoveries in 1886-87 as well as other donated material from the 19th Century bone cave discoveries. It currently has two professional Keepers and additional Assistant Keepers who share the curatorial duties relating to the Cattedown Fossil Bone heritage. We count ourselves fortunate in that both Keepers are positive and progressive in their attitude towards the curation and conservation of the fossil evidence in their charge. You can visit the Plymouth City Museum's Website by clicking on the Link below. Unfortunately, the structure of their Website seems to have greatly deteriorated in the recent past. There is also very little mention of the Cattedown Bone Caves, so we will try to compensate for this on our Website! access to a separate Link-page for brief personal biographies of R N Worth and R Burnard and also for brief histories of companies which operated in the Cattedown Quarries.

These Homepages are intended to be both extensive and comprehensive in their coverage of the Cattedown Bone Caves. Their publishing on the World Wide Web presents a timely opportunity to make practical use of some of the archive material held in the Society's Library and Archives Facility. By bringing together the elements of contemporary photographs, moving images, correspondence, published and non-published records and other documentation, it is hoped that the Homepages will enable us to present a comprehensive and thorough record of the fascinating speleo-vertebrate palaeontological work undertaken in the Cattedown Karst area of Plymouth and to highlight the international importance of the area.

The fossil remains of ancient man were said to have been discovered in caves at Oreston, further up the Plym Estuary. Although alluded to in many scientific papers, these discoveries were never documented, the bones having been discarded by the finders as being of no relevance and in the context of the time and as contradicting the Biblical Account of Human origins!
However, 70 years later, the well-documented discoveries at the Cattedown Bone Caves revealed the spectacular presence of the ancient fossil record of "anatomically-modern-humans" together with a rich Interglacial to Glacial Fauna, in addition to that relating to associated palaeo-environmental conditions.

Section 1. introduces in detail various aspects of the Cattedown area and its "development" through time. The Bibliography Section 21. sources material for further reading and research, whilst Section 20. provides a technical Glossary of some of the anatomical, osteological and palaeontological terms used throughout this and all other sections of the Homepages for the Bone Caves of Plymouth and District.

The images on this Homepage, together with a great many others, can be viewed (or are about to be made available) and are described in detail, elsewhere in the Cattedown Bone Caves Webpages. 
Click here for our Link Page to view comparative data about the Krapina Neanderthal Cave Site in Croatia.

For those of a more practical outlook, there will be future opportunities to apply to participate in the Exhumation Excavations of the extant "Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave" and adjacent areas. We will resume our recruitment of volunteers who would like to become involved in the very interesting Phase 1. (Stage 2.) Exhumation Excavation and Phase 1. (Stage 5.) Site Clearance Excavation as from October 2006 - no experience of cave archaeological / palaeontological excavation will be necessary but patience, enthusiasm, having a keen eye for detail and being keen-to-learn are pre-requisites for those thinking of applying. Phase 1. (Stage 2.) Exhumation Excavation is progressing the site downwards from its present ground-level across an area of about 100 m². The debris to be removed is unconsolidated to very loose sandy soil, gravel, aggregate and waste building materials and other industrial refuse, all of which has accumulated since 1887.
Unlike Phase 1. (Stage 1.), we cannot apply a fixed timescale for the completion of Phase 1. (Stage 2.). Indeed, there is no imperative to do so.
Participation by inexperienced individuals will pose no threat to the scientific integrity of the Bone Cave - there are no plans to disturb original, unexcavated cave deposits, but merely to remove the debris that has accumulated on top of his cave during the intervening 122 years since the end of R N Worth's Excavation in 1887. Hence we refer to the work in hand as an "Exhumation Excavation"
For insurance reasons, we can only accept participation from those aged 18 years and over at the present time.

All enquiries by e-mail please to :-

Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave, PHASE 1. (Stage 1.) Exhumation Excavation is now complete.
PHASE 1. (Stage 2.) Exhumation Excavation currently has a continuing substantial pause in its progress.
Our apologies are given to those who have recently expressed an interest in becoming involved with the work. You will be notified when the work resumes.
When this is eventually completed, the "Trial Excavation" status will end.
PHASE 1. (Stage 5.) Site Clearance Excavation of the adjacent quarry faces and extant 1886 quarry-floor bench is currently underway and on-going.

Preliminary work associated with PHASE 2. at the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave (south-middlle rift) has been temporarily suspended.

Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave :
Hominin - Skulls.
[© Images Torquay Museum]

Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave :
Hominin - various Maxillae.


Section  1.     General Karst Environmental Overview of the Cattedown Area of Plymouth.

Section  2.     The Cave Excavations of R N Worth & R Burnard, 1886-7 at "Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave".

Section  3.      Catalogues of the Worth & Burnard Finds of 1886-7.

Section  4.      Catalogue of the "Burnard Collection" of 1899, held in the Plymouth City Museum, 2003.

Section  5.      The Cave Excavations of R Burnard 1899 at "Burnard's Cattedown Bone Cave".

Section  6.      Catalogue of the "Lewis Sparrow Collection" of 1899 held in the Plymouth City Museum, 2003.

Section  7.      The Beddoe Evaluations of Worth's Fossil Material, 1903.

Section  8.      The "Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave" Excavations of T J Collings, February 1964.

Section  9.      Film of the Collings "Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave" Excavation of 1964.

Section 10.     Catalogue of the Collings Finds of 1964.

Section 11.     The "Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave" Excavations of B Lewarne, June 1974.

Section 12.     Catalogue of the Lewarne Finds of 1974.

Section 13.     Absolute Dating of the Cattedown Fossils and Anthropomorphic Classification of the Hominins.

Section 14a.   Illustrated Catalogue of Worth's Fossil Material, held in the Plymouth City Museum, 2004,
.....................Part 1. The Hominin Collection.

Section 14b.   Illustrated Catalogue of Worth's Fossil Material, held in the Plymouth City Museum, 2004,
.....................Part 2. The Faunal Collection. (not yet available).

Section 15.     Government Scheduling of parts of the Cattedown Karst.

Section 16.     Proposals for the Development of a Cattedown Bone Caves Heritage Site.

Section 17.     Burnard's Cattedown Bone Cave.

Section 18.     Shapter's Field, Prince Rock Quarry & the Old Corporation Quarry, Thru' Cave and Pigeon Cave.

Section 19.     Higher Cattedown Road (Cattedown Lane). (not yet available).

Section 20.     Glossary of Selected Anatomical, Osteological and Palaeontological Terms.

Section 21.     Bibliography and Further Reading.

Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave :
Hominin - various Mandibles.

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