Gough's Cave is located in Cheddar Gorge on the Mendip Hills, in Cheddar, Somerset, England. The cave is 90 metres (295 ft) deep and is 2.135 kilometres (1.33 mi) long, and contains a variety of large chambers and rock formations. It contains the Cheddar Yeo, the largest underground river system in Britain.
Human remains and occupation:
In 1903 the remains of a human male, since named Cheddar Man, were found a short distance inside Gough's Cave. He is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, having been dated to approximately 7150 BCE. There is a suggestion that the man died a violent death, perhaps related to cannibalism, although this has not been proven. Mitochondrial DNA taken from the skeleton has been found to match that of Adrian Targett, a man living in the local area today, indicating that Cheddar Man is a very distant ancestor. The remains currently reside in the Natural History Museum in London, with a replica in the Cheddar Man and the Cannibals museum in the Gorge. Other human remains have also been found in the cave.
In 2007 a carving of a mammoth, estimated to be 13,000 years old, was found in the cave. In 2010 further human bones from the cave were examined, which ultra-filtration carbon dating dated to around the end of the ice age 14,700 years ago. A second technique, using the Alicona 3D microscope, showed that the flesh had been removed from the bones using the same tools and techniques used on animal bones. According to Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum this supports theories about cannibalism amongst the people living in or visiting the cave at that time. In February 2011, the same team published an analysis of human skulls of the same date found at the cave around 1987, which they believe were deliberately fashioned into ritual drinking skull cups or bowls.
Access and Description:
The first 820 metres (2,690 ft) of the cave are open to the public as a show cave, and this stretch contains most of the more spectacular formations. The greater part of the cave's length is made up of The River passage, which is accessible only by cave diving.
Beyond the show cave:
Gough's cave contains long stretches of completely flooded river passage. From a point relatively close to the areas of the cave open to the public, the cave-divers' descent into Sump 1a begins through a tight passage known as Dire Straits. The bottom of that passage opens into the river passage, which is several meters across. This has been explored for 335 m (1,099 ft) downstream, whilst upstream a dive of 150 m (490 ft) brings the diver out in a 20 m (66 ft) long chamber named Lloyd Hall (which can now also be reached by an alternative, dry, route).
Another dive of 140 m (460 ft) through Sump 1b, finishing with an ascent through a rising passage, leads to another chamber, 60 metres (197 ft) long and 25 metres (82 ft) wide at its widest point, and full of large boulders, called Bishop's Palace. This chamber is the largest chamber currently found in the Cheddar caves. Further on, three sump pools (named the Duck Ponds) lead to Sump 2 which is about 27 metres (89 ft) deep at its lowest point and 150 metres (492 ft) long.