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Kents Cavern Torquay, Devon

Kents Cavern is a cave system in Torquay, Devon, England. It is notable for its archaeological and geological features. The caves are a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (since 1952) and a Scheduled Ancient Monument (since 1957), and are open to the public.

The caverns and passages at the site were created around 2 million years ago by water action, and have been occupied by one of at least eight separate, discontinuous native populations to have inhabited the British Isles.

The other key paleolithic sites in the UK are Happisburgh, Pakefield, Boxgrove, Swanscombe, Pontnewydd, Paviland, and Gough’s Cave.

A prehistoric maxilla (upper jawbone) fragment was discovered in the cavern during a 1927 excavation by the Torquay Natural History Society, and named Kents Cavern 4. The specimen is on display at the Torquay Museum.

In 1989 the fragment was radiocarbon dated to 36,400–34,700 years BP, but a 2011 study that dated fossils from neighbouring strata produced an estimate of 44,200–41,500 years BP. The same study analysed the dental structure of the fragment and determined it to be Homo sapiens rather than Homo neanderthalensis, thus making it the earliest anatomically modern human fossil yet discovered in North-West Europe.

Maxilla Kent’s Cavern 4, then the Gravettian Paviland 1 and Eel Point represents the oldest anatomically modern humans known from Britain