Almost 200 years ago, geologist and palaeontologist William Buckland walked into Paviland Cave in south Wales, where he discovered human remains which he named the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’. Although he found the skeleton in the same area as the bones of extinct mammals, Mr Buckland shared the view of French zoologist Georges Cuvier that no humans had coexisted with any extinct animals. He attributed the female skeleton’s presence there to a grave having been dug in historical times, possibly by the same people who had constructed some nearby pre-Roman fortifications.
However, Professor Alice Roberts revealed during a new episode of Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast how that all changed.
She said: “We don’t really have any genetic insight when it comes to her yet, but we have lots of other insights.
“The revolution that is happening at the moment with genetics is as profound as the last really big technological revolution that happened in archaeology, which was radiocarbon-dating.
“Suddenly, you had the ability to pin an absolute date on something – reaching back into history, archaeologists had never been able to do that.
“That was really important when it came to the Red Lady – one key find is that she is not a lady.”
Prof Roberts detailed how almost every part of Mr Buckland’s analysis has been unravelled as technology has developed over the years.
She added: “He said ‘I don’t think this is a man, it is a woman because she is buried with jewellery’ – not because of the skeleton.
“He decided that it could not be of age because of the mammoth remains – he was a reverend and he was trying to match archaeology with the Bible.
“As far as he was concerned, extinct animals in Britain were evidence of a different kind of fauna before the Great Flood.
READ MORE: Archaeology discovery: 1,000 structures older than Stonehenge could ‘rewrite’ history
Prof Roberts explained: “It’s not 2,000 years old, it’s 30,000 years old – radiocarbon-dating has pushed that back more recently.
“It was more than 30,000 years ago, right into the Upper Palaeolithic, into the Ice Age.
“We’re glimpsing through that burial into a population that was here in Britain – our ancestors – people who were living in the landscape that is still familiar to us today.
“That was before the great depopulation and before people started to return back as the ice melted.”