The 19th century was a big time of exploration at Kents Caverns, when early explorers and archaeologists delved into the history of the human occupation in the cave system. Some of the oldest tools ever have been found there, some by William Petre and Robert Hedges, archaeologists who studied the deeper chambers of the caves using only candles as a source of light.
Then in 1824, a chap called Thomas Northmore headed in, looking for underground temples used by Mithraism followers, who were of a cult that originally came from Rome a few thousand years ago. The religion was very popular with the local Roman soldiers who used the caves as shelter many years after the first ever inhabitants. Northmore found some of the first bear and hyena bone remains, along with several different kinds of stone tools.
Not much later, another archaeologist came along, MacEnery, but he was more interested in studying the remains of skeletons and stone tools than looing for ancient underground temples. He was not disappointed, as only a short time into his searching and excavations, he was excavating the thick layers of calcite and removing the bones of extinct prehistoric animals and dozens of human-made tools. He described his first encounter with the ancient artefacts like so:
“[I went] … to a spot which had been disturbed. On rumbling it over, the lustre of enamel [revealed] the first fossil teeth I have ever seen. As I laid my hands on them, relics of extinct races… I shrank back involuntarily”
MacEnery made dozens upon dozens of drawings, recordings and notes on the site, but when he went to have them published, he found that many of his findings contradicted each other, and he also never managed to raise the funding for publication, so the whole idea was dropped fairly quickly. As a result, it is not sure if MacEnery was a 100% reliable source of information, but it is true that he did indeed find evidence of humans living in the cave systems.
The caves are open to the public, (obviously not the whole system, which goes on for miles and is not safe) so if you are around sometime, it really is an amazing site to see. You can even get off the beaten track at times for some caving!
Until next time, Stay curious!