Cannibals, caves and climate change

UBSS President Elaine Oliver in Clearwater Cave, Mulu. Photo and poster courtesy of Chris Howes

In 2019, The University of Bristol Spelaeological Society (UBSS), one of the oldest caving clubs in the country, celebrates 100 years of cave and archaeological exploration and research. On the 9th/10th November, to mark the occasion, the society is hosting a weekend of presentations and fieldtrips celebrating its past, present and future.

UBSS member Professor Rick Schulting from the University of Oxford, will give the keynote lecture as part of a day of talks on 9th November, entitled: “The darker angels of our nature: a butchered prehistoric human bone assemblage from Charterhouse Warren, Somerset.” This will tell the story of the butchered Bronze Age remains of over 40 men, women and children recovered from the cave at Charterhouse Warren in the 1970s.

Rick says: “Steven Pinker’s 2011 book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ reflects on the decline in violence over the course of human history. The site of Charterhouse Warren in Somerset reveals the darker side of our nature. Excavated in the 1970s, and dating to the Early Bronze Age, ca. 2200 BC, the scattered remains of at least 40 men, women and children were found in a 20m-deep pit. This largely unknown assemblage is striking for the sheer number of cutmarks indicating dismemberment, alongside perimortem fracturing of long bones and injuries to skulls. While evidence for violence is not unknown in British prehistory, nothing on this scale has been found, and the site joins a small number of Continental Neolithic and Bronze Age sites showing extreme violence and postmortem processing of human remains.”

This presentation provides an overview of the new research being undertaken on the assemblage, documenting and characterising the extent of the injuries, investigating who these victims were, and understanding the site’s place in the wider context of the European Early Bronze Age.”
There will be other talks on archaeology, history, exploration, speleogenesis and palaeoclimate research. There will also the an opportunity to take part in a variety of field trips on Sunday 10th November in Bristol and on the Mendips. Please keep an eye on the UBSS symposium webpage and Facebook pages as trips are being added to this all the time, but remember, places are strictly limited to symposium attendees and for each one, places are limited.

The symposum is free, although donations to running costs would be welcome. For all bookings and enquiries, please contact the organisers and visit the webpage and Facebook page.

The talks on 9th November are being held in the School of Geographical Science, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol, BS8 1SS.

Registration will open at 8.30 for tea/coffee and book sales. Welcome and housekeeping will be at 9.15 and the talks will start at 9.30. There will be ample breaks and time to view the poster presentations during the day. The symposium will end with a wine reception at 4.15pm, to include the launch of the society’s new guidebook, The Caves of Mid West Clare.

Correspondents: Gina Mosely, Andy Farrant and Linda Wilson, symposium organisers.