Fifty Years of Discovery
North East Wales and the incredible history that surrounds us is quite a marvel. The landscape that we have on our doorstep has been the backdrop to a whole host of human and wildlife activity for thousands of years. The way we have learned of this activity is from people like John Denton Blore, a discoverer who has spent more than fifty years excavating in Flintshire and bringing to the surface history that has been hidden away. We caught up with him to talk about how his journey began and what inspires him.
"One of my earliest memories in life was watching a Kingfisher feeding its young on the banks of the River Severn near Welshpool with my father. He took me with him when he went fishing from the age of 3, where he introduced me to the wonders of nature, as his father did before him. We didn’t have our own transport but somehow, he managed to take me everywhere. We travelled to Snowdonia, the Peak District the Lakes and everywhere in between.
We went to Loggerheads and wandered the valley; I was enthralled with its wildlife and its beauty. While he sat on a grass bank with his botanical friends and eulogised over the delicate detail of a Frog Orchid camouflaged amongst the grass, I would be off looking for butterflies, snakes, small mammals or birds.
I was probably about 8 when we had wandered as far as Bryn Alyn, this was paradise to my father who had a passion for limestone plants and it became a regular haunt. It took an hour on the bus and an hour to walk, wasting 4 hours of the day. We used to stay in the Maeshafn YHA to make the most of the days. We even spent a Christmas there one year, having chicken soup sheltering on the leeward side of the Jubilee Tower on Moel Famau, returning to the hostel for a proper Christmas dinner in the evening.
The entrances to the old lead mines on Bryn Alyn seemed to beckon me and eventually I was lucky enough to explore the mines with a friend from Liverpool University. That first trip was so exhilarating I couldn’t wait for the next. My love of potholing and my love of zoology inevitable lead me to cave archaeology.
Entrance to the Lynx Cave
I have excavated in a number of caves over the years, and when you unearth something exciting, something that wasn’t expected, the dig becomes special. None more so than when it is evidence that humans once inhabited the cave. You hold the artefact in your hand and marvel at it and say to yourself the last person to touch this was 5,000 year ago. That’s exactly what happened to me on my first dig in Fox Hole Derbyshire, when I unearthed a polished hand axe from the Neolithic.
I have discovered so much about the early inhabitants of Lynx Cave in the 50 years of excavation that you would imagine it to be the most exhilarating of all the cave I have worked in. When in fact, the most impressive cave was Coygan Cave in south Wales. I was invited to join a team from Cambridge University to assist and identify some of the smaller mammal bones during excavation. It was to be a rescue dig as the cave was within the boundaries of an active quarry.
Previous evidence from the cave was a bout coupé hand axe, indicating that Neanderthal man had used the cave some 40,000 years ago. I can’t explain how exciting that would be, was I actually going to search for the bones and artefacts of a Neanderthal? However, after 2 weeks excavating, we didn’t find any, what we did find was equally exciting to me. The giant tooth of a mammoth, the 32,000 year old jaw bones of Spotted Hyaena, the massive limb bones of Woolly Rhinoceros and Bison to name a few. I can still recall the moment I lifted a massive Mammoth tooth from the dark, dry cave earth as if it was yesterday.
Flint Chert and Bone Artifacts found in Lynx Cave
In the early years of excavating Lynx Cave, it was easy to find volunteers who wanted to help with the dig. There had been a lot of publicity over the exciting finds, so who wouldn’t want to find a Beautiful Romano-British Brooch or a Bronze Age Bracelet?
Romano British Trumpet Brooch, Shale Bracelets and Palaeolithic flint, Lynx Cave
But excavating isn’t that simple, digging in soil in damp and cold conditions is far from exciting and when you find nothing after 8 hours it is disappointing to say the least. Cave archaeology is different than regular archaeology, if you are excavating a Roman site you would expect to discover some Roman tiles, or pottery, maybe a brooch or if you are lucky a Mosaic floor. Cave archaeology is delving into the complete unknown, the entrance to a cave tells you absolutely nothing of its contents. It doesn’t matter if it is large or small, it hasn’t always been that way. The entrance to Lynx Cave was small but held a wealth of information about its past for the last 13,000 years. Animals will have used the cave, so the bones of prey and predator are likely to be found. I am always optimistic and enthusiastic when I set off to excavate at Lynx Cave, you just never know what you will find.
Lynx Cave Entrance When Discovered, Orchid Cave Entrance
Life in general is so different today than it was when I started out on life’s journey. I was allowed to keep Newts and study them, look for bird’s nests and take photographs of them, in fact, I could search for and study anything I wanted. On the other hand, at the touch of a key you can access to whole lot of information that wasn’t available when I was young.
Join a society or group that has your interests at heart, you can learn so much from the more experienced members and young blood helps keep the societies alive. Listen, look and learn and importantly write everything down that you see and find.
There is still plenty to do and discover. For example, the ancient megaliths on Bryn Alyn have only just been discovered since 2006, who knew they were there? People have walked past them for hundreds of years and never noticed them hidden amongst the boulder strewn hillside, but they were there, just waiting to be rediscovered and interpreted. Although I have spent 70 years roaming over Bryn Alyn, above and below ground, I still believe there is more to discover about its past and I will continue my search, always in the hope of finding something new.
John Denton Blore
Discovering Lynx Mandible Lynx Jawbone