The Red Lady of Paviland has been the foremost trouble-causing woman of Wales, despite having been dead for thousands of years. And not being a woman.
We’ve talked about William Buckland before. Equal parts scientist and crazy person, the only thing Buckland liked better than getting close up to some ancient rock was causing an uproar. So it’s fitting that he discovered the Red Lady in 1823. Buckland was checking out a seaside cave in Wales, that was only accessible a few hours a day. Paviland cave’s precarious location made it a good place to find undisturbed animal bones, but while excavating, he came across bones that were clearly human.
The body, when it had been a body, had been stained with red ochre, so the bones were a deep red. Buckland found mounds of decorative shells by the bones, two ivory rods, and the remains of an ivory ring. At first, because the skeleton was damaged and surrounded by riches, he believed this was an early tax collector, who had been murdered. He changed his opinion soon enough, as it was to explain why the murderers left all the jewelry and riches on the body, and declared that this was a ceremonially-buried fortune telling witch who had died during the Roman occupation of Britain. The idea appealed to everyone, and the legend of the Red Lady of Paviland was born.
Problems arose almost immediately. Even during Buckland’s time, other researchers could see that the Red “Lady” was male. By 1912, it was an undisputed fact. Most people also agreed that the Red Lady had lived well before the Romans arrived. The Lady just keeps getting older. The first carbon dating results put him at about 20,000 years old, but later analysis, and the realization that Britain would probably have been a big ice ball at that time, set him back to about 33,000 years ago.
Most people agree that this young man was 21 or younger when he died, and probably had been buried deliberately in the cave, but no one agrees on why. Some think the cave was used by his clan, due to the many animal bones littering the floor, while others think the cave was only occasionally visited by humans and that the bones are from animal occupants. Still others think that the cave’s primary occupants were Neanderthals, although the Red Lady was a modern human.
Outside of the academic sphere, the Red Lady’s remains are also causing fights. After unearthing them, Buckland gave them to the University of Oxford, which is noted for many things—including not being in Wales. Eventually, the Welsh objected to this arrangement. Today the Red Lady lies in a museum in Wales, officially “on loan.” Some people are still arguing that he should have a permanent home in Wales, preferably as close to Paviland cave as possible.