Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Red Lady and Bells of the Deep

by | November 29, 2011 | 2 comments

Paviland Cave on the GowerIn 1822, on the Gower Peninsula, Daniel and John Davies, two of many 19thC Victorian archaeologists, discovered the bones of strange animals and a mammoth’s tusk in Goat’s Hole Cave. The following year, William Buckland (Professor of Geology at Oxford and Dean of Westminster Abbey) discovered the skeletal remains of a human who became the subject of nearly two centuries of speculation.

Buckland first suggested the remains were those of a customs official, murdered by smugglers.  Before he published his findings, he changed his mind and presented a woman of ill-repute, the Red Lady of Paviland. These remains have since been radiocarbon dated and DNA evidence has clarified much of the mystery but, for well over a century, the Red Lady of Paviland held an exulted position: the first human fossil to have been found anywhere in the world.

As we now know, the ‘Red Lady’ was actually the headless remains of a young man laid to rest in a cave on the Gower – these days a popular southwest Wales destination for family vacations. His bones had been stained with red ochre. William Buckland’s academic and religious beliefs in the early 19thC precluded the existence of antediluvian humans, consequently, the ‘Red Lady’ was presented as a woman of doubtful moral character who plied her trade at the edge of a Roman encampment, sometime before AD300. The ivory rods and beads around the ribs and the Remnants of the Forestperiwinkle shells around the hips were not evidence of her trade but Palaeolithic forms of decoration.  As time has told, the skeleton preceded the
Roman occupation of Britain by some 25,700 years.

In Welsh legend, a similar discovery became known as Cantre’r Gwaelod – an ancient realm believed to have been drowned though its bells can still be heard when the tide in Bae Aberteifi  is at its most violent. In the legend, the ruler, Gwyddno Garanhir, has appointed Seithennin to watch that the sea doesn’t overwhelm the vast farmland beyond the dyke. Seithennin gets a bit too comfortable in his role at court, neglects his duty to ring the warning bell and the land is vanquished.   

Clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod

JJ Williams (1869–1954)

 O dan y môr a’i donnau
Mae llawer dinas dlos,
Fu’n gwrando ar y clychau
Yn canu gyda’r nos.
Trwy ofer esgeulustod
Y gwiliwr ar y tŵr
Aeth clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
O’r golwg dan y dŵr.

Pan fyddo’r môr yn berwi
A’r corwynt ar y don,
A’r wylan wen yn methu
Cael disgyn ar ei bron,
Pan dyr y don ar dywod
A tharan yn ei stŵr,
Mae clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
Yn ddistaw dan y dŵr.

Ond pan mae’r môr heb awel
Ar don heb ewyn gwyn,
Ar dydd yn marw’n dawel
Dros ysgwydd bell y bryn;
Mae nodau pêr yn dyfod,
A gwn yn ddigon siwr
Fod clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
I’w clywed dan y dŵr.

O! cenwch glych fy mebyd
Ar waelod llaith y lli,
Daw oriau bore bywyd
Yn sŵn y gân i mi:
Hyd fedd mi gofia’r tywod
Ar lawer nos ddi-stŵr,
A chlychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
Yn canu dan y dŵr.


This land mass, like Doggerland, succumbed to the forces of nature in the 10,000-8,000 years before recorded history. It was an oak forest and,
like the hippos roaming the Thames River basin, disappeared beneath the surging ocean after the last Ice Age came to an end – global warming in the extreme.

These legends attest to the strength of human creativity: the need to tell a story, to know the past, even if the story is imaginary. Though the truth is proven, we still find the legends more engaging. They satisfy our search for altered states of consciousness, enabling us to delve into our own
dreamworlds and scour our imaginations to create preferred existences.

Although we strive for some sense of historical accuracy, we avoid the reality of life for our characters in our chosen eras.  What we know about the lives of red ladies and bells of the deep fires our imaginations. Our ancestors found ways to survive, sought beauty and exercised their capacity for dreaming. Not much has changed in 35,000 years.


  1. Jody

    This was a wonderful post. So very interesting, sadly as much as those of us who use DNA testing for genealogy purposes this new tool for genetic archeology is going to lay waste to some myths and legends. But hard science tends to do that. Nothing like examing the moral and cultural biases of the 19th century Archaelogists. Imagine what how this generations archaelogists will be looked on and their biases. Great post.

  2. Lily

    Thank you, Jody. That is high priase indeed coming from you. Moral and cultural biases don’t stop in the 19thC, as we know. I am amazed at the unending speculation on some television programmes that passes for fact. I know these are mainly for entertainment but we can’t help but take every word they say as ‘truth’. Thank you again for commenting.


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