Pembroke history story


Pembroke Castle stands above The Wogan cave which was perhaps occupied by Pembroke's first inhabitants. It has not been excavated, but a very short distance away high on the bank, which rises steeply above the southern shore of the Pembroke River we find Catshole Cave or Priory Farm Cave which has been excavated and, according to archaeological evidence found there, we know that humans lived here over 10,000 years ago.

 Wogan's Cavern beneath Pembroke Castle   Catshole or Priory Farm Cave, Monkton

The evidence places our first Pembroke people towards the end of the Late Stone Age or Upper Palaeolithic Period.  Confused about Archaelogical periods? Archeologists have developed systems to describe the different eras in prehistory based on the technologies of the time.

Here's a little chart.




Old Stone Age

Lower Palaeolithic

350,000 - 70,000 BC


Middle Palaeoloithic

70,000 - 30,000 BC


Upper Palaeolithic

30,000 - 10,000 BC

Middle Stone Age


10,000 - 4,000 BC

New Stone Age


4,000 - 2,500 BC

Bronze Age


2,500 BC - 800 BC

Iron Age


800 - 43 AD



350,000 BC - 10,000 BC: Lower Palaeolithic

During this period we see the first humans emerge. These earliest inhabitants were nomadic hunters and gatherers, forced by seasonal changes to follow migrating animals.  They lived in small family groups in the open, often beside rivers in a mainly forested landscape. The earliest evidence of  humans in Wales was found in  Pontnewydd Cave in Denbighshire dating back to about 225,000 BC.


Between 350,000 BC and 13,000 BC, the whole of Wales was under the influence of the vast ice sheets of the Last Ice Age.  These glaciers advanced in colder periods (glacials) and retreated in warmer periods (interglacials).  These fluctuations often took place over thousands of years.

During the glacials the climate was like the arctic, dry and cold.  The vegetation consisted of mosses, sedges, grasses; the animals would have been woolly mammoth, rhinoceros, giant deer.   During the interglacials the climate was more temperate, like Southern  Spain today.  The vegetation consisted of trees, bushes, grasses and the animals it supported would have been deer, wild pig, rhino, hyena, lion and wolf.

The early humans could only survive during these warmer interglacials.

70,000 BC - 30,000 BC: Middle Palaeolithic

Neanderthal man


Around 70,000 BC Neanderthals appear. They were short, stocky people, their faces characterised by broad noses, protruding brows and a sloping forehead.  Hunter gatherers, they preferred to live in caves, and hunted the herds of bison, reindeer and mammoth. Their main stone tool was an axe but they developed a range of flint tools as well.Neanderthal skull

There is no evidence that Neanderthals ever lived here.  Not so far away at Coygan Cave,Laugharne, however, there is evidence of Neanderthal occupation.

30, 000 BC – 10,000 BC: Upper Palaeolithic

The Neanderthals died out, disappearing around 30,000 BC and were gradually replaced by the first fully modern humans who came to Britain from mainland Europe around 30,000 years ago.  In appearance they would have looked very much like us. 

Stone Age Burial, National Museum Wales

The Paviland Cave in the Gower has provided evidence of occupation at an early stage in this particular ice age. The Red Lady of Paviland is a fairly complete Upper Paleolithic-era human male skeleton dyed in red ochre, discovered in 1823 by Rev. William Buckland in one of the Paviland limestone caves of the Gower peninsula in south Wales, dating from c29,000

During the Palaeolithic Age humans grouped together in small bands. They were a Hunter Gatherer Society living a nomadic existence by foraging edible plants and and hunting wild animals. 

Technological advances at this time included significant developments in flint tool manufacturing.


During the last Ice Age this place we now call Pembroke could not sustain life as the land was covered in ice.  Then about 10,000 years ago the climate warmed, signalling the end of the last ice age.  As the ice sheets and glaciers retreated north and the land thawed out, peope started to migrate northwards following and hunting large herds of large animals eg reindeer, horse, wild cattle and elk. As the ice retreated and the climate improved, Southern Britain (which was still linked to the European landmass) became suitable for permanent settlement. There was an explosion of life – plants & forests grew, animals and people multiplied.

These people were the Hunter Gatherers.  They lived in our caves and left their remains which lay undisturbed until Dr Syles and Mr Dixon carried out their excavations in Cats Hole Cave in 1906.  

Priory Farm Cave by George Lewis

Cats Hole or Priory Farm Cave

A detailed account of the finds of Messrs Styles and Dixon was written by W.F. Grimes and Lionel F. Cowley and was published in Archaeologica Cambrensis in 1933.

They reported that a mixture of human and animal bones were found.  These included an almost complete skull, several portions of lower-jaw bones, pieces of limb-bones, ribs and vertebrae as well as animal bones of a mix of species: mammoth, hyaena, bear, reindeer, red deer, wolf, horse, ox, badger, sheep, goat, fox and hare. 

Important finds include fine sets of flints and, of great national importance the set of bronze age implements consisting of a bronze chisel, bronze palstave and a bronze saw with ring, the only one of its type known in Britain.  The hoard and the flints are on display in the National Museum Wales, Cardiff.

Bronze Age Tools found at the Priory Farm Cave


As we have seen, the climate varied greatly in Wales in the Old and Middle Stone Age periods.   Britain was not an island: people crossed the land bridges that linked Britain to Europe.  Pembroke would have been a long way from the coast: that would have been the west coast of Ireland!

Global warming affected sea levels also.  The continual melting of the ice sheets caused a permanent rise in sea levels.  The English Channel was flooded and Britain cut off from the rest of Europe some 6,500 years ago. By the end of the Mesolithic period, the coastline was as it is today. 



As time slowly passed, so did the patterns of human existence.   Around 4,000 BC a social revolution took place which saw the evolution of man  from hunter gatherer to farmer with the spread of farming technology into Britain from across the Channel  . This was the New Stone Age, when human beings abandoned their nomadic way of life following the herds of wild animals and developed new lifestyles, clearing the land to build settlements, plant crops of wheat and barley and raise domesticated sheep, cattle and pigs. They built stone monuments and made pottery.

Devils Quoit nr Angle photo Linda Asman
Neolithic cromlech on Broomhill Barrows at Angle, about 6 miles from Pembroke.  It is known as the Devil's Quoit.


2,500 BC - 800 BC: THE BRONZE AGE

As the ages of stone passed into those of Bronze, it would appear that people flourished in this community of ours.  Around 2,500 BC, new metalworking technologies arose across Europe, spread throughout Britain by migrating metal workers. They are known to us as the Beaker People, so called because of the shape of the pottery vessels which are so often found in their round barrow graves.

There is no clear division between Neolithic and Bronze Ages: change was a slow and gradual process.  Initially, metal was a rare commodity, only used by the social elite for special objects of prestige and display. Many hundreds of years passed by before metal replaced flint in weapon and tool production.  The Bronze Age saw the construction of henges and standing stones: the most famous being Stone Henge.  There is plenty of evidence of these peoples all around us in the standing stones, the large numbers of tumuli or burial mounds and even the remains of a Bronze Age village at Bosherston.

The Haroldstone Stackpole photo Linda Asman

Devils Quoit Sampson Cross photo Linda Asman

There is a local legend that these three stones, which are known collectively as the Devil’s Quoit,  on a certain day move and meet at Saxon’s Ford where they dance.  Then, their dance over, they resume their stations.

Devils Quoit Stackpole Warren photo Linda Asman


200 years ago Fenton reported many tumuli on the Dry Burrows (about 4 miles from Pembroke).  Unfortunately most have now been destroyed by farming leaving only a few.


Bronze Age village near Broadhaven - the hut circles and walls can clearly be seen.

Towards the end of the Bronze Age the climate changed drastically. Many settlements were abandoned and it seems likely that warfare and banditry erupted as people fought over land that could no longer support them. This may have led to the construction of the first defended hilltop settlements which abound in this area, the range of weapons produced and in the emergence of the warrior chieftain. The Iron Age Peoples emerge – a people who spread their language and culture throughout Europe and who gave Wales its identity and language which remains to this day.



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Paleolithic or

Old Stone Age


Mesolithic or

Middle Stone Age


Neolithic or

New Stone Age


The Bronze Age

  The Iron Age