William Buckland, born Mar. 12, 1784, was the first professor of geology in England, taking those reins in 1818 at Oxford. He is well known for having found the first dinosaur, Megalosaurus (see our 1995 exhibition, Paper Dinosaurs). But he was also one of the early proponents of cave exploration as a way to shed light on the life of former ages. At Kirkdale Cave in Yorkshire, he found bones with teeth marks on them, which he was able to match up with the jaws of hyenas, suggesting that the cave was once a hyena den, a discovery that was the subject of a caricature by Henry de la Beche (second image above).
At Paviland cave in southern Wales, Buckland found not only the remains of a mammoth, but a human skeleton, covered in red ochre. Since humans and mammoths were not thought at that time to be contemporary, Buckland concluded that the skeleton was that of a local Celtic woman, who lived there at the time of the Roman occupation of Wales, and perhaps plied her wares in the Roman camp nearby. The “Red Lady of Paviland,” as she came to be called, has recently generated a great deal of interest, especially among the Welsh, for who she has become a national icon, and we now know that the Lady was actually an Upper Paleolithic male who lived in the area about 26,000 years ago, making her (him) the oldest known early modern human in the British Isles. Buckland included a section of the excavated cave in his Reliquiae diluvianae (1823), which we have in the History of Science Collection; we see above a detail, so you can see the Red Lady in her resting spot, next to the skull of the mammoth. You can see the entire engraving, and a super-detail, in our online exhibition, Blade and Bone.
Our fourth image shows Buckland at work in the lecture hall at the Ashmolean at Oxford. In December, 2014, we did an anniversary on Buckland’s son, Francis Buckland, which contained a charming black-on-white silhouette portrait of the Buckland family, with William standing on the left.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City