An Ice Age cavern in Devon which could hold vital untapped clues about the history of man is being used for barbecues and parties.
Ashhole Cavern in Brixham, where ancient elephant and rhinoceros bones have been found, is listed as a scheduled monument by Historic England.But generations of revellers have abused it and littered heavily in the area, prompting a new campaign for gates to be installed.Previously, treasure hunters have robbed it of Roman artefacts and thieves have chiselled off stalagmites and stalactites.
During lockdown people have been using the caves as a sheltered BBQ and party spot.
Amateur archaeologist Darren Murray is now campaigning to have gates put up at the entrance and wants the cavern designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The cavern is monitored by Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust.
Mr Murray said: "It is historical important and it needs protecting so that when archaeologists do get in there, no more damage has been done.
"The cavern will retain archaeological and environmental information which will be informative about the lives of those who used it for shelter, burial, or other purposes over a broad period from the prehistoric through to the Roman periods."
Mr Murray believes the cavern, currently home to bats and spiders, is of international importance and could be an Aladdin's cave for archaeologists.
The limestone floor, washed in during the last Ice Age, remains intact - meaning that 30 or 40ft below there may be the remains of Homo heidelbergensis, the first archaic human species to live in colder climates.
Mr Murray said there was also evidence of human habitation since Neolithic times.
Bones of ancient elephants and rhinoceros are proof that ancient man hunted nearby and lived and cooked in the caves.
Mr Murray said: "The floor is still solid - until the last Ice Age, everything before that lies preserved beneath that floor.
"The exciting thing is we don't know until it's excavated exactly what - but it will have the history of whatever Stone Aged man did when he lived here.
"The amazing thing is that everything is intact until the Ice Age when the limestone ran through the caves and formed the floor and sealed everything before that underneath."
Ashhole lies about 20 yards away from Berry Head Road, near Shoalstone beach.
One ancient rumour is that a passage beneath the caves will lead all the way to Kingswear, four miles away.
It was named Ashhole - meaning a receptacle for the ashes of the dead - because it was once used as a sepulchre, as proven by a 20ft deep shaft full of human skeletons, charcoal, ash, and broken Roman urns.
Roman coins of Claudius and Nero have also been found there.
Ashhole was the first cave to be explored by pioneering scientist William Pengelly who, together with his friend Charles Babbage, the inventor of the computer, was at the forefront of scientific research and development.
At that time Charles Darwin was also living and writing in Devon.
But before Mr Pengelly got far with his research into Ashhole he was diverted to Kents Cavern - now acknowledged as one of the world's most important prehistoric caves, where the oldest human fossil in Europe was found, dating from around 44,000BC.
Mr Murray believes Ashhole is equally important: "I have done a lot more investigation. Pengelly's research was dropped and it became forgotten about.
"The problem with Ashhole was that it was on top of a hill and the Victorians dumped wheelbarrows full of rubbish in it. There have been Bronze Age and Roman finds.
"But what is special here is that we are really lucky that the floor remain intact. Panther, lion and hyena all lived here at that time, when it was warmer and wetter than it is now."
Apart from the large main chamber, there are several smaller chambers, which extend downwards into the rock.
One has a large quantity of loose rock within it, and this chamber also extends upwards to a smaller chamber, underneath which a ladder helps gain access.
This chamber has a number of inscriptions in the flowstone covering its walls, with some dating back to at least the 1920s.