This website is accessible to all versions of every browser. However, you are seeing this message because your browser does not support basic Web standards, and does not properly display the site's design details. Please consider upgrading to a more modern browser. (Learn More).

Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
You are here: home > attractions

Cresswell Crags - The Cheddar Gorge of the North.

Posted Thursday, May 31, 2007

e-mail E-mail this page   print Printer-friendly page

Creswell Crags – The `Cheddar Gorge of the North'!

`earliest known examples of prehistoric cave art in Britain'

Carved twelve thousand years ago by ancient Britons, achaeologists have recently discovered the earliest known examples of prehistoric cave art in Britain - in North Derbyshire!

The discovery by Paul Banh and Paul Pettitt at Church Hole Cave, Creswell Crags has triggered considerable scientific excitement for it fills a major gap in the country’s archaeological record.

“This represents a wonderful discovery” says Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum in London. “There are fine examples of cave art in Spain and France, but none has been found here – until now!”.

Modern humans appeared in Europe 45,000 years ago and quickly replaced the continent’s occupants, the Neanderthals. One of the settlers first acts was to create works of art, something no previous human species is believed to have done. The best preserved of these works are on cave walls at Lascaux and Chauvet in France, and at Altamira in Spain.

But none had ever been found before in Britain.

`The oldest recorded human habitation in Britain'

Creswell Crags has been referred to as `The Cheddar Gorge of the North’, and the Somerset cave system at Cheddar has been the site of several archaeological `hoaxes’ during the past century. But the latest Creswell find is the real thing, as the archeaological team reveal in the journal `Antiquity’, they targetted Creswell Crags because its caves are known to be the oldest recorded habitations in Britain which were occupied by humans in paleolithic times.

In the nineteenth century archaeologists discovered a 12,000 year-old bone needle in Church Hole cave, and it is in the same cave that Banh and Pettitt discovered the two engravings.

The 12,000 year-old art work consists of three animal figures etched into the stone of the cave wall; one appears to be a crane or swan, and another a bird of prey. The third engraving is believed to represent an ibex, an animal not previously thought to have existed in Britain.

Twenty thousand years ago the edge of the northern ice cap was only thirty kilometres north of Creswell, so this was one of the most northerly places to have been visited by our ancestors during the last Ice Age.

The cave dwellings at Creswell Crags are situated on either side of a narrow magnesian limestone gorge, several feet above its floor, and are remarkable not only for the remains they revealed of occupation by early hunting communities during the last Ice Age, but the timespan of intermittent occupation covering tens of thousands of years during inter-galacial periods.

The sequence of human occupation at Creswell began around forty to fifty thousand years ago with the Neanderthals, who lived in dwellings which were given fanciful names following the nineteenth century discoveries, such as Mother Grundy’s Parlour, Church Hole, Pin Hole and Robin Hood’s Cave.

The nineteenth century archaeological discoveries at Creswell include the figure of a masked man engraved on a piece of bison rib; a fish pattern on a mammoth’s tusk; a reindeer rib adorned with a chevron pattern, and oldest of all, a horses head on another fragment of rib bone.

Weapons and utensils were also found, like a dagger made from the spine of a mammoth, and drinking vessels fashioned from woolly rhinoceros bones.

Pin Hole and Robin Hood’s Cave lie on the northern side of the gorge and here were found the bone carvings of the masked man and the horses head, whilst Mother Grundy’s Parlour revealed carvings of a reindeer, a bear or bison's head and a rhinoceros. The lower jaw bones were used as ripping tools, and sometimes the canine teeth of bears were removed for use as smaller cutting tools. Reindeer antlers wre also separated from their skulls, and for example, in Pin Hole Cave, numbered over a quarter of the 4,400 cranial bones found at various levels in the earth floor of the cave.

In contrast the neatly made stone tools that were found amounted to some two hundred and forty, of which less than a third originated from the cave’s Neanderthal residents.

The enterprising inhabitants of Creswell, particularly those in Mother Grundy’s Parlour, developed their own local flint `industry’, which has become known in archeaology as the `Creswellian Culture’.

Their blades were characteristically small and blunted along one edge for holding, or setting into a handle. Creswellian products have also been found as far away as caves in Somerset and as close as Dowel Cave, at Earl Sterndale in Derbyshire’s White-Peak.

Creswell Crags, already famous throughout the archaeological world, and a major Derbyshire tourist and educational attraction for many years, now plans a new £4.5m museum on the site as part of a £14m initiative to extend facilities in the Creswell area. The new museum and education centre will change the prevailing view of prehistory in the UK.

Said manager Nigel Mills,

“Usually prehistory starts with the Romans, with a brief look back to Stonehenge, and that’s about it. But there is much more.

The people who lived at Creswell were remarkably sophisticated, and they faced the problem of environmental change, just like we do today”.

Many of the objects removed from Creswell Crags by Victorian archaeologists and distributed to museums throughout the country, will be displayed at the new centre.

Perhaps by that time, archaeologists will be referring to the famous caves at Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, as the Creswell Crags of the South!

e-mail E-mail this page
print Printer-friendly page

Weather Forecasts | Weather Maps | Weather Radar

Latest articles in Attractions
The White Peak of Derbyshire
Snowdrops at Hopton Hall!
Whitworth Centre & Park, Darley Dale:
Wingerworth Hall & Menagerie
Pagan Weddings in the Peak!
Hartington & The King's Stilton

Please visit About Derbyshire - my main web site

contact Tom