The Caves Of Cresswell Crags

Just as they afforded shelter to the cave-bear and the hyaena in the Pleistocene age, so in the Prehistoric period did they to the wolf and the bear, and in modern times to the fox and the badger. The results of their exploration,1 so far as they relate to the early history of mankind, may be conveniently laid before the reader by the light of the newest discoveries, made by the Rev. J. Magens Mello2 and myself in a group of caverns on the north-east border of Derbyshire, at Cresswell Crags, about five miles to the south-west of Worksop.

The Caves of Cresswell Crags

The low range of hills, passing from Yorkshire southwards into Leicestershire, composed of magnesian limestone, is traversed here and there by ravines, among which that known as Cresswell Crags is one of the most beautiful and picturesq}m.(It i{ about a third of a mile long, with the vertical cliffs on either side 50 to 80 feet high, overhung with ivy, and relieved by a luxuriant growth of hazel and maple, stunted oak and ash wherever the scree at the bottom, or the cracks in the surface, allow the vegetation to root itself. Through it flows a stream dividing the counties of Derby and Nottingham, which now forms the beautiful sheet of water filling the bottom of the ravine. Caverns and fissures open on it on either side - on the north the Pin Hole, the Robin Hood, and Mother Grundy's Parlour, and on the south the Church Hole Cavern.

The Pin Hole.

The Pin Hole, so called from a curious superstitious custom of dropping a pin into a small water-filled hollow in it, and of taking away at the same time one left by a previous visitor,3 first attracted the attention of the Rev. J. M. Mello in 1875. It runs some 40 or 50 feet horizontally into the rock, and was partially filled with sand containing blocks of stone and large quantities of remains of animals. The sand and pebbles had been introduced by a stream, the large blocks had fallen from the roof in the long course of ages, while the fossil bones and teeth were so scored with teeth-marks as to show that their owners had fallen a prey to some wild beast, which had eaten not merely their flesh but their marrow-containing bones. This creature is proved to have been the spotted hyaena by the numerous teeth and jaws in the cave, ranging from cubhood to old age. The victims identified by Professor Busk belong to the grisly bear, wolf, common fox, bison, reindeer, Irish elk, horse, woolly rhinoceros, and mammoth, to which must be added the arctic fox, so abundant in the Polar regions, and the glutton or wolverine, ranging from the Polar regions as far south as the forests of Germany. The arctic fox is new to Britain, although it has been discovered in the caves of France, Germany, and Switzerland; and the glutton has only been previously met with in the cave of Plas Heaton, near St. Asaph.4 In these remains we have the materials for forming an idea of the animals living in the woodlands of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire. We may picture to ourselves the horses, bisons, and reindeer trooping down to drink, with here and there an Irish elk, or an unwieldy mammoth or rhinoceros. The drinking-places were the chosen haunts of packs of hyaenas, by which even large and powerful creatures, such as grisly bears and rhinoceroses, were overwhelmed, and their remains carried piecemeal into the dens, to be devoured at leisure.

The Robin Hood and Church Hole Caves.

Man is proved to have formed the central figure in this very remarkable assemblage of animals, by the numerous implements and articles left behind in the chambers and passages of the Robin Hood cavern, or that next explored, which were filled with strata in the following order:

The Three Pleistocene Strata.

The floor was covered with a dark layer of earth, some five or six inches in thickness, containing fragments of Roman and mediaeval pottery, and other remains of Historic age. Below this, on the left-hand side, was a layer of breccia three feet thick, and sufficiently hard to be blasted only with extreme difficulty. In other parts of the cave it diminished in thickness, and passed into thin stalagmite. It will be observed in the section that it stands in an inverse ratio in regard of thickness to the cave-earth below, containing bones, which was present in every part of the cave.


1 The history of the exploration of caves is treated in my work on Cave-hunting, 8vo, 1875.
2 Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. Land. xxxi, p. 679 ; xxxii. p. 240 ; xxxiii. p. 579 ; xxxv. June 1879.
3 This singular custom is probably connected with the ancient practice of making offerings to the dead, and in later times to fairies, in little cups in stones (see Chap. IX.)
4 Dawkins, Quart. Jown. Geol. Soc. Lond. xxvii. p. 406.

Excerpt from W B Dawkins (1880): Early Man in Britain, Chap. VII, pp 175-178.