Being a self-confessed and unashamed geek, I am compelled to drag the clan (man, woman – try saying it in grunts like a caveman) across the land hunting and gathering geek interest. This time to Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge of stone age caves occupied during the last ice age between 50,000 – 10,000 years ago on the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire border. I always knew there were knuckle dragging cave dwelling troglodytes around here. I see him in the mirror, Cro-Magnon caveman Cookie.
Today, we’ve managed to see Britain’s only ice age rock art. I’ve also managed to touch it and not ruin it. Quite eerie considering you stand in the same spot, your finger tracing the outline of the carving as they may have done. The Church Hole cave at Creswell Crags is the home of Britain’s only cave art with Palaeolithic etchings and engravings on the walls and ceiling approx 14,000 years old. This rock art was only discovered in 2003. A steel floor was erected at the cave’s original height as it would have been years ago. The Victorians excavated the cave using that precise very method of dynamite. They chucked out a load of rubble and god only know what other artifacts and this lowered the floor level. As a result, this left the faint engravings and etchings high up out of view.
There are over 80 drawings in church Hole cave with bas-relief carvings using natural features in the rock to enhance. Some engravings are clearer than others, it may not look like much in my photo, but there is definitely a stag there and part of its shape is easily visible. You can also see a bison and a bird although you may need an expert to guide you. It’s possible that some of the carvings may have had colour at some point, ochre was found outside of the cave. Today the inside of the cave is wet in places, particularly over the bison carving, so colour may not have lasted long.
Now some of the engravings need more imagination than others. Apparently there are engravings of women and triangle shapes. These are supposed to be, or represent vulva i.e. ladies bits. Now I’ve seen more imaginative drawings on toilet walls before, some incredibly detailed but never in the shape of the caveman porn these cave dwellers carved. I have some doubts. Not a pair of boobies to be seen. Give a man a pencil and ask him to draw a woman, you’ll get boobies. Maybe the woman he was drawing was flat chested, maybe he ran out of flint.
Some of the animal etchings were not native to the area at the time e.g. the Ibis bird carving on the ceiling, we know that the cavemen used to be nomadic seasonal visitors, the first being Neanderthals, couldn’t stop here all year round as it was too cold. This was the most northern habitable edge. The gorge was somewhat different in the past, Britain was part of a larger landmass called Doggerland. The limestone gorge did not have trees, definitely no boating lake but a small stream separating the two sides, one side predominantly for shelter.
Other findings include, flint tools, knife-blades, a prehistoric hyena den occupied by Neanderthals and bone engraved figures – The Robin Hood Cave Horse (also known as The Ochre Horse) and Pinhole Cave Man. Robin Hood’s cave also has evidence of hunting woolly rhinoceros. We’ll be visiting this cave next time. You can see some of the amazing tools in the exhibition, including 50,000 year old Neanderthal handaxes, 120,000 year old Hippopotamus jaw and a fine bone needle with the needle eye just 2mm across. You can see more items at Derby Museum and Art Gallery including flint leaf-tip spear points 38-35,000 years old.
Visitors have been going to Creswell Crags for 50,000 years says the tag line. You can too, you wont need to grab your bullwhip and fedora hat though, the rock art is very near the entrance to the padlocked Church Hole cave, but you will need to pay to enter via a guided tour. We managed to visit the Rock Art Cave Tour on its first day of opening this year, its worthwhile phoning up beforehand and pre-booking your visit. You can also come back and revisit with your ticket within the year. Learn more about Creswell Crags, the Rock Art Cave Tour and the Robin Hood Cave Ice Age Tour here.