Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London/Volume 31/On the Bone-Caves in the neighbourhood of Castleton, Derbyshire

16. On the Bone-Caves in the neighbourhood of Castleton, Derbyshire. By Rooke Pennington, Esq., LL.B. (Read February 10, 1875.)

(Communicated by Professor Boyd Dawkins, F.R.S., F.G.S.)

Having expended some leisure time since 1869 on the exploration of the prehistoric tumuli in the northern part of the Peak of Derbyshire, I have lately turned my attention to a few of the numerous caves and fissures existing in the Mountain-limestone district of that tract of country.

The results, together with a notice of a Staffordshire fissure (really in the same range), are contained in the following essay.


I. Prehistoric Caves.

Cave-Dale Cave.—In the romantic glen of Cave Dale, close to Castleton and just underneath the keep of the Peveril Castle, is a small cave (fig. 1). When first I knew it, it presented the appearance

Fig. 1.—Section of Cave-Dale Cave at entrance.

Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol. 31 no. 16 fig. 1.png

  A. Black earth.
  B. Yellowish earth, with limestone fragments.
AB. Blackish earth, with limestone fragments.
  C. Stalagmite.
  D. Black earth, with limestone fragments.
  E. Yellow earth, with limestone fragments.
  R. Rock.

of a low opening, about 111/2 foot in height and 6 feet in length, so that we had to lie down flat in order to wriggle into it, and it extended about 11 feet inwards.

On our first visit we found inside, in the surface soil, a shilling of the time of Elizabeth. On examination of the surface of the floor, several bones were turned up, and we accordingly resolved to dig it out. This we did, with the following results.

Before we commenced work, the height from roof to floor varied from 1 foot to 41/2 feet; when dug out the height from rock to rock varied from 2 feet to 61/2 feet; and the depth of the deposit varied from 1 foot to 41/2 feet. The cave extended right and left from the entrance, its breadth (as contrasted with its length, 11 feet) was about 14 feet.

On the south side, inside, where the deposit was not more than 2 feet thick, and outside, where it was about 4 feet thick, it consisted first of a layer of debris, consisting of blackish earth (AB) interspersed with angular fragments of limestone. The colour varied more or less; but no definite line of parting could be drawn.

Below this was a well-defined layer of yellow earth, with limestone fragments (fig. 1, E), much resembling the ordinary subsoil of this district, known locally as "fox-earth."

On the northern side, however, a different state of things appeared. First there was a superficial layer of black earth free from stone (A), and (secondly) below it a layer of yellowish earth including limestone fragments (B). These were not of the same thickness throughout; at the entrance they were together about 2 feet thick. Below them there was (thirdly) a layer of stalagmite (C), varying in thickness from 4 inches to 1 foot, and extending beneath overhanging rocks some little distance outside. This was an exceedingly well-defined bed; it had evidently in one stage of the cave's history grown over one half of its floor, whilst stalactites were being formed from above; for some had fallen and become welded into the stalagmite below. The stalagmite was exceedingly clear and white; it contained few bones, but included some fragments of limestone and numerous shells of Helix. Below the stalagmite was another layer of black earth (D), including limestone fragments to a greater extent than the earth above the stalagmite, and also small lumps of carbonate of lime.

Beneath this and next to the rock was the same layer of yellow earth (E) which extended beneath that part of the cave-floor which was destitute of the stalagmite.

A section of the entrance is shown in the sketch, fig. 1 (which, however, is not drawn to scale).

All the strata were more or less disturbed by the burrowing of rabbits.

The earth above the stalagmite, and that extending down to the yellow layer where no stalagmite was present, contained a most miscellaneous assortment of articles, no doubt mixed up to a great extent by the rabbits. Pieces of old-fashioned pots of a late period lay not far from bits of rude prehistoric pottery.

Of animals, determined by Mr. Boyd Dawkins, there were many bones of the Celtic short-horn (Bos longifrons) and goat (Capra hircus) both of young and old subjects; and many of them were broken, evidently purposely to get out the marrow. There were also a number of jaws and teeth, and a few bones, of hogs of various ages.

Proof of the human occupation of the cave as a dwelling-house was further afforded by the presence of a good deal of charcoal, whilst a number of human teeth seemed to point to its having at some time served as a grave.

Of animals probably not conected with man, there were many bones and teeth of the fox (Canis vulpes) and about as many of the badger (Meles taxus). Young foxes and young badgers were found. There was also a nearly perfect skull of a cat, and portions of skulls of water-rat (Arvicola amphibia), so common in the prehistoric barrows of this district. There was also a canine of dog, a milk-molar of red deer, a smashed bone of duck, spurs of domestic fowl, and bones of hare, with a recent skeleton of shrew.

Of implements &c, there was a tooled piece of Stag-horn, an iron spike (or what seemed to be such), 2 flints (one very good), a piece of jet, part of a bone comb, and a magnificent bronze celt of a type I believe to be unusual, bearing marks of usage, but in a splendid state of preservation. It was found in the second layer, very near the top and on the north side of the cave, just where the deposit was thickest.

The second layer contained also some rounded fragments of chert. Below the stalagmite, and in the black earth (D) were bones and a tooth of the Celtic short-horn, part of a jaw and bones of the hog, part of a jaw and some vertebræ of red deer, a femur of wolf, and a molar of horse.

In the yellow layer (E) next the rock were more human teeth, the jaw of a hog, part of the jaw (teeth very large) and bones of red deer, and bones or teeth of goat, badger, rabbit, and cat; also a good flint implement.

Outside the cave and in the layer above the stalagmite, where it existed (the results from below the stalagmite being included in those already given) were bones of the Celtic short-horn, bones of a young dog, and bones of hogs. All these were broken.

There were also perfect bones of the fox, badger, and goat. Direct traces of man appeared in a human fibula, and a base of red-deer antler, half sawn through and then broken off; some other fragments of antlers were also present. A flint was the only other manufactured article discovered.

The cave seemed to have been from time to time occupied during a lengthened period, probably commencing in the Neolithic age, and extending into those of Bronze and Iron; whilst in historic times it has been the refuge of badgers and foxes, man now and then resorting to it for temporary purposes.

As a residence or a refuge it would be safe, sheltered, and tolerably commodious, being situated near the top of the steep sides of Cave Dale, screened from observation and the weather by a bank of earth and having a south-eastern aspect.

Gelly or Hartle Dale.—In this dale are three or four small caves or rock shelters, one to be presently mentioned.

It is one of the little glens in the Mountain-limestone to the south of Castleton.

In one of these caves, which was dug out in 1872, we found but little of the ordinary cave-earth, or of the yellowish subsoil ("fox-earth"). The floor consisted principally of blackish mould, containing a few limestone fragments and pieces of chert. It Contained some bones, of which a portion were broken as though by man. They were bones of goat and pig, with those of the fox and rabbit. Two pieces of prehistoric pottery were also turned out; the ornamentation was unusually rude, even for this period, being simply punctures made in the clay, before baking, with a sharpened stick, without any regard to regularity.


II. Pleistocene Caves and Fissures.

Gelly or Hartle Dale.—Some time ago, in taking a stroll in company with Mr. Boyd Dawkins and Mr. John Tym, we entered the dale known as Gelly or Hartle Dale. Whilst examining some little caves and rock-shelters we picked up a milk-molar of a young woolly rhinoceros. It had been thrown up to the surface by rabbits burrowing in the floor of the small cave at the mouth of which it was found.

In an adjoining cavern there lay on the rock a tooth of a boar, evidently washed out of some fissure within.

The first-mentioned cave we dug out thoroughly, finding bones of rhinoceros and aurochs (Bison priscus), with a carpal of mammoth. There was no stalagmite present; all lay in the yellow earth mixed with angular limestone fragments, usually found in the small caves and fissures thereabouts, and which is evidently of subaerial origin. No trace of the hyæna appeared and I think there is no doubt the bones had been carried to their resting-place by water. Could the rock have been quarried away, it is highly probable that more bones would have been discovered in hidden fissures behind; that such existed was plain from the fact that the smoke of the fire lighted to boil our kettle at the mouth of a cave some 5 or 6 yards away found an exit in our cave, although no visible passage or communication existed.

Windy-Knoll Fissure.—In October 1870 I was in the Windy-Knoll quarry, in the Mountain-limestone near Castleton, when I noticed a large bone (a tibia) projecting from some of the angular debris which clothed the rock and filled the fissures.

I carried it and two or three other bones away, and showed them to Prof. Boyd Dawkins shortly after, when he determined them as belonging to the urus (Bos primigenius) and of Pleistocene age.

I accordingly examined the place carefully, and came to the conclusion that it was worth while to explore it. This it was impossible to do then or for long after, inasmuch as the debris was exposed in a fissure some distance up the side of the quarry, and could not be got at to any great extent without removing the rock behind which it was supported. This would have interfered with the working of the quarry, and would, in addition, have caused a great fall of earth upon broken stone lying below, to its no small detriment. However, a few bones and teeth were from time to time obtained, including those of the reindeer and aurochs, with a very fine horn-core of the latter animal.

The position of the quarry is curious. It is near the top of the Winnetts, the pass leading from the fertile Vale of Hope to the Cheshire valleys and plains, and very near to the most northern point of the Mountain-limestone of Derbyshire. Immediately to the north are the Yoredales of Mam Tor, the "Shivering Mountain." The beds dip northwards; a fault runs close to the spot. The line of division between the Mountain Limestone and the overlying rocks runs, roughly speaking, to the S.E., and S.W. of this quarry. It has been described as on the dividing-line of the east and west watersheds of the Pennine chain, and just on the western slope (Plant, Manchester Geological Society, April 28th, 1874). This is a mistake, as all the water there and for two miles to the west flows eastwards. There is immediately below, to the west, a trough-like valley, whence there is no surface outlet. All the water disappears into swallows, flows southward for a short distance underground, and is then intercepted by the channel which supplies the torrent in the Speedwell mine, which conducts it in an easterly direction to the Peak Cavern at Castleton, thence flowing into the Derwent, and so to the Trent, not into the Mersey as described.

Close to the quarry are two such water-swallows, which, however, discharge their waters into the Yale of Hope, near to the base of Tre-Cliff. And yet the situation can hardly be said to be on the eastern Pennine slope; it is, more correctly speaking, on the southern slope. The Pennine chain at its southern extremity becomes forked. Kinder Scout and its outliers constitute a range of hills than which there are none higher in England to the south. Going south from them the hills diminish, but at the same time diverge. Kinder Scout is capped by Millstone Grit; and two lines of Millstone-Grit and Yoredale hills run off from it to the S.E. and S.W. Between these two ranges, which are still of considerable height, there is exposed a less elevated range of Mountain Limestone. The highest points of their formation are lower than the Millstone-Grit heights either to north, east, or west.

By degrees all the uplands gradually diminish, until the bold heights of Edale, Castleton, Abney Moor, and Axe Edge, sink away into the wolds of South Derbyshire.

The only rivers of importance in the north of England persevering long in a southerly course are the Derbyshire Derwent, Wye, and Dove. The water-swallows of the Windy-Knoll Quarry and its vicinity discharge their streams into the Derwent; and the water does not turn eastward for any distance till the Derwent falls into the Trent, more than 40 miles from the point in question.

Observation convinced us (and subsequent exploration confirmed our conclusion) that the fissure in which the bones lay was but an offshoot of, or opening into, a sort of rock-basin lying to the north of it and behind the rocks shown in the sketch. A section of the rock would be somewhat thus:— The surface (C, fig. 2) was composed of rubbish derived from previous working of the quarry. The rock, A, was that in which the fissure

Fig. 2.—Section of Windy-Knoll Exploration.

Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol. 31 no. 16 fig. 2.png

A. Rock.

B. Ossiferous loam &c.

C. Rubbish.

D. Floor of quarry.

E. Yellowish débris.

(The portion excavated is enclosed with a dotted line.)

was; and the bones lay in the debris, B, at the back of the rock and filling the fissure in it.

This débris has been stated to be "drift" of glacial origin (Plant, Manchester Geological Society, Trans. April 28, 1874, pp. 2 et seq.). It has, however, none of the characteristics of drift; there are no foreign rocks or rounded pebbles in it; it is the ordinary loam, containing angular fragments of limestone, which is found in all hollows and fissures hereabouts; nor does it seem necessary to sup- pose that the Yoredales of Mam Tor have contributed to it, as no pieces of these rocks have been observed in it, and its colour is not peculiar. It is simply the subaerial débris of the Mountain-Limestone district.

About the end of April we began with the fissure, and removed the débris from it.

In May, work was Systematically carried on for a fortnight, four men being constantly at work.

We first got out a quantity of the debris from behind the rock, having taken off the surface-rubbish. We then got the quarrymen to blow down the supporting rock, so as to leave exposed the face of the deposit behind. As much as possible of this was then got out and carefully examined.

The surface-rubbish contained nothing of interest; and few bones lay in the upper part of the debris. But within about 4 feet below the surface (at the point commenced with) was a most astonishing mass of animal bones, mixed in a confused manner; bones of bisons, deer, wolves, bears, and other quadrupeds lay in the greatest profusion. Near the top the loam was very damp and sticky, and the bones very rotten and difficult to get out entire. Lower down, the bones were much better-preserved. Lowest of all, near to the encircling rocks, the bones were incrusted with stalagmite, and sometimes welded together into a mass by it. This was particularly the case in the fissure and near the walls of the basin; further from the rock no such bones appeared.

This stalagmite confirms my opinion that the place was filled from the subaerial disintegration of the limestone alone, as it could only have arisen from water dripping from the rocks above and charged with carbonate of lime. The limestone rises just to the south; and thus water would flow down from it towards the "swallows" near the fissure. Near to the subjacent rock was yellowish earth (E, fig. 2), similar to that lying next to the rock all over the Mountain-Limestone district.

The period necessary for the filling-up of the basin and fissure with the debris and the included bones must have been of considerable duration. It is, of course, clear that the bones incrusted with or enclosed in stalagmite must have lain exposed for a considerable time; and the loam itself had no appearance of being washed or drifted into the fissure except very gradually, and then being rather the result of the disintegration of the rocks immediately around than from the washings of any rocks further away. All the included rocks were limestone and angular, and bore no signs of rolling; they must have fallen from time to time from the rock round the basin. Some were of large size. Certainly, if any of the fragments had been washed in, they and the loam including them must have come from the slopes to the south of the place, as there is nothing but the Yoredale series to the north.

At the same time floods may have from time to time occurred, and conveyed bones and débris into the basin.

The likeliest supposition appears to me to be that this was a swampy place, into which animals from time to time fell, or near which they died, and into which in rainy seasons their bones were washed from the neighbouring slopes.

As to the condition of the bones, some were found in the proper relative position; but most were disjointed and had evidently been disturbed since death; many were fractured, some probably by the falling of pieces of rock; others were so decayed as to be very fragmentary; and many it was impossible to extract whole.

Notwithstanding the fractures, there was no trace (except as will be specially mentioned by Mr. Dawkins) of the gnawing of hyænas or the agency of man.


Waterhouses Fissure.

There is in Staffordshire, near the road from Leek to Ashbourne, at a little village called Waterhouses, a quarry in the Mountain Limestone famous for a discovery of mammoth-remains which took place in 1864. The little river Hamps flows close to the quarry, but, just before reaching it, disappears underground, leaving its ancient bed dry save in very rainy seasons, just as the Manifold (into which it flows), the Ingleton beck in Yorkshire, and other streams do. The working of the quarry back from the river-bed exposed a fissure.

The rocks are here tilted up at an angle of about 70°; this fissure, therefore, is about parallel with the dip. It was in this fissure that the mammoth-remains referred to were found; and for some time after the discovery it remained without being further worked into. However, shortly before 1873 the rock near to it was quarried away, and more of its contents brought to light.

The fissure is one extending from the surface downwards for an unknown depth. It is about 6 feet wide, and filled with the ordinary loam, containing angular fragments of limestone. There are present also a number of quartz pebbles. To the north the Yoredale sandstones, Millstone Grit, and Coal-measures rise to a considerable height; from these the pebbles have probably been derived.

The fissure was, as mentioned above, 6 feet wide, and it appeared to me that it would narrow and close up not far from the face of the rock there exposed. A depth of 20 feet was open to view; and the bison-bones were about 17 feet below the surface, i. e. about 3 feet, as nearly as I can ascertain, above the horizon in which the mammoth-remains were.

There is, I think, no doubt that this bison, together with the mammoths, had fallen into the fissure when making for the Hamps for the purpose of drinking, just as sheep and cattle fall into similar pits now-a-days. And it seemed that a horse had shared the same fate; for some of the bones of that animal were also turned out. From what I saw I feel sure that the whole of the bones of the bison were present, and nearly in their proper relative position, which would not, of course, have been the case had the bones been washed in at various times.