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Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London/Volume 32/The Bone-caves of Creswell Crags—2nd Paper

28. The Bone-caves of Creswell Crags.—2nd Paper. By the Rev. J. Magens Mello, M.A., F.G.S. (Read April 5, 1876.)

I had the honour last June of reporting to the Society my discovery of some interesting bone-caves and fissures in Creswell Crags, in the Lower Magnesian Limestone of N.E. Derbyshire, which contained a large number of species of Pleistocene mammalia, together with some traces of the presence of man[1]. I was able on that occasion to exhibit portions of some 15 or 16 species belonging to no fewer than 12 genera obtained from one cave alone, locally known as the Pin-hole, so called from a curious custom which prevails amongst some of its visitors of dropping a pin into a small water-filled hollow, removing at the same time a pin deposited by some previous visitor. Amongst the animals which had left their remains in this cave the most important were the Irish Elk, the Glutton, and the Arctic Fox; together with these were a large number of Hyæna remains, and also bones and teeth of the Mammoth, the Woolly Rhinoceros, the Brown Bear, the Reindeer, the Urus, and of some other animals. During the past summer I have been able to carry on the work of exploration, assisted by Mr. Thomas Heath, F.R.H.S., Curator of the Derby Museum, who has been able to devote a good deal of time to it, and whose skilful help has been of great value in carrying on the researches; and I must also acknowledge the energetic assistance given us by Mr. F. Tebbet, superintendent at the Creswell quarries, who from the beginning has taken much interest in these discoveries.

We commenced the renewed search by continuing the excavation of the floor of the Pin-hole, trusting that amongst other remains we might obtain some more evidence of the presence of the Arctic Fox; in this, however, we were not successful. All the front of the cavern was thoroughly searched, the chief bones found being two perfect pelves of Rhinoceros tichorhinus, and also two atlases of the same animal, together with a few Reindeer- and other bones of no particular interest. As we worked our way further into the fissure the number of bones found was very small indeed; the bed of red sand, which at the entrance of the cave had proved so rich in its contents, became filled with limestone fragments, and was nearly destitute of bones; and we determined, under these circumstances, to desert that cave for the time and begin the exploration of a neighbouring one a little lower down the ravine, and in the same side of it. This, which is called the Robin-Hood Cave, is of moderate size, containing several chambers communicating with each other, the separation merely consisting of narrow walls of the limestone rock (fig. 1).

We began work here by making a section of the floor at the entrance, cutting down to a depth of about 8 feet, where blocks of limestone were met with, which probably form part of the original

Fig. 1.—Rough Ground-plan of the Robin-Hood Cave, Creswell Crags.
(Scale 20 feet to 1 inch.)

Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol. 32 no. 28 fig. 1.png

The curved broken lines indicate the portion worked out.

floor of the cave. We gradually worked forward into the cave, carefully examining each stratum as it was removed. As in the Pin-hole, so here there was a certain amount of dark surface-soil of inconsiderable thickness, seldom, if ever, exceeding 5 or 6 inches, and near the entrance not above 2 inches; in this in different parts of the cavern we found some broken fragments of Roman and Mediæval pottery, a human incisor, and some bones of recent animals (sheep etc.). On the left-hand side of the cave, and extending a considerable way across its mouth, there was a very hard limestone breccia, varying in thickness from a few inches up to about 3 feet; beneath the breccia was a deposit of light-coloured cave-earth, more or less sandy and very calcareous; where the breccia attained its greatest thickness the cave-earth was almost wanting, being only a few inches thick at the side of the cave; but further in, under the thinner portions of the breccia, the cave-earth was fully 3 feet thick; the succeeding layer was of dark-red sand, very similar in character to the bone-bearing bed of the Pin-hole, but differing from it in containing, near its base, patches of highly laminated red clay. Small nodular masses of black oxide of manganese occurred here and there in the sand, and also some quartzite and other pebbles. This middle red sand bed was about 3 feet thick, and rested upon a bed of lighter-coloured sand, containing many rough blocks of limestone already mentioned as apparently forming part of the original floor of the cavern. Fig. 2 gives a section across the

Fig. 2.—Section in the Robin-Hood Cave, in line 1, Fig. 1.

Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol. 32 no. 28 fig. 2.png

+ Stalactite uniting breccia with roof.
a. Stalagmitic breccia, with bones and implements, 18 in. to 3 ft.
b. Cave-earth, with bones and implements, of variable thickness.
c. Middle red sand with laminated red clay at base, containing bones, 3 ft.
d. Lighter-coloured sand with limestone fragments, 2 ft.?

side of the cavern where the thickness of the breccia was greatest. Fig. 3 is another section, taken across the cavern, facing the openings of the chambers, which are shown above the cutting.

The Breccia.—The Breccia (a) was firmly cemented together by stalagmite, many thick masses of which were interspersed with it; and the whole deposit was so hard that it had frequently to be blasted in order to remove it and examine its contents. It was found to contain a large number of bones, mostly of small animals, including the "Water-vole; but together with these were some of the Reindeer, and also teeth of the Hyæna, Rhinoceros tichorhinus, and Horse.

Fig. 3.—Section in the Robin-Hood Cave, in line 2, Fig. 1.

Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol. 32 no. 28 fig. 3.png

a. Surface-soil and thin breccia, 2-3 in.
b. Cave-earth, with flint and quartzite implements, teeth, bones, angular limestone fragments, and charcoal, 3 ft.
c. Red Sand with laminated clay, few bones, 3 ft.
1. Fox-hole?

Besides the bones, the breccia contained numerous flint flakes and chips, as well as one or two flint cores. Although the majority of the flints were chips, or flakes of the simplest character, some few of them were of superior workmanship, being well-shaped spearheads, or large arrow-heads chipped on both surfaces; there were also one or two sharply pointed flints of the awl type. A few quartzite implements, similar to those to be described in the succeeding bed, were found in the breccia.

The Cave-earth (b).—The cave-earth contained some flint implements; but besides these were a large number of split or chipped quartzite pebbles, evidently fashioned by man, most of them having a very definite bulb of percussion, and a general uniformity of design prevailing amongst them. Amongst these quartzite implements are some fashioned on both faces, and which present in their oval form a decidedly palæolithic aspect; a similarly shaped implement of clay-ironstone was found with these. Some of the pebble implements were designed for hammers, one large one having a few chips struck off one end, and the opposite face being much bruised. Besides these implements there were a considerable number of unfashioned pebbles of quartzite, together with one or two of black chert and of quartz, both in the cave-earth and in the red sand. The cave-earth, as well as the breccia, contained a good many small fragments of charcoal. We found numerous animal remains in this bed. Horse-teeth were specially numerous, and also those of the Rhinoceros tichorhinus, and of the Hyæna; a good many very perfect fragments of both the upper and lower jawbones of the latter animal were found, one of the upper jaws still retaining, in addition to the canine and large molars, the small fifth molar that is so generally lost. A left ramus of a lower jaw has also some of the incisors in situ. The numerous Rhinoceros-teeth are both upper and lower molars and premolars, together with some milk-teeth, most of them being very perfect. In this bed were found bones of the Reindeer, as well as teeth, and also some fine teeth of the Cave-Lion and of Bears. At the base of the cave-earth, at one place on the left-hand side of the cavern there was a thin bed of small pebbles, apparently deposited by water; this and the laminated red clay were the only traces of any thing like regular bedding in the floor of the cave, apart from the chief divisions already mentioned. At one point the cave-earth had been considerably disturbed by a fox-hole; this was the only instance in which such disturbance was seen (see 1, fig. 2).

The Red Sand (c).—The Red Sand underlying the cave-earth contained comparatively few bones, except in one place near the entrance of the cavern, where a considerable number of large bones were found at its base, almost resting on the underlying light sand. The bones consisted of portions of antlers and other remains of the Reindeer, some very perfect metacarpals and metatarsals, and vertebræ of the Bison, and some bones of the Hyæna etc. At another place was found an extremely perfect small molar of Elephas primigenius with a portion of the jawbone still attached to it. A further and detailed account of the implements and bones of this cavern has been kindly prepared for me by my friend Prof. Boyd Dawkins, and will be found in the following paper. One thing to which I should call attention is the somewhat strange fact that although a very large majority of the bones discovered have been gnawed by hyænas, to whose agency we must attribute the presence of most of the animal remains found in these caves, yet up to the present time we have been able to find no trace of the coprolites of these animals, which are usually so numerous in hyæna-dens; I hardly know how to account for their absence. I hope that we shall be able to continue the work of exploration during the ensuing summer; and the results of such further explorations I trust I shall have the honour of bringing before the Society at a later period.

[For the Discussion on this paper see p. 256.]

  1. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. xxxi. p. 679.