Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London/Volume 33/The Bone-caves of Creswell Crags—Third Paper

31. The Bone-caves of Creswell Crags.—3rd Paper. By the Rev. J. Magens Mello, M.A., F.G.S., &c. (Read April 11, 1877.)



A. The Robin-Hood Cave.

1. The Talus.

2. The Surface-Soil.

3. The Breccia.

4. The Cave-Earth.

5. The Mottled Bed.

6. The Red Sand.

7. The Original Floor.

8. Chamber C.

9. Chambers D and E.

10. Chamber G. 11. Terminal Fissure.

B. The Church Hole.

1. The Talus.

2. Deposits in Interior

3. The Breccia.

4. The Cave-Earth.

5. The Mottled Bed.

6. The Red Sand.

7. Chamber B.



It will be remembered that on two previous occasions the history of the Creswell-Caves Exploration has been brought before the Society, on the latter of which the results of the work were given up to the close of 1875.

During the early part of last summer the exploration has been carried on under the auspices of a Committee, consisting of Sir J. Lubbock, M.P., F.R.S., as President, Prof. W. Boyd Dawkins, F.R.S. (Secretary), F. Longdon (Treasurer), Prof. G. Busk, F.R.S., W. Bragge, F.G.S., R. D. Darbishire, B.A., F.G.S., J. Evans, F.R.S., A. W. Franks, F.R.S., Rooke Pennington, LL.B., F.G.S., Prof. Prestwich, F.R.S., and the Rev. J. M. Mello, M.A., F.G.S. (Director and Reporter), Prof. W. Boyd Dawkins and T. Heath, F.R.H.S., being Superintendents.

It will hardly be necessary to do more by way of recapitulation than just allude to the first papers read, which have established the fact that we have at Creswell a series of highly important caves, illustrating by their contents two periods of human occupation during the Palæolithic age in Britain, when man was contemporary in Derbyshire and the adjoining district with the characteristic Pleistocene fauna. The remains of animals belonging to this fauna, in great abundance and representing a remarkably large number of species, have been found in these caves, in conjunction with quartzite and flint implements of two different types:—the one ruder than the other and underlying it, corresponding in character to the rude implements of the Lower Breccia of Kent's Hole and of the river-gravels; the upper series of implements being of a somewhat more finished type, and in general form agreeing with those assigned by M. Mortillet to the age of Solutré, and which have been found in this country in the cave-earth of Kent's Hole and in Wookey Hole[1].

It was thought advisable to carry on the exploration of the two principal caverns simultaneously : these are the Robin-Hood Cave, and another, on the opposite side of the ravine, called the Church Hole.

A. The Robin-Hood Cave.

At the beginning of the year a very considerable portion of the Robin-Hood Cave remained, as will be seen in the ground-plan, unexplored; thoroughly and carefully to clear this out formed a large part of our work. Great care has been taken to keep the contents of the different beds separate, each bed having been worked out, as far as possible, independently, and the earth riddled as it was removed to the mouth of the cave; the various objects found each day were separately packed and labelled. We trusted that by exercising this care we should be able to obtain as conclusive evidence as might be possible as to the occupation of the caves by man during the two stages of the Palæolithic period already alluded to.

1. The Talus.—The work was commenced, on June 19th, by cutting a trench through the talus outside the entrance of the cavern (fig. 1.). At a depth of 3 feet, the unproductive white calcareous sand with limestone blocks forming the lowest bed in the interior was met with; above this was a deposit of cave- earth, 1 foot thick, in which, near the mouth of the cavern, were a few flint chips, a fragment or two of worked flakes, and a few teeth and a portion of the jaw of Cervus megaceros, together with two or three teeth of Hyæna and Rhinoceros tichorhinus. Over the cave-earth was an old floor full of bits of charcoal, with pieces of coarse Roman earthenware in the lower part, and with more modern remains at the top. In this floor a few small fragments of human bones and some teeth occurred, as well as teeth of Sheep, Celtic Shorthorn, Hare, and Water-vole, together with some small bird-bones. The talus generally proved of very little interest; and it was resolved to proceed at once to the resumption of work in the interior.

The distribution and order of the various beds as they occur in this cavern will be best understood by comparing the sections taken at different points in the cave (figs. 2–7). Where all the beds are present they are at least five or six in number; but it will be seen that the whole series seldom, if ever, occurs at one spot.

2. The Surface-soil.—Below the numerous blocks of limestone which were plentifully spread over the floor, a thin surface-soil (1), seldom exceeding six inches in thickness, extended over the greater part of the cave. Just within a small square-cut entrance into Chamber C (fig. 8), which is known as Robin Hood's Parlour, the surface-soil was reddish with thin films of stalagmite enclosed in it (fig. 3); usually this soil was of a dark drab colour. In this uppermost bed in Chamber C an enamelled bronze fibula was found, very similar in shape and condition to one from the Victoria Cave figured by Prof. W. Boyd Dawkins in 'Cave-Hunting.' A small bronze graving-tool, double-pointed at one end, was obtained from the same bed; also a rudely carved bone ornament with a triangular iron socket in its under side; this may have been the boss of a sword or dagger. In other parts of the cavern nothing of any importance was discovered in the surface-soil; here and there we met with broken fragments of Roman and later pottery; and we have heard that a coin of Faustina has since been picked up outside; but we were disappointed in finding so few traces of Roman or Romano-British occupation.

3. The Breccia.—A great quantity of breccia (2) remained on the left-hand side of Chamber A, blocking up the entrance to Robin Hood's Parlour (C); this had to be removed by frequent blasting, before the cave-earth below could be reached. The breccia, which near the entrance of the cave had proved very rich in its fossil contents, yielding numerous bones and flint implements, contained very little further in, owing probably to its having accumulated in close proximity to the roof, to which at several points it was united by thick masses of stalactite and stalagmite. Above the breccia in this part of the cave the stalagmite was as much as 2 feet thick (fig. 2).

Amongst the stalagmitic breccia, some very beautiful crystallizations of calcite occurred, with most delicate acicular and botryoidal forms. Towards the back of Chamber C the breccia thinned out, as well as towards the right-hand side of the cave, where it was absent, except at the mouth of the small side fissure (Chamber G). The few remains found in the breccia consisted, as before, of bones of the Hare, a few teeth of the larger Pleistocene Mammalia (R. tichorhinus, Hyæna, Bear, and Horse), together with fragmentary flint implements and a small piece of ruddle.

4. The Cave-Earth.—The succeeding deposit, that of cave-earth (3), was very uniformly distributed throughout the cavern, although varying very considerably in thickness in different parts. Near to the entrance, as has been observed in a previous paper, it was very thin where the breccia attained its greatest development; but in the inner parts of the cave it increased considerably in amount, being as much as 4 feet 6 inches thick at the extremity of Chamber F (fig. 5).

Under the breccia between the square doorway and the mouth of the cave, the bed of waterworn pebbles mentioned in the second paper on these caves became a thickish red conglomerate, the pebbles being firmly cemented together by iron and lime. The deposit was of very limited extent, but apparently denoted the presence of a stream of water running across this part of the cavern during a short period. As there was no trace of a continuance of the pebble- bed towards the entrance of the cave, it was perhaps thrown down in a hollow of the floor during some flooding.

From the cave-earth the most important remains, both of the Pleistocene Mammalia and of Man, have been obtained; in it bones and teeth in great abundance of all the species that have already been catalogued as occurring in this cavern continued to be found in all the chambers. Horse's teeth were particularly numerous. In Chamber G several large bones (Mammoth) were found lying together. Flint chips and some fine flakes were found pretty generally distributed in the cave-earth; but they were far outnumbered by the rudely fashioned implements of quartzite. There were so many of these in all stages of wear as almost to suggest a manufactory of them. The most interesting, however, of the implements found here were two of clay ironstone. It will be remembered that last year an oval tool of this material was also discovered in this same cave-earth. The two implements now found are somewhat more leaf-shaped, one being a singularly perfect specimen, similar in form to many of the well-known river-gravel types: this was got from the Passage B; the other was found in Chamber G.

The most important of all our discoveries in the Robin Hood's Cave have yet to be recorded. In the cave-earth, about the middle of Chamber F, a small fragment of a bone (the rib of some animal) was observed by the writer to have marks of engraving upon it. These, on being brought to the light, we examined carefully; and Mr. Tiddeman, who was present at the time with Prof. Dawkins, at once noticed the rude picture of the fore part of a horse exactly similar to the Paleolithic figures that have been found in some of the continental caves. The value of this discovery, the first of its kind made in this country, need scarcely be insisted upon. But we have yet to record another discovery of as great, if not greater, importance. At the far end of Chamber F, in the same cave-earth, at a depth of about 1 foot, Prof. Dawkins had the good fortune to see extracted, by a workman, a canine of Machairodus latidens, an animal whose remains, as all will be aware, have only twice before been found in England—the Rev. J. M'Enery having obtained from Kent's Hole, many years ago, five canines and two incisors of that formidable animal, and a third incisor having been found as lately as 1872 in the same cavern. The discovery, therefore, of the Machairodus at Creswell in the undisturbed cave-earth is one of the greatest interest, which will be dwelt upon, in conjunction with all the details relating to the various remains found in these caves, in the accompanying paper by Prof. W. Boyd Dawkins.

5. The Mottled Bed.—Below the cave-earth in the front part of Chamber F, and also in chamber G, was a bed of earth (No. 4) mottled with numerous small angular fragments of limestone (fig. 4). Its thickness ranged from 1 to 2 feet; and it occupied only a limited part of the cavern, thinning out rapidly towards the back of Chamber F, where it was absent (fig. 5), and dying out in a similar way in Chamber G. The remains found in this bed were similar in character to those of the cave-earth, teeth and bones of the Pleistocene animals and quartzite implements being numerous.

6. The Red Sand.—The lowest bone-bearing bed in the Creswell caverns is one of red sandy earth (No. 5). In the Robin-Hood Cave this was found uniformly distributed over the whole floor, its average thickness being about 3 feet. In the large entrance (Chamber A), and under the breccia in the front part of Robin Hood's Parlour, there was a good deal of tough laminated red clay mingled with it. giving the bed in some places quite an argillaceous character. Possibly this clay may have been connected with the same flow of water which afterwards deposited the gravel and conglomerate in the same chambers. Bones were very abundant in this red sand- bed, together with teeth of most of the Mammalia occurring in the upper beds; in the argillaceous portion of it, under the breccia, on the left-hand side of Chamber A, where the cave-earth was very thin, a nearly perfect skull of the Hyæna was found, and also one of the Fox, and the posterior part of a Wolf's skull, together with fragments of the lower jaw of the Horse, and other remains. In the red sand of Chamber A, up to the close of 1875, we had obtained no evidence of human occupation during the period of its deposition; but further in, especially in Chambers G and F, a considerable number of worked quartzite pebbles were found in this bed.

7. Original Floor.—The original floor of the Robin-Hood Cave was immediately below the red sand, and consisted of a greater or less thickness of decomposed limestone rock forming a whitish sand containing angular fragments of the limestone. In this no remains of any sort were found.

8. Chamber C.—It will be observed that comparatively few bones were discovered in Chamber C, large as is this portion of the cave. The rock floor in it was generally nearer to the roof than in the other chambers, and the deposits of cave-earth and sand were, on the whole, less thick; at the extreme left a considerable stalagmitic deposit is to be seen coating the rock. The comparative absence of bones in this chamber may perhaps be attributed to the presence of a stream of water running for some time through this branch of the cavern.

9. Chambers D and E.—The little side chamber, D, was formed by a protruding mass of rock; it consisted of a hollow in the rocky floor, and was consequently filled up with a greater thickness of beds than C. This was also the case with Chamber E; the narrow passage leading into it was bare of any deposits, the limestone floor rising to the surface from beneath the cave-earth of the adjoining chamber. In both chambers, D and E, we found at least 8 feet of cave-earth and red sand (fig. 7) containing bones and teeth: the surface-soil, which had been previously examined, had yielded some traces of occupation by man in Roman and post-Roman times.

10. Chamber G.—The small opening G, on the right-hand side of the cave, was filled up to within a few inches of the roof. The breccia at its mouth was 16 inches thick and contained bones; further in it decreased to about 2 inches; it was followed by the complete sequence of beds, viz. cave-earth, mottled bed, and red sand; the mottled bed died out at about 10 feet from the entrance of the aperture (fig. 6). A considerable number of bones and teeth were found in this chamber, amongst them a lower jaw of C. megaceros, a pelvis of the Woolly Rhinoceros, many teeth of the same animal and of the Hyæna and others, some large bones of the Mammoth, and also many quartzite implements, as well as the second of the clay-ironstone ones already mentioned.

11. Terminal Fissure.—At the extremity of Chamber F (fig. 5), which we had taken to be the end of the Cave in that direction, we found, on digging to the base of the Red-Sand bed, about 6 feet below the level of the floor, that there was an extension of the cave at a lower level (fig. 8, Sect. A); this was nearly, but not quite, filled to the roof with an independent deposit of red sand dipping down into the fissure from the main cave; its upper surface was very smooth and fine, as well as perfectly clean; it appeared as though freshly thrown down by water, and was decidedly bedded. It was dug into to a depth of 3 feet 7 inches, and followed up for about 10 feet, where it was found to be in contact with the roof. As no bones were found here, it was not thought worth while to pursue it any further. Low down in the red sand of Chamber F, at the mouth of this fissure, a fragment of Mammoth bone was obtained; but no other remains were met with here. We consider that the Robin-Hood Cave is now practically worked out, very little having been left in it that has not been carefully searched.

B. The Church Hole.

We must now turn to the second cave to be described, viz. the Church Hole. This is situated on the opposite side of the ravine, and faces the north; its mouth is 14 feet above the present water- level, and 60 feet from the summit of the crags above it, the entrance to the cave being in a crag 40 feet in height. The Church Hole is mainly a long straight fissure (fig. 9), averaging about 4 or 5 feet in width, and running horizontally for the greater part of its length in nearly a due ~N. and S. direction, for a distance of 155 feet. At that point it rises at a considerable angle for another 41 feet, where it ends in a mere blocked-up crack, the extremity of which, we believe, is apparent in a fissure on the hill-top close to an old quarry. This long passage was covered with angular and partially worn fragments of limestone, mostly small and flat; there were also a good number of quartzite pebbles, and many recent bones brought in by foxes. The roof of the fissure was very low in several places, not more than one foot above the floor at one point; but at intervals there were some lofty cracks and chimneys, one of which apparently opens into a passage overhead. Besides this principal portion of the cave, there is a small chamber (B) on the right-hand side near to its mouth, and having a secondary entrance from the face of the cliff through a narrow fissure. The front part of the Church Hole, which is tolerably wide, appeared to have been used at a recent period as a stable or kind of barn; and for about 20 feet from the doorway we had fixed near the entrance the floor had been partially disturbed and dug into, in the centre, to a depth of some 3 or 4 feet; but its fossil contents had been, at any rate for the greater part, unnoticed and unremoved[2]. Last year, whilst the digging was going on in the Robin-Hood Cave, the upper beds of the fore part of the Church Hole were also examined, and the main passage (A), up to a wall built across the narrow part of the fissure 25 feet from our door, was dug up, as well as part of Chamber B. A large number of bones and teeth of the Woolly Rhinoceros, the Mammoth, the Horse, the Reindeer, the Bison, the Brown Bear, and the Hyæna were obtained, the teeth of the Horse being particularly abundant; and no fewer than 27 tibiæ and 18 femora, as well as other parts of the skeleton of the Rhinoceros, were found here. Amongst these bones there were also a perfect ulna of a bear, and several milk-teeth of the Mammoth, besides one large fourth molar which Mr. Heath was fortunate enough to find near the old wall: this measured 11 inches in length by 9 inches in height.

1. The Talus.—When we resumed work this year we began, as we had done at the Robin-Hood Cave, by making an examination of the talus at its mouth (fig. 10). This consisted of surface-soil a few inches in thickness; in this, on the left-hand side, close to the extreme edge of the entrance, a very fine and perfect bronze fibula was found; this was the only trace of Roman civilization found outside the cave. Under the surface-soil was a bed of reddish earth or sand, 1 foot 7 inches thick, with blocks of limestone in it. This bed contained a few teeth and bones of the Rhinoceros, Bear, Hyæna, Badger, Horse, Reindeer, and Cervus megaceros, and also some fragments of the lower jaw of a large Wolf. Below the red bed was one of white calcareous sand containing a black layer, probably of oxide of manganese; in this we found no bones.

2. Deposits in Interior.—Our first work in the interior of the cave was to clear out all the front part as far as the wall already mentioned, so as to get a good road for the barrows, and also to make a complete section of the various beds. Beneath the previously examined material, undisturbed red sand was found, containing various bones and teeth, but nothing of great importance. Close to the wall in the long passage (A) the total thickness of the floor-deposits was about 9 feet, gradually narrowing downwards, the bottom of the cave being a mere fissure about 1 foot wide. A very complete section was obtained at this point, all the beds of this cave being well developed here (fig. 11). It will be noticed that they are almost identical in general character and arrangement with those already described in the Robin-Hood Cave, and were doubtless deposited at the same period and under similar circumstances.

3. The Breccia.—We have first a stalagmitic breccia (1), averaging 1 foot in thickness. At one or two places in Chamber A this breccia was as much as 5 feet thick; but it only attained that thickness close to the side of the cave, and it was then mostly of a very open character, having numerous cavities in it filled with stalactites (figs. 12, 13). There was evidently at some former time a considerable amount of breccia in the front part of the cavern, although now nothing remains of it but masses of stalagmite projecting here and there from the sides. At about 31 feet from the door, where Section II. (fig. 11) was taken, the upper part of the breccia was composed of dark-brown earth with blocks of limestone in it, firmly cemented together by stalagmite; the lower portion was of a softer texture, and passed gradually into the next bed.

The breccia contained a good many fragments of charcoal, together with worked flints and teeth of Hyæna &c., with numerous bones of the Hare and of some other animals.

4. The Cave-Earth.—The cave-earth of this cavern, where developed to its fullest extent, was found to consist of three divisions, the uppermost, 1 foot thick, being a reddish loamy earth (No. 2) with fragments of charcoal, and in one place a layer of the same, flint implements, a fragment of ruddle, and bones &c. of the Hare, Reindeer, and Hyæna. This dark bed was only found for a short distance; at 42 feet from the door it had disappeared; and here also the breccia was absent, except at the sides of the cave. A thin crust of stalagmite formed the surface.

A bed of lighter earth (No. 3) succeeded the red bed, and was present everywhere in the cave, varying in thickness from 1 foot to 2 feet. The usual bones and teeth of the Pleistocene Mammalia, including the Bear, Wolf, Woolly Rhinoceros, and Reindeer, were found in the cave-earth. In one place, 6 inches below the stalagmitic crust, a ramus of the lower jaw of the Hyæna, with its condyle and coronoid process intact, occurred: and near to it, under a large block of stone, were found part of the lower jaw of Cervus megaceros and a fine quartzite flake; fragments of charcoal were in contact with all these specimens.

The cave-earth here was only 1 foot thick. Somewhat further in the cavern, beneath 2 inches of breccia, a small circular bronze brooch was found; and not far from this point a small ivory counter or ornament, presumably of Roman or Romano-British workmanship, was dug up close to the surface.

5. The Mottled Bed.—The next bed we come to is a mottled one, very similar to that which has been described in connexion with the Robin-Hood Cave,—a bed of reddish cave-earth remarkably mottled with small angular fragments of very friable cream-coloured limestone, which at once suggested to us visions of almond-cake on a large scale. At about 50 feet from the door this bed was subdivided (fig. 13)—an upper layer with a brown matrix (No. 4 a), 9 inches thick, resting on the red bed (No. 4 b), which here was 3 feet in thickness. We found this to continue for a short distance only, when the mottled bed resumed its normal character (fig. 14). Bones, teeth, and implements, especially those of quartzite, were numerous in this mottled bed; amongst them were the pelvis of Rhinoceros tichorhinus, the scapula of the Mammoth, and teeth of Hyæna, Wolf, Bear, Rhinoceros, Horse, and Hare. In it also two or three fine bone implements were found, a perfect bone needle, some awls, and a kind of gouge—the awls being made from Hare-bones, the gouge from Reindeer-antler. The majority of the implements of stone were quartzite flakes and hammers; but there were also found with these some flint flakes and chips. The mottled bed was absent at the far end of Chamber A, at 120 feet from the door, where the upper cave-earth (No. 3) was immediately succeeded by a bed of red sandy earth (fig. 15).

6. The Red Sand.—This red sand (No. 5) was present everywhere in the cavern, below the previously described beds: it averaged from 3 feet to 4 feet in thickness, and contained many bones and teeth of various animals, amongst them those of the Hyæna, Wolf, Bear, R. tichorhinus, Mammoth, Horse, Bison, Reindeer, &c. One fragment of Rhinoceros-jaw consisted of the anterior portion of both rami, with two premolars in situ on either side; there was also a nearly perfect lower jaw of the Hyæna, one incisor alone being absent. A few quartzite implements were found in the red sand, and also a fragment of a bone which has some scratches, apparently made by a flint.

This bed, at a depth of about 8 feet from the surface, was not above one foot wide, the cave at that depth being contracted to a mere fissure, the lowermost stratum consisting merely of the decomposed limestone rock, forming a non-fossiliferous bed of white sand similar to the corresponding bed in the Robin-Hood Cave.

At about 120 feet from the door a small fissure was found opening out of Chamber A to the right, below the original level of the floor. As in the case of the fissure at the extremity of Chamber F in the Robin-Hood Cave, this was filled with red sand nearly but not quite in contact with the roof. The surface of the sand was also dry and powdery, and it was destitute of fossil contents. The digging has not been carried on beyond this point in Chamber A, the few remaining feet giving little promise of having any thing of sufficient value to repay the work of exploration.

7. Chamber B.—Turning to Chamber B, which opens out from the main chamber of the cavern near the entrance, a few words will suffice to describe its contents. The greater portion of it was examined in 1875, and similar remains of the Mammalia obtained from this floor to those found in the main passage. At the back of Chamber B a fissure was found, running parallel to Chamber A; the entrance to this was blocked up by a mass of stalagmitic breccia, 5 feet thick, containing bones and teeth of R. tichorhinus and of other animals (fig. 16). Below this we found a bed of red sand, filling a narrow but deep pothole-like fissure, running apparently in two directions, viz. S. and W. This fissure was not above 1 foot wide, but was at least 11 feet deep from the top of the breccia. The sand contained the bones and teeth of Mammoth, Horse, Bison, Rhinoceros, &c. Very few bones, however, were found in its lower portion; and it was not thought worth while to dig it out completely.


The Church Hole, as well as the Robin-Hood Cave, may now be considered to have been worked out sufficiently for all practical purposes. A detailed account of the valuable remains found in them will be given, as has been stated, in the accompanying paper by Prof. W. Boyd Dawkins; so that they need not be dwelt upon at any greater length here.

It will be seen that the exploration of the three principal caves of Creswell Crags has made it manifest:—that during the Pleistocene period Derbyshire and the adjoining counties were inhabited by a very numerous and diversified fauna; that in the vast forests and pastures which we may picture to ourselves as extending in one unbroken line far to the east and south of the present shores of England, the Mammoth and the Woolly Rhinoceros, the Hippopotamus (which has been found in Yorkshire), the great Irish Elk, the Reindeer, the Bison, and the Horse found a congenial home; that here also the savage Hyæna, the crafty Glutton, the Bear, the Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox, together with the great sabre-toothed Feline, sought their prey; and that, with these and others not named, man lived and hunted, and waged a more or less precarious struggle for existence, finding a shelter, amidst the vicissitudes of a varying climate, in the numerous caves of the district, already the haunts of the Hyæna and its companions.

(For the Discussion on this paper, see p. 611.)

Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol. 33 no. 31 fig. 1-16.png
  1. Vide Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. xxxii. p. 255.
  2. N.B.—Since the exploration of these caverns commenced, we have heard that, on several occasions, a few teeth and bones had been found here by individuals, by Mr. Tebbet amongst others; but no attention was called to these discoveries at the time.