First Ice Age Cave Found in Britain

What is believed to be the first Ice Age cave art to be found in Britain was revealed by The Creswell Heritage Trust and English Heritage. Leading Ice Age and cave art archaeologists Dr Sergio Ripoll, Dr Paul Bahn and Dr Paul Pettitt made the initial discovery of the 12,000 year old engravings in the caves at Creswell Crags, near Worksop in Nottinghamshire, in April 2003. Their discoveries confirm that Creswell Crags is the most northerly place on earth where Ice Age cave art has been found. The archaeology team were keen to investigate further and are currently carrying out a more intensive survey of the caves, funded by English Heritage, and have already uncovered more finds.

It had always been believed that there was no Ice Age cave art in Britain but archaeologists Ripoll, Bahn and Pettitt were convinced that the caves at Creswell Crags might hold secrets. At first they found a line engraving of an ibex, resembling a similar style of cave art found at Lascaux and Chauvet in France and at Altamira in Spain, as well as depictions of birds and geometric patterns.

The engravings have remained unidentified on the walls of the caves for hundreds of years because they are not clearly visible and can only be identified by a trained eye under special light conditions. During a survey of the site this week, the team of archaeologists has also found engravings of a bison, another ibex, part of a horse and some triangular shapes.

Dr Paul Bahn, Britain’s leading Ice Age art specialist, said: “This is one of the most important finds ever made in early British prehistory. We are certain that the best figure, the large ibex engraving, belongs to the Upper Palaeolithic period. Its style and technique make this self-evident to specialists such as ourselves, but there are many additional factors that help us to be sure we are right. Knowledge of the Upper Palaeolithic period of Britain has been given a whole new facet which was missing.”

Nigel Mills, Manager of the Creswell Heritage Trust, said: “These discoveries confirm the importance of Creswell Crags in global terms as one of the most northerly places to have been visited by our ancestors during the Ice Age. Cave art has been found in at least three of the caves, and this provides a very visual and vivid addition to the Creswell Crags story, and to the story of Ice Age Britain as a whole.”

Jon Humble, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage, said: “The text books say that there is no cave art in Britain. These will now have to be re-written. It is remarkable to consider that some 500 generations ago people created pictures on the wall of the caves depicting the world that they knew – which certainly was not as we know it. The specialist team are to be congratulated on making a very important scientific discovery and English Heritage is delighted to be funding further investigations.”

The only other known Ice Age figurative art in Britain comprises a few engravings on fragments of animal bone, also found at Creswell Crags. The new finds at Creswell Crags bring us into contact with the spiritual and aesthetic lives of our ancestors – a direct and emotive contact.

Creswell Crags is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its geological importance and is safeguarded by English Nature, it is also a Scheduled Monument because of its national archaeological importance and is protected by English Heritage. English Nature and English Heritage respectively assist Creswell Heritage Trust with the management of these interests.

The discovery of cave art is the most important find from the British Palaeolithic period since the discovery of 500,000 year old hominid remains from Boxgrove, West Sussex in the mid 1990s. Most rock art in Britain is thought to be c.8,000 younger than the Creswell discoveries, and typically occurs as a variety of engraved or pecked motifs on rock faces and boulders in open, non-cave situations. Recently English Heritage has provided funding to Bournemouth University to carry out a review of English rock art sites, to enable improved conservation measures. The Creswell Heritage Trust is an independent charitable Trust supported by Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire County Councils, Lafarge Lime, Severn Trent Water, English Heritage and English Nature. The Trust’s patrons are Professor David Bellamy and Sir Martin Doughty. The Trust is an official partner of the

Dr Paul Bahn is Britain’s leading Ice Age art specialist. He is a freelance writer, editor and translator of archaeology books, including Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice with Colin Renfrew. He has been a member of several international cave art commissions, including those of Chauvet Cave, Portugal’s Cöa Valley, and the French site of Angles-sur-l’Anglin.

Dr Paul Pettitt is a Palaeolithic archaeologist at the University of Oxford; he was formerly at the Oxford Radiocarbon Laboratory. He has been a scientific consultant for Creswell Crags, and is a council member of the Prehistoric Society.

Dr Sergio Ripoll is an Assistant Professor at UNED, Madrid (Spain’s Open University), and is one of Spain’s foremost authorities on cave art. He has been a member of several international cave art commissions, including those of Chauvet Cave, Portugal’s Cöa Valley, and the French site of Angles-sur-l’Anglin.

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Published in: on July 7, 2003 at 3:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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