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Scheduled Monument record MDR6573 - Robin Hood's Cave, Creswell Crags, Hodthorpe and Belph

Type and Period (3)

  • (Palaeolithic - 500000 BC to 10001 BC) + Sci.Date
  • (Upper Palaeolithic - 40000 BC to 10001 BC)
  • (Middle Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic - 150000 BC to 10001 BC)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

Possibly the largest cave in the Creswell area with the most extensive occupation sediments. The excavations in the 19th century were, however, very poorly recorded, with the result that little substantial information is available for this very important cave. Occupation represented by extensive collection of tools, including bifaces, side scrapers, choppers and utilised flakes. As well as Middle Palaeolithic Activity there is Upper Palaeolithic occupation also. This was divided into early and later phases, the former characterised by flakes with invasive retouching and the later by a backed blade industry. Although the artefacts of the Later Upper Palaeolithic are more numerous, their extent within the cave is problematic because of poor recording techniques in the 19th century excavation. A relatively large quantity of human skeletal material suggests burial practice during the second phase of occupation. Roman bronze brooch found in the surface deposits in one of the side chambers. Mello and Heath began excavation in Robin Hood's Cave in 1876. By the end of the year, they were joined by William Boyd Dawkins, Richard Tiddeman and Rooke-Pennington. In the subsequent exploration of the cave, serious differences in opinion and personal rivalries arose between Heath and Boyd Dawkins, which continued through the auspices of the Manchester Geological Society until the 1880s. Contrasting accounts of the work were published by Mello and Boyd Dawkins, and Heath, who resorted to two private publications as several leading journals rejected both of his accounts. These reports call into question the validity of some aspects of the much used Boyd Dawkins and Mello accounts. (1) Record in North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust Index: 1945 and 3407. Robin Hood's Cave, Roman Brooch. Roman bronze brooch found in the surface deposits in one of the side chambers. (2, 23) Possible excavations or work undertaken in 1841. No reference to these has been noted. Reference was looked for in Derbyshire Records Office and Local Studies Library and it appears the book is missing (2015). (3, 17) Robin Hood's Cave is situated on the north side of the ravine; it is comprised of two irregular chambers, from which open smaller chambers and galleries. A number of flint chips and flakes were found in the cave-earth, but they were outnumbered by the rudely fashioned implements of quartzite. Bones and teeth were abundant. It was decided after the first year of excavation to treat the two deposits of upper breccia and cave-earth as one, as the breccia was evidently a local condition of the cave-earth, so no effort was made to separate the implements and bones found in them. The flint implements are all of Upper Palaeolithic type, but (we) have very few indications of their relative positions in the deposit. A fragment of bone bearing an engraving of a horse was found in the middle of Chamber F. The only other bone fragment found was a awl or stiletto made from the metacarpal of a reindeer. (4) 'The discovery of the fossil remains in the Robin-Hood Cave, brought before the Geological Society by the Rev. J. Magens Mello in the preceding paper, is of no common interest. It proves not only that the caves of Derbyshire were the lairs of Hyaenas in ancient times, but that they were inhabited by the same kind of Palaeolithic men as those of the caves of the south of England, of France, Belgium, and Switzerland.' (6) 'On the north-eastern border of Derbyshire a low range of hills, rising from the plateau of the Magnesian limestone, is somewhat abruptly cut through by a short ravine known as Creswell Crags. It is about a third of a mile in length, running nearly east and west, and is bounded on either side by beautifully wooded cliffs, which in places are some 50 or 60 feet high. The limestone is the Lower Permian, and is very hard and massive here, with an easterly dip, which is rather difficult to trace. On either side of the ravine the crags are much fissured, the fissures now and then forming tolerable-sized caverns, opening some 15 feet or less above the level of a sheet of water that has been formed by the damming up of a small stream flowing between the crags from west to east. Some years ago I had formed a strong wish to examine the fissures in this locality, but until lately could never find the opportunity. Last April, however, I was enabled to pay a preliminary visit to the spot. A very brief inspection sufficed to show me that it was one well worth careful exploration; and in answer to an application to His Grace the Duke of Portland, he very kindly gave me leave to carry on the work.' (7) In June 1876 Heath and Frank Tebbet, local quarryman, excavated a trench across the western entrance. Heath maintained plans and records, though these have not been located today (1984). It was noted that there were no 'native' stratigraphic layers, all having been recently disturbed, but it produced several rhinoceros bones, four canine teeth of what were thought by hyena and another tooth of what was thought to be human. Fragments of Roman pottery were also noted. In the 'surface soil' fragments of Roman pottery and Samian Ware with fibula, enamelled brooches. The paper gives a full description of the excavation activity in Creswell Crags up to 1879. (8, 1) Creswell Caves v Professor Boyd Dawkins, Clulow, Derbyshire. Transcripts of letters, debates, notes, etc. published for Thomas Heath, identified as 'Curator of the Derby Museum', defending his position against Professor Boyd Dawkins in the details of the discovery of an engraved bone, 'Machairodus tooth' and other items in caves in the Creswell Crags. Communications by Heath, Dawkins, Moses Hartley, John Magens Mello, and others are quoted. (9) No evidence as to the relation of the Robin Hood's Cave deposits to the glacial period. In the lack earth were bones and teeth of sheep, goat, 'short-horn', horse, stag, fox, badger and wild cat. Samian and Roman wares were also found along with bronze brooches. (10) 'The Bone Caves of Creswell Crags', Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, Volume 33, 1877. (11) Some hominid species have been attributed with the site. The nitrogen content of a mandible is consistent with levels expected for Devensian vertebrate bone from the cave. (12, 1) Laing began work at Creswell Crags in the 1880s after Boyd-Dawkins and Mello finished. Little is known on the methods or finds from Laing's work. Pliocene 'Feline felis brevirastris' was discovered within Robin Hood's Cave through looking at skeletal remains, however it is likely that these are the remains of a lynx. Nothing survives of Laing's work except the report he published and presented to the Geological Society. (13, 1) Human remains were apparently found in 1969 within the cave. Campbell reported four human skeletal fragment- a frontal was recorded in situ and the remaining fragments (a temporal, occipital, sphenoid, maxilla, mandible and third cervical vertebra) were found within the 19th century spoil which capped the excavated area. (14) Excavated between 1874 and 1876 and in 1969. Early Upper Palaeolithic artefacts held in British Museum, Bolton Museum, Doncaster Museum, Manchester Museum, Sheffield Museum. (15) The British Museum holds a number of artefacts from Creswell Crags. This includes Armstrong's Mother Grundy's Parlour material from the 1920s excavations and flint and quartzite assemblages from the 19th century excavations. The British Museum collections also feature the portable art engravings. Some of these pieces are now on display at Creswell Crags Museum. The collections came from a variety of sources including the Christy collection and individual donors such as Sturge and Warren. There is also an extensive documentary archive featuring illustrations, photographs and newspaper cuttings. The museum also holds the Roger Jacobi archive which features notes on Creswell and the 2001 collections audit. A full index is available. (16) Run by Bolton Council and holding over 400,000 artefacts in Trust across several sites, Bolton Museum and Art Gallery has it's origins in collections put together from 1852. A first museum building was established in the late 19th century and there is Palaeolithic material from Creswell Crags alongside sites such as Kent's Cavern and international sites. The Creswell material dates from the Victorian excavations in the 1870s and is provenanced to Creswell Crags generally with about a fifth of the material being labelled as coming from Robin Hood and Church Hole Caves. (18) The Manchester Museum (University of Manchester) holds the largest collection of Creswell Crags material including a selection of important Palaeolithic and Mesolithic finds. William Boyd Dawkins was initially curator at the museum and consequently, much of the material excavated during the 19th century from the site is stored at the Manchester Museum. Jackson was also a curator of the museum during the early 1920s. Fauna makes up the majority of the collection, approximately 2700 specimens from 19th century excavations at Church Hole, Mother Grundy’s Parlour, Robin Hood Cave and The Arch Cave. The collection also includes chert and ironstone artefacts, organic artefacts, breccia, charcoal samples, marine cowry shell, travertine, stones, pottery, metalwork and glass from the range of sites. There is a considerable and varied documentary archive accompanying this material. (20) Scheduled. (22) Large cave with five entrances, the two main entrances having platforms at their mouths. The cave was known for a long time prior to the first excavations as Robin Hood's Hall and Little John's Parlour. The first excavations were by Boyd Dawkins and Mello in 1876 and were confined to the first two chambers. Later excavations included those of Laing in 1889 (the side and rear chambers) and Campbell in 1969 (the platform area). Archaeological deposits represented included Mousterian, Early Upper Palaeolithic, Later Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Roman. The cave is famous for the horse engraving on bone found in the first chamber and for a canine tooth of Machairodus Latidens also from the first chamber. The latter is a genuine fossil, but may have been 'planted' in the excavations. (24) A large collection of material from John Campbell's excavations at Robin Hood Cave and Mother Grundy’s Parlour in 1969 was once held at the independent Donald Baden Powell Quaternary Research Centre on the Museum's premises, but never formed part of its collections. This collection was donated by Campbell to Creswell Crags in 2007. The Museum's collection of Creswell Crags material is limited to two casts of blades from Robin Hood Cave. (25) 18 adjacent meter squares excavated outside the West Entrance in 1969. A small flint hand-axe and other Middle Palaeolithic tools and Upper Palaeolithic tools were covered by four mainly undisturbed thermoclastic screes. Four Late Upper Palaeolithic Creswellian assemblages were found in upper strata. There was good representation of 'Creswell Points' within the assemblage. Abundant reindeer, wild horse and woolly rhinoceros appear to be notable food sources, where remains of scavenger hyena likely represents a hunting 'competitor'. Some ibex remains were found, suggesting very cold environmental conditions. (26) The antiquarian excavation at Robin Hood Cave uncovered the most celebrated piece of portable art found in Britain from the Palaeolithic. In 1876 Dawkins found an engraving of a horse head on a bone rib believed to be about 12,500 years old. The bone had been intentionally grooved and snapped at one end and shows a high degree of polish as if it had been handled regularly during the Ice Age. The reverse of the rib is criss-crossed with deep slightly curved diagonal lines. Recent research on the engraving has revealed new evidence about the art, complex patterns of lines were executed in different phases and traces of red ochre pigment were also detected within the engraved lines, suggesting the whole piece was coloured red. (27) Cave art RCH1. One clearly engraved, inclined triangle, comprising of three converging lines, the apex of which is overlain by thin stalactite. U-series dating provides a minimum age of the image. It is 16cm long and 10cm wide, and is located on the right wall of the first chamber, about 7.35m from the entrance and 3.3m above the present floor. Stylistically this image, which one might identify as a vulva, is similar to an example in Church Hole. (28) Although this is the largest cave in the whole Creswell complex, the systematic checking of all of its walls has yielded practically no positively identified engravings. The fact that almost all the walls are covered in modern graffiti and marks of metal tools has posed enormous problems for the task of survey. A figure on the right wall of the first chamber has been identified. The engraving is very fine, with a width and depth of less than 1mm, and a v-shaped section, although in some parts it is wider and u-shaped. This may be a vulva, slightly inclined to the left, and the artist has also drawn the start of the hips and the waist. Moreover, in the right upper-part of the panel five vertical and parallel lines which do not form any clear depiction have also been identified. Due to the absence of zoomorphic depictions in the whole cave, there are some reservations about the possible Palaeolithic age of the figure. (29) A programme of archaeological supervision and investigation was undertaken by ArcHeritage for Creswell Heritage Trust in 2015 as a condition of Scheduled Monument Consent during repairs to wooden steps that provide access to Robin Hood's Cave. The watching brief did not identify any undisturbed archaeological contexts but it did recover a small assemblage of artefacts from the topsoil of the scree slope. The artefacts recovered were mixed, and included material dating from the Middle Palaeolithic through to the modern day. The material recovered suggests the topsoil on the scree slope is disturbed but the recovery of Palaeolithic artefacts confirms that archaeologically significant material is contained within the scree slope. The small number of confirmed Palaeolithic finds does not enable any meaningful analysis to be made of them in isolation, but they confirm the presence of both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic artefacts on the slopes below Robin Hood's Cave. (30)

Sources/Archives (30)

  • <1> Monograph: Jenkinson, R. 1984. Creswell Crags: Late Pleistocene Sites in the East Midlands, British Archaeological Reports 122.
  • <2> Index: North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust (NDAT). North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust Index: 1945. 1945.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: Hall, S. 1841. The Foresters Offering, 1841. p1-27.
  • <4> Bibliographic reference: Garrod, D. 1926. The Upper Palaeolithic Age in Britain.
  • <5> Bibliographic reference: Campbell, J. 1977. The Upper Palaeolithic of Britain.
  • <6> Bibliographic reference: Boyd-Dawkins, W. 1876. 'On the Mammalia and Traces of Man in Robin Hood's Cave', Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 1876.
  • <7> Article in serial: Mello, J. 1876. 'On the Bone Caves of Creswell', Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, Volume 32, 1876. Volume 32. p240-59.
  • <8> Bibliographic reference: Heath, T. 1879. An abstract description and history of the Bone Caves of Creswell Crags.
  • <9> Bibliographic reference: Heath, T. 1880. Creswell Caves v Professor Boyd Dawkins, Clulow, Derbyshire.
  • <10> Bibliographic reference: Boyd-Dawkins, W. 1875. Recent Discoveries in Derbyshire, Pall Mall Magazine, 1875.
  • <11> Article in serial: Mello, J. 1877. 'The Bone Caves of Creswell Crags', Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, Volume 33, 1877. Volume 33. p579-88.
  • <12> Article in serial: Oakley, K. 1980. Relative Dating of the Fossil Hominids of Europe. Volume 41.
  • <13> Bibliographic reference: Laing, R. 1889. On the Bone Caves of Creswell and the discovery of an extinct Pliocene Feline (Felis brevirastris) new to Great Britain.
  • <14> Bibliographic reference: Campbell, J & Power, R. Human Remains From Robins Hood's Cave 1969, Later Upper Palaeolithic Osteology.
  • <15> Bibliographic reference: Wymer, J J (ed). 1977. Gazetteer of Mesolithic Sites in England and Wales: Council for British Archaeology (CBA) Research Report 20.
  • <16> Index: British Museum. British Museum artefact index from Creswell Crags.
  • <17> Personal Observation: Groat, N (Derbyshire County Council). Personal observation, map evidence, field visit etc..
  • <18> Bibliographic reference: Bolton Museum. Bolton Museum artefact from Creswell Crags.
  • <19> Bibliographic reference: Doncaster Museum. Doncaster Museum artefact from Creswell Crags.
  • <20> Artifact: Manchester Museum. Manchester Museum artefact from Creswell Crags.
  • <21> Artifact: Preston, H. Preston, H artefact from Creswell Crags.
  • <22> Scheduling record: English Heritage. 1988. Scheduling Notification: Palaeolithic and Later Prehistoric Sites at Creswell Gorge…... 275. Cat. No. 275.
  • <23> Index: North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust (NDAT). North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust Index: 3407. 3407.
  • <24> Bibliographic reference: Jenkinson, R. 1978. The archaeological caves and rock shelters in the Creswell Crags area, Creswell Crags Visitor Centre research report No. 1.
  • <25> Digital data: Pitt Rivers Museum. Creswell Crags Collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.
  • <26> Bibliographic reference: Campbell, J. 1969. Excavations at Creswell Crags, preliminary report.
  • <27> Bibliographic reference: Creswell Heritage Trust. Creswell Crags, a guide to the caves and Ice Age remains.
  • <28> Bibliographic reference: Bahn, P & Pettitt, P (University of Sheffield). 2009. Britain's Oldest Art, the Ice Age cave art of Creswell Crags.
  • <29> Bibliographic reference: Pettitt, P, Bahn, P & Ripoll, S (University of Sheffield). 2007. Paleolithic cave art at Creswell Crags in European context.
  • <30> Unpublished document: Davies, G (ArcHeritage). 2015. Archaeological Supervision and Investigation: Robin Hood's Cave, Creswell Crags.



Grid reference Centred SK 5340 7418 (20m by 11m) (Centre)

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Record last edited

May 5 2020 2:08PM

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