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A North-Western Habitat: the Paleoethology and Colonisation of a European Peninsula

Rogan D.S. Jenkinson

Cite this as: Jenkinson, R.D.S. 2023 A North-Western Habitat: the Paleoethology and Colonisation of a European Peninsula (a comprehensive analysis of excavations in Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags), Internet Archaeology 61.

12. Finally a Snapshot of Quaternary Life in Creswell Crags: principal observations

Unfortunately this account is lengthy. This is the result of a need to consider multi-dimensional aspects of the discovery, exploration, analysis and interpretation of the evidence from Pin Hole Cave. The task is made more difficult by the need to stay closely with the complex empirical data and resist the myriad of subjective comment and opinion that has been applied to the interpretation of this site and its explorers.

Figure 117
Figure 117: Summary of the stratigraphic and contextual observations of significance for an understanding of the chronology and taphonomy of the Pin Hole sequence.

The long section of the cave shown in Figure 117 summarises the form of its infilling sediments and archaeological remains. While informative, it also graphically illustrates issues that are not understood. The evidence of two separate slab layers made up of large limestone rocks indicate at least two lag layers. The lower level has clear evidence of water flow in the form of stalagmite formations and a breccia. The inclination of the layer, artefact assemblages and some of the faunas demonstrated the entire infill has entered through the rear roof rupture. These have formed a long gradient at an approximate 25 degree dip to the south and toward the entrance. The basal red sand noted by Garrod (1927) also follows the overall gradient. The age of this deposit is obviously pre-Middle Palaeolithic and pre- the UTh estimation reported below. Red sand of this type is also known from at least three other adjacent Creswell Caves and in Robin Hood's Cave it can be demonstrated to be below Middle Palaeolithic lithics and to be 164 ka in age. There are indications of a more precipitous face near the entrance roof rupture and the Pin Hole bowl formation within the sediment. It is also clear that all occupation by humans and animals is within the passage and cave rear. Mello's work within the entrance found nothing that can compare with the scale of finds from the rear.

Within this low energy geomorphic environment, very significant evidence of Quaternary events have been recorded. The main relevant observations of this study for our understanding of the cave are as follows: the illustration of Pin Hole Cave shows the distribution of archaeological remains in the form of temporal and spatial distribution of assemblages that include lithic, bone, ivory and curiosities. Analysis of these remains and the extensive evidence for vertebrates, invertebrates, sediments and environmental information within the geomorphological context of this cave also indicates issues of great interest for studies of the Quaternary. Many of the results of analysis are positive and informative but there are also a range of observations that contrast with current opinion, which has often concentrated upon the archaeological sequence and the issues associated with colonisation of human groups within the UK

The intention of this summary is to present the major points evident from the analysis, which include some new and unusual insights resulting from the extensive taphonomic analysis. Attention is also drawn to a number of observations related to the stratigraphy of the deposits and context of the remains. The existence of this evidence was initially reported by the excavator 90 years ago, and has been largely ignored since that time. The result is a study that commenced as a PhD in 1977 and continued actively until 1992. A review of the project and original unpublished information was undertaken within the years 2016-2020 and was followed by preparation of this report 27 years after the original study and interest.

There are several results of this study that may improve our understanding of this important site and other results that will assist those with future interest. There are also details and statements from contemporary prehistorians, including the Abbe Breuil and Dorothy Garrod who witnessed many of the discoveries and have left comments which present great difficulty in that they contrast with some more modern concepts. The most important can be summarised in the following list of statements.

Statement 1

This article provides a detailed historical account of the discovery and exploration of the cave. This includes an exhaustive description of the style and methods used by Leslie Armstrong in excavation. This is supplemented by a detailed description of methods that allow reconstruction of the distribution of remains from the excavation. This aspect is crucially important for this site as much comment and many studies over the last 70 years have traded off accusations of Armstrong's unreliability and controversial views. Much of the comment has resulted from conflict within studies based upon singular aspects of the multi-dimensional information available from his work.

Statement 2

An extensive inventory of base line information for remains from the Creswell Caves, including those from Pin Hole Cave, has been produced and made available in the digital archive and includes approximately 300,000 items. The inventory includes individually listed items from Pin Hole Cave (c. 70,000), with a basic description of current location, excavator, site, morphology and excavation.

Statement 3

The distribution of archaeological remains with a stratigraphic reference within the cave has confirmed and extended the details of at least five assemblages within the deposits (Figure 117). These include two assemblages of Middle Palaeolithic lithics and artefacts. Additionally, there are at least two assemblages of Upper Palaeolithic lithics overlain by a mixed surface assemblage. The assemblages were originally described in 1984, within an excavated 'spit' framework that showed the maximum distribution and stratigraphic separation to be illustrated within an excavated sample area. This has avoided use of the area dimension and excavated sample area or 'spit' dimensions as 'spot' records. Further studies in this report have illustrated three assemblages within a wider context and which have also provided many detailed insights relevant to diversity of lithics and their distribution. This follows the original proposal made by Armstrong and others. All of the assemblages are described in the archive. Detailed comment on the context of all three assemblages and the modern application of UTh dating has cast considerable doubt as to the age of the earliest assemblage, which appears to overlie a red sand of likely interglacial age. Figure 117 also clearly shows that the infilling sediments of the cave are gently inclined at approximately 25 degrees to the south. This appears to be the situation since the beginning of infilling from the roof rupture. The assemblage was also covered by a limestone rock layer which had thin stalagmite formations associated with the lower slab layer within the passage and is shown to have an age of 110 ka (Rowe 1986). This requires further research and mapping. At face value, the age of the slab layer surface which overlies the Middle Palaeolithic assemblage, which itself is stratigraphically above an interglacial red sand (or pre-164 ka age in Robin Hood's Cave) suggest that a review of the age of the so-called early cave Mousterian period is an area of important research.

Statement 4

Analysis of the geomorphology within the context of the cave structure mapped in 1977 has demonstrated the importance of selective and particular sediment build-up within the rear of the cave and the entrance. Both areas of sedimentation seem to have created a fairly steeply inclined southern-facing slope, with significant effects on the build-up of deposits within the cave interior. They are shown to be dominated by developing mounds of sediment that have acted as controls on deposition and post-mortem movement and as a constraint on the availability of areas of occupation. Many remains are demonstrated to be deposited within and along the banks of southern-facing slopes. Modern excavation has shown these to be two-sided sedimentary structures.

Statement 5

Rare evidence available from this analysis has confirmed the existence of areas of hearth or fires (Figure 117). This is based upon Armstrong's comment and analysis of sediment, charcoal remains and distribution of artefact and vertebrate remains. This was originally reported in outline in 1984 but attracted much criticism in the following years. This study has shown that one area contained charcoal associated with both flint, natural and reworked quartzite, engraved bone, massacred Reindeer and European Bison, surrounding and partially infilling a depression. This is contemporary with the latest Middle Palaeolithic or earliest Upper Palaeolithic. The area infill contained radiometrically dated vertebrate bones derived and excavated from earlier underlying Middle Palaeolithic levels that are dated to greater than 40,000 years.

Statement 6

Vertebrate bone remains from Middle Palaeolithic stratigraphic levels show the existence of three surface-cut bones, of Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros and European Bison. Additionally, Armstrong's records indicate that two Mammoth tusk ivory fragments were located inside an undercut in the eastern cave wall and associated with a Middle Palaeolithic quartzite artefact.

Statement 7

Hyaena remains are described and effectively identified to a main distribution in the rear and passage of the cave where evidence of breeding is described. This includes a description of a rare but well-preserved foetal skeleton from a collapsed den. The lack of attrition to juvenile and newborn Hyaena is a diagnostic factor in the recognition of denning activity. The analysis suggests that despite the difficulties of temporal definition within the cave sediments, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Neanderthal and Hyaena were not contemporary occupants.

Statement 8

Extensive analysis of the vertebrae bone from the site has allowed the identification of numerous new species, several of which are only known from this locality. Prior to this study, knowledge of the vertebrate population was restricted to large species. Many new identifications were undertaken by the author with assistance from Stebbings, Bramwell and Wilkinson and these include:

Statement 9

The total population is described in terms of 188 identified species. Analysis of the vertebrate population in terms of their degree of survival from the original live population, the style of their preservation as a fossil, the variation in their body parts, the evidence of attrition and destruction of their remains throughout the Quaternary indicates poor survival of remains. In general terms, the study demonstrates that survival is generally less than 10% and that destruction has a wide range of causal factors. The analysis demonstrated that approximately 30,000 fossil bones were all that remained of the 380,000 skeletal parts expected from the live population of 1600 individuals and that these fragments were associated with a few piles of coprolites and dust. The realisation that the taphonomy, the degree of destruction and the effect of selective incorporation within the site and fossilisation sets a new low level of expectation for efforts to interpret the circumstance of human and animal existence during the Quaternary. The implication of the study is that the regional Quaternary vertebrate populations could have been up to ten times larger than that implied by their surviving remains.

Statement 10

The use of taphonomic concepts to research some areas of evidence within a multifaceted body of evidence has considerably helped in the recognition and interpretation of causal processes that have not been previously recognised in isolated or thematic studies, and particularly those restricted specifically to archaeological studies and Hyaena. This approach seems to have been successful within an extremely complex environment within a narrow cave that has been a source of great activity and disturbance within the past.

Statement 11

Trophic systems: Early Middle Palaeolithic and Carnivores. Analysis of the survival, body parts and attrition of Proboscidean and ungulate species in terms of the trophic web has been considered within a context observed with similar modern species. The locality has produced base line information in the sense that Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros are present and associated with humans and carnivore groups, occurring with cut-marked and/or gnawed surfaces. The difficulties of hunting and killing known from modern studies and the highly selective nature of their preservation has suggested that both species were scavenged by carnivores and Neanderthals. Opportunist hunting or killing in the spring and summer seems to be a significant element of the food chain. Both practices indicate competitive behaviour at kill sites.

Statement 12

Trophic systems: Later Middle Palaeolithic. The second phase of Neanderthal occupation of the cave is very distinct in that the nature of the evidence changes. The lithic assemblage now includes both flint and quartzite tools and the range of function is considerably increased from those present within the earlier occurrence. Active carnivore populations seem to be mainly European Wolf. Hyaena Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros are much less frequent and may be absent. Prey species are now European Bison, Wild Horse and Reindeer. The large concentration of cranial remains that characterised earlier levels are now replaced by remains of limb and axial skeletal parts. This is an indication of much greater control at kill sites and the transportation of much more of individual carcasses into the cave. This may be the first direct indication within the cave of hunting as the prime method of obtaining food resources. Direct evidence of hunting exists from the presence of massacred fragments of Reindeer skull.

Statement 13

Trophic systems: Upper Palaeolithic. The form and occurrence of the Upper Palaeolithic assemblage within the upper levels of the cave is made difficult to understand due to movement downslope of artefacts, the disturbance associated with a hearth and the post-mortem movement of some items downslope. The prolific vertebrate remains present a clearer picture. The population is dominated by Reindeer of all ages, including the very young. Antlers are present for male and female and include cast fragments associated with some massacred individuals. These occur with occasional Wild Horse and European Bison, whose remains are coeval temporally but are spatially concentrated toward the cave rear. The study suggests that this is a dedicated form of Reindeer predation with almost total control of access to the species' population. The presence of juvenile and probable newborn individuals indicates very close contact with the population nearby. This may be evidence for a developing or existing pastoralist management system that places all resources close geographically and behaviourally and allows easier access to carcasses, in whole or in part, with cast antlers collected as a resource material. The age and sexual structure indicated by the remains indicate rudimentary methods of population control. The concentrations vary, from groups that include all elements of the population to one example where male carcasses dominate. This increase in males is very likely to illustrate a more sophisticated management of a herd. It is very clear from the locality that Upper Palaeolithic technology, Reindeer and European Wolf all disappeared from the cave within the same stratigraphic Level.

Statement 14

European Wolf: Mutualist behaviour and relationships. This species has had a long-term but low-key presence throughout the cave's history. The frequency of the species increases with the decline and disappearance of Hyaena. Gnawed and chewed vertebrate bone is associated with both species and not only remains within the cave but increases in frequency following the disappearance of Hyaena. It is extraordinarily difficult to separate the species' occurrence with human presence. European Wolf occurrence is largely stable in frequency and fluctuations are minor. This holds true for levels with human occupation, especially during the Upper Palaeolithic. These levels contain surface-gnawed bone, especially cast Reindeer antler, and European Wolf is the only predator present within the cave. The evidence is circumstantial but this may indicate a developed mutualist behaviour between humans and European Wolf, living in the same environment, following the same herds and consuming the same food.

Statement 15

The assessment of both human and vertebrate presence within an ecological framework which is known so extensively from actualist behavioural studies has offered a different context and understanding of their interaction with the environment and each other. The effects of dispersal, interspecies competition and predation offer an unusual insight into the dynamics of trophic webs within Quaternary contexts. The significance of mutualist behaviour inferred by stratigraphic association within the site is of very great significance in that it may be a key behaviour leading to the appearance and development of an ecosystem characterised by a large ungulate population. Populations of this type require extensive seasonal grazing areas and are often responsible for the development of extensive grasslands. These are formed by constant mutualist practice of seasonal grazing, trampling and addition of manure by ungulate herds. This significant trophic component of the food chain is that it attracts associated carnivores and human groups.

Statement 16

Bone Tools: Hearth association. The reconstruction of the distribution of bone work and identification of the hearth area has highlighted the occurrence of the cross-hatched bone rod, the chevron design bone rod and a bone point with hafting marks, which occur near the north and south edges of the 'hearth' area. This is a very unusual concentration of such objects. The others that are known from the cave are found at the cave rear. The significance of this is unknown but does suggest that the area and its surrounding contents may be of Upper Palaeolithic age.

Statement 17

Establishment of a grassland ecosystem. This study found no clear evidence for the concept of a MAZ (Mammal Assemblage Zone), or Mammoth Steppe Fauna. The first evidence of vertebrate presence indicates a population that is appropriate for a temperate biome that includes Hyaena associated with European Wolf, aquatic bird species and fish. The succeeding vertebrate population, dominated by large ungulates is present throughout the entire length of the Middle Palaeolithic and continues into the earlier phase of the Upper Palaeolithic. The species Woolly Rhinoceros and Mammoth, cited as key components of the Mammoth Steppe, disappear and are missing from the cave for much of this period. It is more appropriate to consider this period of time as one where the ungulate population is using the area as a summer breeding ground. The dispersal and frequency of the population increases over time. These factors indicate developed mutualism feeding behaviour invariably enhanced by the development of an extensive grassland area resulting from and produced by ungulate activity. The evolution of this ecosystem and the trophic relationships must have been the essential criteria allowing dispersal, expansion and development of carnivores but more particularly human occupation of the region. The evidence suggests that the concept of a grassland ecotone with the faunal components known from this cave is useful. It also suggests that there is no real evidence or foundation to consider the habitat or ecotone as one with arctic conditions.

Statement 18

The final record known from the cave is difficult to interpret but indicates a cessation of the Quaternary faunal population. Evidence of the Mesolithic and European Wolf continue within a habitat invaded by numerous species with a preference for temperate conditions, woodland and aquatic resources. Inevitably climatic change, the disruption of migratory corridors and routes and the disappearance of Reindeer would have been a major force in the disruption of the grassland ecosystem and its associated predators.


I would like to thank the many staff of UK museums who have kindly given access to collections in their care and for permission to reproduce images within this report.

I owe considerable gratitude to the many enthusiasts who freely gave their time in the years 1976-92 and who helped with the huge variety of tasks associated with the original research and the development of the then new Creswell tourism initiative and its later development into the Creswell Heritage Area. I also owe my thanks to colleagues, many of whom assisted with the original research and are cited in this publication. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to Professor Graeme Barker Professors Alan Turner, Denise Sonneville-Bordes, Bjorn Kurtén, Richard Klein, Lewis Binford, Tony Stuart, Dave Gilbertson, Dave Briggs and Chris Hunt.

I would also particularly like to acknowledge the help and support of the various editors throughout these years and particularly to Professor John Collis, Judith Winters, Editor of Internet Archaeology and Katie Green, Collections Manager of the Archaeology Data Service.

I would like to thank Karen Francis for proof reading the original manuscript. Lastly many thanks to my late wife, Valerie, and the support of Heidi Jenkinson and my friends in Spain who have helped me with this long project.

A number of illustrations of both objects and manuscripts which are reproduced within this study are credited to individual museums who have given their permission to reproduce them. In this respect I would particularly wish to thank Manchester University Museum, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, British Museum and the Creswell Heritage Trust. Virtually all of the site, cave maps and plans are the result of my PhD study and my copyright. These are derived from the initial study in 1976-1992 but have been updated by calibration with the original 1970s plans for reproduction here.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the help and assistance of the Marc Fitch Fund who have kindly grant-aided the cost of publication of this monograph and its associated archive. Without their generous assistance, it is unlikely that this and the related archive would have been published.

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