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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.

3. Case Study: The evidence from Pin Hole Cave

3.1 Objectives

The purpose of this section is to comprehensively report on the study and mapping of the cave, initially undertaken during the period 1977-80 and to summarise the observations reported by the excavators and particularly the methods of Leslie Armstrong. It will then clarify the (unnecessary) controversy surrounding Leslie Armstrong and to describe the potential importance of the evidence from this locality

3.2 Armstrong's investigations


The Magnesian Limestone of Eastern England contains several limestone gorges and valley formations (see Digital archive: map). The largest concentrations of caves and Quaternary sites comprise the limestone gorge at Creswell Crags and are shown in Figure 3. Pin Hole Cave is located in the north-western cliff face of the Creswell Gorge and is situated roughly midway between the Arch Cave and Dog Hole Fissure.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Creswell Crags Limestone Gorge - a ground plan showing the location of known caves (based on Jenkinson 1984, fig. 2)

Today the cave has a narrow, but large, entrance with mounds of spoil and original talus forming a slope to the gorge floor. Prior to excavation during the 19th century, the entrance appeared to be a narrow fissure (Digital archive: 19th century entrance / 1970s entrance). Records indicate that the cave was of local interest because the entrance contained a rock pool formed by stalagmitic sediments. Visitors often threw hatpins into the pool to ensure good luck, a practice that gave rise to the cave's name. Following the discovery of fossil bone and later excavation by Magen Mello, the cave was visited by Leslie Armstrong during 1924. He soon realised that what appeared to be the end of the cave was an area of calcrete and stalagmite formation that blocked a narrow fissure and that the solution cavity or cave seemed to continue beyond this. Subsequent excavation removed a great deal of infill, largely emptying the void that is now visible today.

Cave form and structure

The form and structure of the cave is unusual in a local context. The first comprehensive surveys of the site were undertaken during 1977-80. The ground plan of the now excavated void is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Ground plan of Pin Hole Cave, surveyed during 1977. The void today is a lengthy but narrow fissure formed along north-south solution within the Magnesian Limestone and where a small chamber, in the cave rear, has developed below a major rupture in the cave roof (termed 'inner chamber' by Leslie Armstrong). The undisturbed sediments in the cave rear are shown and the arrows in the 'inner' chamber mark the position of two calcrete blocks removed for excavation.
Figure 5
Figure 5: Longitudinal cross-section of Pin Hole Cave mapped in 1977. The section shows the extent of the cave, the location of previous excavations and the surviving remnant of stalagmite floor adhering to the western wall and which was used by Armstrong as a datum.

The cross-section of the cave (Figure 5) shows a number of aspects of the cave form that have not previously been described. The areas of excavation are shown and these extend into the cave rear. In the 1977-80 survey, the remnant calcrete and stalagmitic sediment was mapped. This remnant deposit survives along both the western and eastern cave walls. This was used as a datum to record finds during Leslie Armstrong's excavation and the remnant is therefore of considerable significance.

Further significant features are the presence of major ruptures within the cave roof. These occur within the cave entrance where the rupture has played a major part in the formation of a localised 'blockage 'of limestone clast. Surface water flowing through the roof rupture has also led to the formation of extensive calcrete and travertine deposits (including the 'Pin Hole' rock pool) and the washing of sediment and remains out of the cave entrance. These features are crucial to understanding the build-up of Quaternary remains within the cave. In general terms, inflowing sediment from the cave rear has partially and locally filled the void (and the area of the roof above the current floor). This sediment has washed toward the cave entrance where further disturbance has taken place. Increased water flow within this area has washed material downslope into the floor of the gorge. This process is seemingly very much enhanced by substantial and long-term use of the cave by people and animals.

Further back into the cave, in the area of the 'inner chamber', the extensive roof ruptures have allowed surface sediment to wash into the cave and form a localised deep 'cone' of sediment that reduces in thickness southwards toward the entrance. There is some evidence that the thickness may reduce in a northerly direction, where the infilling sediments remain unexcavated.

The sediments

The infilling sediments were first described from the excavations of Leslie Armstrong. He groups the upper sediment into one unit, which he named the 'red cave earth'. The lower sediments became known as the 'yellow cave earth'. He also recorded the presence of 'slab layers' which are illustrated in the generalised section which he produced in 1926 (adapted and reproduced here as Figure 6). These layers are discussed throughout this report. The principal layer was recorded at 6 feet (1.8m) below the stalagmite layer. At this point a series of limestone clasts, presumably generated by roof fall, formed an extensive cover across the floor of the cave. This also occurred at the junction between the red and yellow cave earths. The slab layer clearly represents a lag deposit capping the eroded surface of underlying and earlier sediment. There has been discussion in the literature that has cast doubt upon the existence of this layer. Wilfred Jackson informed the author in 1977 that the clast did not form a continuous layer (pers. comm.). Within this report, every analysis that considers the stratigraphic distribution, both archaeological and palaeontological remains, indicates an interruption in frequency of remains at 6 feet below the datum. The detailed description, discussed later within the report records both a drop in the frequency of material and a change in its component parts. In general terms, this is the boundary between the Middle Palaeolithic and the carnivore-dominated (Hyaena) vertebrate population.

Figure 6
Figure 6: A stylised reconstruction drawn by Leslie Armstrong of his excavated sequence, interpretation and his arbitrary 30cm deep excavation levels, commencing at the uppermost calcrete 'floor'. This figure has been adapted to correlate the depth from datum and stratigraphic levels used within the current study (based on Armstrong unpublished and Jenkinson 1984)

The data considered in this study are primary, derived from the work and excavations conducted by Leslie Armstrong from 1924 onwards (the detailed circumstances surrounding this work discussed by Jenkinson 1984). A significant issue is that the stratigraphic location of remains discovered during excavation has been reconstructed according to 20 'stratigraphic levels' based upon Armstrong's locational details, marked upon each find and re-survey of the cave sediments, particularly of its calcrete layers. The methodology is reasonably accurate to 30cm by depth and spatially, but is unable to take account of obvious spatial variations in infilling sediments and post-depositional movement in remains, now known from other Creswell cave sites. Nevertheless, the data are unique and the methodology adopted offers some element of accuracy and reflects the original distribution of remains (see Jenkinson (1984 and spreadsheet data).

Leslie Armstrong published numerous accounts of the cave stratigraphy, which varied over the years in accordance with successive excavations. Figure 6 is based upon a generalised section of the cave infill and his interpretation. The section takes no account of the variation apparent resulting from the gentle incline of infill and remains toward the cave entrance. Armstrong records many of the excavated items in both two and three dimensions using a base datum of the calcrete floor, which appears to have 'capped' the infill for virtually the whole length of the cave. Remnants of the calcrete survive upon both the cave walls today and were mapped during the 1970s (see Jenkinson 1984). It became clear at the time of survey that the level of travertine remnants were lower on the eastern cave wall than those on the western wall. This is the first clear evidence that the infilling sediments were inclined toward the east. There is no evidence that the west and east remnants belong to the same travertine deposit. A contemporary drawn section (produced by Armstrong) suggests that there were two separate travertine layers; the mapping of this previously unrecorded datum has allowed a reconstruction of the temporal distribution of excavated remains. A large quantity of material is recorded in two dimensions only and in order to include these, an arbitrary reconstruction of twenty stratigraphic levels, has been created. This has been fitted to the newly mapped calcrete or travertine capping deposit. The resulting reconstruction conforms to the varying depths recorded throughout the cave's length within Armstrong's excavated area.

The recording methods used by Armstrong were very appropriate for the cave infill, which is dominated by a developing cone or slope of sediment with an origin in the cave rear but which slopes at a gentle gradient toward the entrance. By utilising the capping and sealing calcrete formation, which extends the length of the cave as a datum, his sloping excavation spits probably followed the contours of the slope. This approach meant that he was very likely to have avoided the difficulties that would have been encountered by using horizontal excavation spits which would have cross-cut through separate sedimentary units.

The reconstruction is, nevertheless, arbitrary but likely to be a reasonable reflection of the temporal distribution of remains, which is accurate for the large quantity of two dimensional material (to within 30cm depths). The reconstruction includes both two and three dimensionally recorded items. A limited account is taken of spatial variation, particularly as three dimensional records are only available for a much smaller quantity of the available material.

Armstrong's generalised interpretation of the sedimentary infill shown in Figure 6 is supported and conforms to the existing evidence of sediment infill, which adheres to the current cave walls. Surviving photographs of the excavation, which show that such layers did exist in the cave passage and rear, support his suggestion of the presence of 'slab layers'. Doubts concerning the existence of these layers were originally expressed by Jackson (1936; see Jenkinson 1984) but such doubts do not appear to be valid. There is significant evidence from contemporary photographs that show the existence of cavities between the cave wall and infill. This appears to be particularly developed along the eastern wall (see Digital archive). The full extent of this feature is unknown and it may not have existed along the western cave wall. This feature wasn't commented on by Armstrong but is of importance for the reconstruction of sediments and infill, in that smaller remains may have moved downwards post-deposition. The process seems an unlikely one in the western area of the cave where the slightly inclined sediments seem to have been lodged against the cave wall. It has also been noted by Coles (1988), and repeated by Jacobi et al. (1998), that there is evidence of slumping and faulting within the surviving rear cave sediment section. Contemporary photographs illustrate the frequency of clasts (see Digital archive photo). In addition, mapping of the cave during the early 1980s involved the removal of an eastern wall within the chamber, which was constructed by Armstrong from the excavation clast and which contained in the region of 5-6000kg of limestone from the "passage and inner 'chamber'". Under the circumstances, such a large body of angular limestone blocks derived from the infill would have very seriously inhibited sediment outflow from the cave and they may well explain the existence of local slumping of sediment. Disputes concerning the 'slab layers' have already been discussed but there is little doubt concerning Armstrong's accurate observations. They were confined to the 'inner chamber' and are not evident today but were likely to have been the remnants of a lag deposit, where finer material has washed to some extent downward within the cave but almost certainly out of the cave on at least two occasions. The apparent hiatus in sedimentation situated between the 'red cave earth' and 'yellow cave earth' appear to have Middle Palaeolithic lithic evidence concentrated near their upper surface, and may indicate concentration of these remains vertically. There is little evidence of lateral movement of the same, which might have been indicated by fractured and separated lithic and surface-polished vertebrate bone.

Figure 7 also shows the existence of the stratigraphically separate assemblages of Middle Palaeolithic or Mousterian artefacts with an overlying Upper Palaeolithic assemblage. Considerable discussion has taken place concerning this original interpretation (Jackson 1947; Campbell 1977; Jenkinson 1984; Jacobi et al. 1998). Campbell has suggested that the invasively retouched lithics of Armstrong's uppermost Mousterian should be considered as Upper Palaeolithic. Jacobi et al. have doubted the existence of the stratigraphic separation within the Mousterian and have suggested that the evidence shows one assemblage, while Armstrong's suggestion that the uppermost assemblage is of Upper Palaeolithic type, in the form of a backed blade industry and bone artefacts, has largely been accepted.

Faunal remains

Original comment on the faunal remains is more problematic. In the first instance, vertebrate identification was undertaken primarily by Jackson and particularly at the beginning of the excavation. A large number of specimens were later identified by Armstrong and he encouraged James Kitching to undertake the first systematic description (1963). All of these studies have concentrated on the remains of larger species and have excluded a very large quantity of evidence for smaller species and bone fragments. Jenkinson (1984) first systematically reported these. The excavation work of Mello (1875) is not central to this analysis but his comments upon the cave entrance stratigraphy and fauna offer important and different evidence from that of the main cave.

Studies by Campbell (1977) have been restricted largely to comment on the larger species reported by Armstrong, and has been concerned to identify the human 'food and fur' resources that they might offer. Studies by Jacobi (Jacobi et al. 1998) have concentrated on radiometric dating of the archaeological sequence using associated palaeontological material in combination with Rowe (1986; et al. 1989), who used UTh (uranium thorium dating) techniques on calcretes recovered during Armstrong's excavations. Studies by Jacobi, in particular, have used elaborate arguments to reconcile the radiometric dates with archaeological typology and have discounted large quantities of palaeontological remains, which were thought to be insufficiently well recorded by Armstrong. The adoption of this strategy has provided a reconstruction of the stratigraphy and faunal biostratigraphy which is in sharp contrast to that published by Jenkinson (1984). A key concept for any analysis is to establish the integrity of Armstrong's observations, particularly as many later comments have cast doubt upon the association of specific remains and geomorphological process in cases where analyses do not conform to generally accepted views.

A statement on the 'issues'

The diversity of evidence is of considerable significance for Quaternary studies and the studies and protocols adopted within this publication rely upon a confidence in the integrity of the infill, which in turn allows an arbitrary reconstruction of taphonomic events and circumstances. Given the importance of this particular site, a clear statement of the issues that underpin this study can be summarised as follows:

  1. The excavation by Armstrong used a strategy and methods that were entirely suitable for a sloping body of deposit and where the sloping recording datum was the waterlain capping surface of the infill.
  2. Post-excavation analysis of the remains appears to make sense and in general terms are confirmed by observations at other localities.
  3. There are variations in circumstance known from Armstrong's generalised descriptions that can be observed today or from an archival record. Doubts concerning some of his observations (the 'slab layers') are unfounded, particularly when they were made by someone who performed one of the best excavations of his generation and recovered over 35,000, accurately recorded, objects from within an extremely difficult excavation environment. Many doubts have been motivated by the difficulties of reconciling more recent studies with his observations.
  4. Many studies have drawn attention to geomorphic events and the possible extent of post-mortem movement within the cave and therefore the concept of association. Most of these studies have been based upon a sediment section that is 30m from the cave entrance, is flat, and is of an entirely different nature from the sloping sediments where the Quaternary remains were excavated. Such studies have also ignored the cavities along the undercut eastern cave wall and underestimated the very large limestone clast component of the sedimentary infill. The latter includes the lack of attention paid to Armstrong's slab layers, whose existence is confirmed by post-excavation studies and which indicate that at least one, and possibly two, significant hiatus in the sedimentary sequence were present and which has potentially large implications for our understanding of the Middle Palaeolithic. In addition, the lithic evidence appears to be concentrated above these layers. The frequency of vertebrate bone appears to confirm this situation and that there is a massive reduction in the presence of bone below the slab layers, which may be the result of a geomorphic event rather than an ecological one.
  5. There are remains from the cave, which, despite evidence of movement of some aspects of the sediment, indicate a low-energy environment. The 'inner chamber', directly below a major roof rupture, has evidence of single individual Grayling fish, which seem to be of one individual and includes scales. Similarly there are preserved, unbroken duck or geese eggs. Evidence for post-mortem movement by animal traffic or burrowing (over 3000 individuals) is lacking, a perhaps not surprising fact given the very large frequency of medium-sized limestone clasts that were incorporated within the infill. Indirect evidence is available from Armstrong's excavation log of 1924 (see Digital archive), which records 72 lithics within the sediment, 17 of which were found underneath limestone clasts, 5 underneath the east cave wall and 5 underneath the west cave wall. The remainder were within the central area of cave infill. All of these occur within the reconstructed depths of the separate Middle and Upper Palaeolithic assemblages. Although this is not conclusive evidence, it does suggest that movement has been limited and that lithics in protected locations (under large rocks) occur with others and all within similar assemblages. The log also records several bone artefacts and a small perforated marine shell near the eastern cave wall, within an area that was probably the most susceptible to sedimentary movement. Specific evidence of post-mortem movement is known from a single Hyaena tooth. A single carnassial of this species was discovered approximately 65 feet (19.8m) from the entrance in two fractured pieces that are from the same animal. One was located at a depth of 9 feet (2.7m), the other at 12 feet (3.66m). This single tooth illustrates a post-mortem movement of up to 90cm downwards in a central area of the 'inner chamber' sediment cone.
  6. There is evidence of major geomorphic events, particularly from uranium series dating which has documented the erosion of older flowstone formations falling into younger infilling sediments.
  7. In addition to evidence that indicates a low degree of movement and post-mortem movement, there are examples of artefact pieces or skeletal parts, which might be derived from the same object or individual animal, found in separate locations, sometimes widely apart and sometimes 'down hill' in the lower parts of the infill slope and/or penetrating two stratigraphic levels (60cm). In the case of artefactual evidence, these items may simply have been lost or abandoned in differing parts of the sloping stratigraphic level. The separation of individual animal remains is more difficult to explain and may have several causes. There is insufficient recorded stratigraphic detail to fully assess lateral distribution. Movement of this type is particularly difficult to assess for archaeological remains where there are possible typological anomalies within some assemblages, and which at the same time contain several examples of fragile charcoal concentrations (suggested by Armstrong as possibly parts of hearths). In terms of detail, the taphonomic environment is such that a wide variety of circumstances may be present, which unfortunately were not observed or recorded during the excavation.
  8. A significant factor for any analysis of the stratigraphic integrity of the vertebrate remains are that a cavity of variable extent seems to have existed along parts of the eastern cave wall. A combination of contemporary photographic evidence and examination of the cave today indicate that some areas of the 'inner passage' and the rear of the passage have been subject to infilling by calcrete layers of later (Late Last Glacial or Early Holocene) date. This has resulted in at least one substantial Mammoth bone which has a coating of Late Glacial calcrete. Within the 'inner chamber', two cemented blocks of calcrete, sediment and bone, which are demonstrably contemporary with the later capping calcrete layer, were removed and excavated (see Digital archive). It is very unlikely that this has been causal in the downward movement of larger vertebrate bone but it may have caused such movement of micro-vertebrate remains. At the junction of the passage and 'inner chamber', Armstrong recorded a 'rodent corner', characterised by a large concentration of rodent bone remains. This area is underneath the eastern cave wall overhang and many of the skeletal parts appear to belong to the same small number of individuals. This suggests that any disturbance is the result of bioturbation rather than sediment erosion. It also appears that large areas of the talus that surround the cave entrance have not been excavated and are now covered with Armstrong's excavation spoil. The general low-energy nature of the sediments is vividly illustrated by numerous discoveries in the 1985 excavations (which is within 60cm of the terminus of Armstong's work) where associated micro-vertebrate remains are known (see Digital archive photo).
  9. It is important to restate that this study attempts a reconstruction that relies heavily upon the vertical occurrence for all remains and lateral distributional details for some remains, all of which were recorded during the excavation and which survive in extant collections.

3.3 Archaeological and palaeontological reconstruction

The nature of the evidence available from Armstrong's work potentially offers considerable opportunity for a reconstruction of Quaternary events relating to both human and animal populations. Despite the great care utilised to record the discovered remains, there are several aspects relating to the physical form of the cave and its excavated remains that were not systematically recorded by Armstrong and which undermine confidence in any reconstruction based upon his work. The principle issues are as follows.

3.3.1 Stratigraphy and sediment distribution

Sediments from the cave are extant today throughout the area excavated by Armstrong. These are preserved in small but variable quantities adhering to both the west and east cave walls. There is good evidence of the capping calcrete floor, underlain by 'red cave earth' and a basal unit of 'yellow cave earth'. The form of each of these units displays more variation throughout the cave's length and depth than was recorded by Armstrong. There is little extant evidence of the extensive clastic infill encountered during excavation.

Examination of this extant material clearly indicates that the entire body of sediment excavated by Armstrong filled approximately two-thirds of the cave void and that the infill from the cave entrance formed an inclined surface running northward to a maximum height and depth in the 'inner chamber'. To the north of this point the infill continues but the surface is more level. The surviving calcrete layers have an undulating surface, indicating considerable localised variation in the depth and nature of sediment infill (see Figure 5). The lack of consistent and detailed comment and extant evidence relating to limestone clast distribution and its potential effect upon the excavated remains is a significant factor which inhibits interpretation.

The nature of sediment infill and build up can be observed today. Significant quantities of sediment are washed down the western tilting cave wall to be deposited upon the current cave floor. This process forms a sediment body that is at its greatest depth at the foot of the wall and which extends in some cases across the narrow cave floor. Sediment build up along the eastern cave wall is much reduced owing to the pronounced western tilt of the wall and the fact that it is considerably undercut near its base. The result is to produce a gently inclined cave floor with the greatest depth of sediment at the base of the western wall and sometimes into the central area of the passage, and is much reduced in thickness toward the eastern wall. The extant evidence of calcrete distribution occurs at greater height along the western wall, suggesting that the conditions of infill seen today have operated within the past. This circumstance appears to be of significance for the build up of 'red cave earth' and calcrete. The lack of comment by Armstrong and the lack of extant evidence concerning the distribution of 'yellow cave earth' create uncertainty as to the circumstance of their deposition.

A second significant factor affecting sediment infill is the nature of the cave roof. Currently, the visible roof is fractured and in many places is formed by large limestone blocks, which have fallen and are now wedged between the cave walls. Above these, the void reaches the limestone surface and is visible on the current cliff top. There are at least two ruptures within the cave roof, which have played a significant part in the history of its infill. A large void and roof rupture exists directly above the 'inner chamber' and forms a distinct funnel through which sediment has washed. Calcrete formations on the upper surface of the very large limestone blocks that form the roof at this point have been dated by the uranium series method to a range of ages (Rowe 1986). The age estimation directly indicates that the fracture and void were in existence prior to the age of the caves excavated infill. The evidence indicates that the existence of this roof rupture has resulted in the down-washing of sediment from the limestone gorge surface into the cave. In the 'inner chamber', this has resulted in the greatest depth of sediment known from the cave and which has formed a gently graded slope southwards toward the cave entrance.

A second significant roof rupture is currently present immediately above the cave entrance. Within this area, a small solution and fractured cavity extends to the limestone gorge surface where it is represented by a small hole. The feature is within the area excavated by Magens Mello and Boyd Dawkins, who record sedimentary features that are obviously the result of in-washing of sediment and water at this point. This is the location of a large build up of calcrete that, prior to excavation, forms the 'Pin Hole'. Modern-day conditions can be such that this area becomes waterlogged. In terms of the infill distribution, there appears to have been sufficient sediment build up in this area to form a mound within the entrance that has inhibited outwash from the cave interior.

The nature of the in-washed sediment is of some interest. The current sediment on the gorge surface is general thinly distributed near the gorge cliff face and thickens northwards (i.e. above the rear of the cave). During the life of the infill process, virtually all of the in-washed sediments appear to be coarse grained (within the cave today) within both of the lower sedimentary units. A significant change in circumstances is evidenced by the deposition of calcretes that capped the deposits, and is associated with both ruptures. This deposit diminishes in thickness from the cave rear to entrance area. Its formation may well have washed finer sediment particles southwards and out of the cave until such time as the calcrete formed an impermeable layer, capping older sediment units and causing water to accumulate within the entrance (the Pin Hole).

The rather exhaustive discussion of circumstances relating to infill is directly relevant to the reconstruction of Armstrong's excavation. The evidence demonstrates that at two significant points of entry into the cave, deep sediment has formed within the rear which thins toward the entrance where further transportation was inhibited by a small area of deeper sediment. The evidence also suggests that maximum build up of sediment was adjacent to the western cave wall and sloped into the recesses associated with the eastern wall. A last and crucial observation is that this process has been active throughout the cave's known history. The implications of this long-term action are important in any assessment of archaeological and palaeontological remains.

3.3.2 Excavation records and context

The details of Armstrong's recording methodology have already been discussed but it is now important to draw attention to the fact that their application varied depending on the nature of the cave and infill. The problem was particularly acute with the inner passage that, in the upper levels, comprised a narrow area of difficult access. A further significant issue was the presence of extensive limestone clast and blocks throughout the entire excavation. Notwithstanding the difficulties, a large number of items were recorded according to depth within the deposit (from the capping calcrete) and distance within the cave from the wooden door that sealed the entrance. In some circumstances, smaller objects were recorded according to large spits referred to as 'slices or sections'. These details are often recorded on the finds themselves or they were placed in groups in labelled containers. Armstrong also left a partial excavation log that records further detail and particularly refers to associations between a small number of objects. This is particularly important as it refers to some artefacts in terms of location and association with vertebrate bone material. Unfortunately this record is not comprehensive. The result today is that just over 30,000 objects can be considered for a locational reconstruction and a large number of excavated objects have insufficient or no location detail. Armstrong stacked much of the limestone block material adjacent to the eastern wall within the cave passage where it formed a long wall. This was removed during cave planning in the late 1970s and in addition to providing an indication of the quantity of clast material, large amounts of palaeontological remains were recovered from its upper surface. Armstrong had annotated some of these remains.

All remains from excavations within the cave are itemised in the digital archive; this inventory records both excavations details and description for all objects located in current museum collections (including excavated objects that were stored within the cave but which have not previously been described). The recording of each excavation find varies in detail and quality. The reconstructions, spreadsheets and analysis utilise differing quantities of specimens. This depends upon the nature of the excavation record that is recorded on the object surface. It is for this reason that the quantity of material used in any of the descriptive reports or analysis that depend on excavation records is clearly stated with each figure.

The systematic recording of limestone clast was not achieved during excavation. The quantity involved was indicated by Armstrong's passage wall, referred to above. Although there are no formal records of distribution and quantity, the passage wall filled around one-third of the cave area within the passage and must have been a very significant component within the infill. The main concern for the reconstruction of remains is that it is obvious that the cave floor at all times must have appeared as a gradient of rocky 'floor' with occasional pockets of finer sediment. As such, this circumstance has enormous implications for the circumstances of distribution of archaeological and palaeontological remains, particularly as the floor surface was rarely flat and is likely to have been punctured by blocks and their associated cavities. Armstrong sometimes recorded this.

A few detailed records were left by Armstrong (1924 inventory / sediment infill record), but he also recorded examples of unbroken lithics being discovered underneath limestone blocks. Similarly, there are several records of lithic and vertebrate bone placed in recesses within the eastern cave wall and where the causal factors must be related to human activity. These few records are the only contemporary record of depositional or post-depositional events. The phenomenon is likely to be of significant importance for the preservation of remains but has not been systematically studied.

Implicit in the observations concerning the scale of limestone clast, which have all fallen from the roof, is that considerable post-mortem movement and displacement must have occurred both laterally and vertically within the sediment infill. Little account has been taken of this possibility for the reconstruction of lateral and vertical distribution of remains.

Biological activity as a source of disturbance within the cave is an enigma. One of the main factors to be considered in any assessment of the cave's taphonomy and biological activity is the degree of biological disturbance. In such circumstances and despite the length of time involved, the impact of animals upon the infilling sediments must have been significant. In addition, the cave has extensive evidence for at least four periods of human use, which has been concentrated in the narrow passage. The effects of simple passage within the cave are compounded by the fact that this is a site where approximately 1600 individual animals with their quarter of a million skeletal parts and accompanying coprolites have been reduced to around 25,000 fragments of vertebrate bone and a few piles of dust.

Despite the lengthy period of time involved, it is clear that the cave has been a busy and active place. A significant quantity, indeed most, of the human evidence was discovered within the cave passage (which is an area averaging 1.5m to 2m wide, of restricted access and filled by a slope of sediment). Owing to the general lack of lateral distribution details of remains, it is extremely difficult to demonstrate effects of this circumstance. It is, however, quite obvious that the passage of the cave not only served as a track or walk-way but was also the focus of human use. It is inevitable under these circumstances that a great deal of post-depositional movement must have taken place within this area. It is extremely unfortunate that both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic activity appears to be concentrated on the rear of the sediment slope within this area.

Similar concerns apply to animal burrowing. Armstrong offers no systematic recording or comment. The identified animal population known from the cave includes 213 individual carnivores and 783 rodents, most species of which are known to burrow. The digging activity would have been inhibited to some extent by the high quantities of limestone clast within the cave and particularly along the slope gradient within the passage. Interestingly, one of the few definite examples of burrowing is known from the 1985 excavation undertaken by Jenkinson. The clearance of disturbed WW2 sediment revealed undisturbed cave floor sediments containing a young Hyaena. Further clearance of spoil from Armstrong's excavation revealed more faunal remains which included parts of the young Hyaena, in circumstances that must have been the result of burial in a collapsed burrow. The discovery was within the rear chamber where quantities of limestone clast are much reduced.

3.3.3 Nature of the vertical and lateral reconstruction

Leslie Armstrong undertook the first attempt at reconstruction of the distribution of remains. Despite his extensive publication of the excavation over a number of years, his reconstructions are generalised and largely concentrate on the archaeological remains, particularly as many of the vertebrates had not, at that time, been identified. Further studies have misunderstood Armstrong's recording methods and additionally much of the vertebrate fauna had not been systematically studied. Many of the studies have cast doubt upon Armstrong's reliability and drawn attention to anomalies within the evidence, particularly in the case of archaeological remains. One such study (Jacobi et al. 1998) has been concerned with the extraordinarily difficult task of dating the sequence, using Armstrong's excavated remains and recording strategy outlined in Jenkinson 1984. The locality continues to attract comment concerning the context of archaeological remains.

The reconstruction, originally undertaken in 1984 (Jenkinson 1984) is now described in more detail within this report aided by exhaustive detail of the geomorphic form and evidence from the site. Analysis of the remains, particularly of the palaeoenvironmental aspects related to the vertebrate evidence, are also discussed. The reconstruction here is at best a generalisation of the archaeological and palaeontological evidence from the cave. There are both positive and negative elements in the exercise, which are of significance for interpretation of the evidence from the site.


  1. The project has identified and published, for the first time, a large element of the excavated evidence
  2. It has identified the nature of Armstrong's methods and has supported the credibility of his observations and drawn attention to the extraordinary scale and recording of remains
  3. Using Armstrong's records, the stratigraphic vertical and lateral distributions of a large quantity of remains have been considered within a context of 30cm spits of excavated samples throughout the depth and length of his excavation. The detail of the relationship of this excavation recording system with the known sedimentary stratigraphy remains problematic.
  4. The reconstruction generally appears to make sense in that episodes of human use of the site and coeval animal occupation have been identified. For archaeological remains, these appear to be not only stratigraphically separate clusters within the sediments but have a range of typological components that in general terms conform to that known from other localities.
  5. The study draws attention to the sheer scale of animal presence within the site and has to some extent identified animal behaviours.
  6. The sequence has been partially dated (Rowe et al. 1989) and more extensively by Jacobi et al. (1998) and has also provided an unusual evidence of several phases of Neanderthal use stratigraphically overlain by Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic evidence that does not correlate well with the radiometric dating.


  1. The nature of the excavation records appears generally reliable stratigraphically but is not generally capable of providing lateral or spatial distribution that may have provided evidence of human and animal population behavioural practice.
  2. The distribution of archaeological remains appear specific (to the passage) and have a distribution down the gradient of a slope in the middle of the cave. It has not been possible to demonstrate if this is a real-time distribution or a phenomenon and product related to geomorphic processes, which might be suggested by the occasional occurrence of fragments of single pieces that occur widely displaced both vertically and laterally, much to the preoccupation of many archaeological studies.
  3. Details of object displacement and post-mortem movement resulting from human and animal passage, rock falls and geomorphic processes are largely unknown beyond a low number of specific occasions, which at least indicate that such processes were present. This is a significant failing of the reconstruction, particularly as many studies refer to such processes to explain anomalies in particular aspects of the evidence.
  4. The reconstruction has allowed consideration of the taphonomy or remains in an attempt to understand human and animal procurement practice and behaviour. This has been confined to temporal aspects and has been unable to consider potentially informative spatial distributions.
  5. Despite the very large quantity of material included within the study, there are questions concerning the potential real concentration of evidence within the site. Modern excavations (at Steetley Cave) have produced 9739 vertebrate bones per square metre. The evidence from the comparable site at Pin Hole has produced 938 per cubic metre. It is also apparent that there is a large collection of remains with no known location, and the extant cave contains multiple vertebrate remains. Excavation in 1981 (Jenkinson unpublished) revealed over 10,000 vertebrate bones in 2.5 cubic metres of sediment. Despite great care and the use of sieves by Armstrong, it is distinctly possible that some elements of fauna were not recovered.

3.4 Conclusion

The rather exhaustive account of the cave and explanation of the methods used to record excavated remains has, I feel, been necessary to counter the repeated criticism of both Armstrong, his methods and the integrity of the excavated data. The source of such views has been a combination of a lack of understanding of Armstrong's methods and recording, inappropriate attempts to consider artefactual distribution in respect to other locations and to explain away discrepancies and associations as the result of mixing of remains.

The evidence from the cave is important in terms of accuracy of recording, particularly in comparison to other UK sites and it is quantitatively rich and diverse with many aspects not present elsewhere. The status of available information justifies the detailed and comprehensive study of excavated data described and analysis which now follows.

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