... is a site of archaeological and palaeoecology importance, and boasts indoor and outdoor attractions for all ages.
The outdoor area of the site is comprised of a meadow, a woodland path with bubbling stream, and a gorge with a lake. The gorge itself is where the prehistory lies. With over twenty caves, which have been excavated for nearly 150 years, Creswell Crags has yielded a rich array of archaeological and palaeontological finds and information.
The earliest finds date back to the Late Interglacial, 125,000 years ago, with hippopotamus, narrow-nosed rhinoceros and hyaena. The middle of the Last Glacial is represented again by hyaenas, in addition to woolly rhinoceros, woolly mammoth, reindeer and brown bear, among others. In fact, the faunal assemblage from the lower cave earth of Pin Hole has been designated as the Mammal Assemblage Zone for Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 3 (the middle of the Last Glacial). During this time, Neanderthals visited the Crags, evidence of which includes a large collection of stone tools.
The fauna from the Late Glacial includes mountain hare, reindeer, horse and fox. Some of the mountain hare bones exhibit cut marks, indicating consumption and other utilisation of the carcass by humans. A number of stone tools made by modern humans were also found. In fact, one of the later Upper Palaeolithic lithic technologies was dubbed the ‘Creswellian’ by Dorothy Garrod.
Art holds additional importance at Creswell Crags. The 19th Century excavations revealed the ‘ochre horse’: a coloured engraving of a horse upon a rib bone. ‘Pin Hole Man’ – a human-like figure engraved onto bone – was uncovered in the early 20th Century excavations.
In 2003, rock art was discovered in the caves at Creswell Crags. The majority of this art is located within Church Hole Cave, with depictions including a bison and a stag. Flowstone overlying some of the rock art has been dated, indicating that the underlying rock art is more than 12,630 and 12,800 years old.
Post-Ice Age finds have also been made in Creswell Crags. These include Mesolithic and Roman items. In addition, hundreds of apotropaic marks (or witch marks) were discovered in 2019.
The museum showcases many of the archaeological and palaeontological items found within Creswell Crags. The aforementioned ochre horse and Pin Hole Man are on display, loaned from the British Museum. Other institutions that have loaned material for the exhibition include the Natural History Museum and Manchester Museum.
One item of note is ‘Eric’, an almost complete juvenile hyaena skeleton found in Pin Hole. While hyaena remains have been commonly found in Britain and the rest of Europe (indeed, many adult hyaenas are also on display), juvenile hyaenas are less common, and almost complete skeletons rarer still.
The collections are split into four sections: Palaeontology and Archaeology Collection, Comparative Collection, Handling Collection, and Library Collection.
Given that the museum at Creswell Crags did not exist until the 1970s, much of the material from earlier excavations is held elsewhere. Nevertheless, the collections at Creswell Crags are comprised of a vast number of specimens from Creswell Crags and the wider Creswell Heritage Area. This includes more than 30,000 specimens from Pin Hole alone. These items include both small and large mammal remains, in addition to stone tools.
The Comparative Collection is comprised of recent cranial and post-cranial specimens of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Some species, such as the hippopotamus, lived in Creswell Crags during the Ice Age, and are therefore useful in aiding identification of fossil bones and teeth. Other species have never lived in Creswell Crags, but are useful for education and outreach.
The Handling Collection contains a wider variety of items, including replica lithics. Handling boxes may be used by schools.
The Library Collection includes many books, papers and theses relating to Creswell Crags, archaeology and palaeontology. There are also records of some of the excavations undertaken in Creswell Crags and the wider Creswell Heritage Area.
The collections are available for research with a prior appointment.
All photos: Creswell Crags Museum & Heritage Centre