Hunters and gatherers in Cresswell

Engraved bone depicting a horse, Cresswell Crags,, British Museum

Here we are for the History jar advent calendar 2022 – where did the year go? It’s going to be a bit random this year but I will attempt to sneak something festive into each post – ok very tenuously- which is why we’re starting 800,000 years ago during the Ice Age which is well outside the History Jar’s usual remit.

For much of the ice Age, ice sheets several meters thick covered Derbyshire so people could not live in the area. These ice sheets covered much of the northern hemisphere – further south the conditions were more akin to the tundra of Siberia. However, as the ice sheets retreated the conditions became sub-Artic or if you want to call it by the right name periglacial. This resulted in very cold winters but milder summers. Occasional finds of flint hand axes show that people hunted in the area.

Thor’s Cave in the Manifold Valley – which is in Staffordshire rather than Derbyshire yielded stone tools, pots and amber beads when it was excavated by the Victorians and again during the 1920s. These finds are thought to come from the end of the Palaeolithic Period.

Even more spectacular are the limestone caves at Creswell Crags on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border which is believed to be among the most northerly of dwelling places during the last Ice Age. Finds included stone arrowheads, woolly mammoth bones, woolly rhinoceros and giant deer bones – yup- all this for giant deer –

Evidence suggests that hunters moved into the caves before the ice sheets advanced south and that the people who lived there were forced south themselves along with the rhinoceros, horse and bison that they hunted. They returned when the ice sheets retreated. Eventually the woolly mammoth and rhinoceros disappeared as the climate grew milder. Hunters relied on deer for their meat and the tools that archeologists have discovered changed as well.

The earliest British art comes from Cresswell Crags – the British Museum is home to a bone discovered here engraved with a drawing of a horse. The walls of Church Hole Cave contain marks that are deer and bison.

Whitaker, P.D. Early Settlement in Derbyshire