Think of prehistoric cave art and your mind probably turns to the glorious painted horses and lions on the walls of Lascaux in the South of France or the bisons of Altamira in Spain. Until recently, archaeologists had found no evidence of similar prehistoric cave art in Britain.
The French and Spanish cave art was dated to the Upper Paleolithic period, during the last Ice Age, from about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, and the suspicion was that the inclemency of the climate in Britain at the time had precluded artistic endeavour here. However, in 2003 a team announced the discovery of Paleolithic engravings on the walls of caves at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire.
Since then, prehistoric enthusiasts have been making a beeline to the site to view the art, but visitor facilities were somewhat lacking. Not any more. In the summer of 2009 a brand new centre was opened at the site, with a new exhibition space that puts the caves in their Ice Age context.
There’s an introductory film, and a good selection of thoughtfully displayed artefacts, some on loan from the British Museum and elsewhere, that give you an idea of life for the people who made the art. Then you can head out for a tour to Church Hole Cave (there is a fee), where you can see 13,000 year old engravings of animals, birds and some other enigmatic markings.
The artwork is perhaps not as dramatic as that on show in the caves on the continent, and it helps to have an expert point out what you’re looking at, but you do get up close and personal with these very venerable images.
The valley that houses Church Hole Cave, and numerous other caves (you can also take a tour to Robin Hood Cave) is a very picturesque place, and delightful for a stroll. It’s a limestone gorge carved out by the river, and with its network of caves, provided a natural haven of shelter for the Ice Age people who made their way here, probably on a hunting cycle.
Don’t miss: The curious ibex-like creature on the roof of Church Hole Cave.
Creswell Crags Museum & Heritage Centre
Crags Road, Welbeck, Worksop, Nottinghamshire S80 3LH