Cresswell Crags: Britian’s oldest art gallery

You may have already visited the site of Cresswell Crags, but if you haven’t here a bit about what it’s all about.

On the site there’s a museum, visitors centre, limestone gorge and cave system, and, if all that wasn’t enough a country park and wildlife reserve.  The site is west of Chesterfield  and almost due south of Worksop, a map can be found HERE

Why here? well, the limestone ground rock prevalent in the White Peak rises again here, providing a limestone gorge honeycombed with caves and fissures.  (like loaves and fishes but different – Tiro)  The main phases of stone age occupation at the site were at around 43,000 BCthen in a period between 30,000 and 28,000 BC and then again around 10,000 BC.  If you go back to the end of the last Ice Age (lets just say it’s very cold and leave it at that…) which, if you’d prefer the precise figure, is about 10,000 BC.  This is before the advent of farming and the Neolithic, people then were migratory hunters and gatherers, which meant that they following seasonal food sources, and set up temporary settlements which they returned to year after year.

The site at Cresswell Crags is a tad important, as being preserved nicely inside caves, which tend to regulate things like temperature and humidity naturally, we in the modern era have lots of things which were left behind by our nomadic ancestors.  There are four most occupied areas on the site, which are Mother Grundy’s Parlor, Robin Hood’s Cave, the Pin Hole and Church Hole Cave.  If you’re having a hard time imagining the view down the gorge, it would have looked something like this:

Although there’s only a few people in the picture above, our ancestors would have shared the landscape with other beasties – we know this as their remains are also found on site.  Now the preference is for Staffordshire Bull Terriers, back then there were Hyenas:

And bears:


at least one rhino:


Together with the fabulously distinctive Woolly Mammoth:


The bods that lived there also left us a lovely collection of stone tools, such as these:

But it’s the prehistoric artwork which is the real draw: it’s found within the Church Hole Cave, the only example of this within the UK, and the most northerly site for this kind of work within Europe.

The Ochre Horse (dated between 11,000 and 13,000 years old) is probably the most famous piece, a head of a horse drawn in profile and looking to the right, in the middle of a piece of bone:

You can compare this to the horses heads found at the caves at Chavet:


The other artwork at Cresswell consists of about 80 identified figures, including bison, deer and a bas-relief bird thought to be an ibis:




One thought on “Cresswell Crags: Britian’s oldest art gallery

  1. Pingback: Cresswell Crags: Britian’s oldest art gallery « Chesterfield Pagans | Elen Sentier

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