Human usage of caves in the Morecambe Bay area

On Friday the 19th of February Hannah O’Regan from the University of Nottingham came to talk to us on the topic of the human usage of caves in the Morecambe Bay area. She is a specialist in this field with a particular expertise in bones.

First of all she defined the various types of caves:

1. rock shelters – a scoop out of the rock
2. true caves – those with a large enclosure
3. shafts and potholes

Then she described their uses by humans. They were used for shelter and ritual purposes but also for industry, burial and rubbish disposal. She also thought people in the past, as we do today, explore them for fun.

The first cave she showed us is called Dog Hole and it is situated between Grange-over-Sands and Arnside as were all the caves that she told us about. This cave has been excavated a number of times since the mid-nineteenth century. Human remains from at least 23 individuals were found here in the 1950’s along with dog, pig, cattle and sheep remains. Previous to this horse, red deer and roe deer remains were found. The horse, dogs and humans were mostly complete but the rest of the faunal remains were only fragmentary. Sieving was done of the mud and many beads were found – the largest assemblage of beads in the north of England however such minute sieving is not usually done. The range of dates for the site varied between 50-220 A.D. for a dog mandible and another dog dates at 1200 A.D. One interesting fact was the age of the pig remains which were all younger than 16 months. The cave was also full of large stones which appeared to show it’s use as an underground clearance cairn! There was also a burnt layer consisting of lime and birch mainly. Why lime? As it gives off a pungent smell when burnt and is not a good fuel. It is a very strange place and their are a lot more questions than answers. Are Iron Age traditions continuing in Cumbria? And indeed what is the Iron Age tradition there?

Next Dr. O’Regan showed us slides of Lindal Low rock shelter-a small cliffside scoop with terrace in front where Upper Paleolithic flints have been found. Lindal High was excavated but no records of the excavation are extant. Then we moved on to Kirkhead which was excavated in the 1860’s and 1960’s. Upper Paleolithic flints were found here and also red deer bone.These remains were dated to A.D.560-665.

The last cave that we looked at was Kent’s Bank which has two chambers and was excavated in the 1990’s. The faunal remains were of horse, bear, lynx, elk, cattle and dolphins. Were these prey remains? Wolves appeared to have gnawed some of the bones. Human remains were early Mesolithic and are contemporary with southern British cave burials.

It was a very interesting and thought provoking lecture.

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