Under the Uplands is uniting archaeologists, researchers and Yorkshire’s well-established caving community with the public to bring the region’s distinctive cave archaeology to national attention. Here’s how the project has come about, and how you can get involved.

Caving has been a popular sport in the Yorkshire Dales for centuries, with a long tradition of being open to all who are interested. Today, modern cavers continue to explore Yorkshire’s vast underground networks, with the same sharp eye for archaeological finds as their predecessors.

In fact, that’s how work at Victoria Cave first started: two local lads out walking their dogs in 1837 accidentally discovered the cave when one of the dogs disappeared into a gap in the hillside, only to emerge from a completely different opening. The local community was galvanized, and a group of interested people from the area joined forces with some of the heavyweights of Victorian science to meticulously excavate the cave over the course of several decades, finishing in1878.

Digging started again in the 1930s when Tot Lord, another Settle local, formed the ‘Pig Yard Club’, an informal society, along with some of his friends in order to continue investigations. Tot and the Pig Yard Club were eventually responsible for the original curation and display, in the local schoolhouse, of the finds from Victoria Cave. Since then, Tot’s grandson Tom (himself an experienced caver) has been looking after and studying the archive, and working with museums and universities to re-examine the artefacts using modern scientific techniques.

The Victoria Cave archive, an internationally important collection which forms the basis of the Under the Uplands Virtual Museum, was compiled through the labours of both sets of excavations and contains nearly 3,000 artefacts along with the original excavation journals. At the moment, some of the objects are on display, whilst others have never been publicly accessible. Tom, along with members of the local caving community, feel strongly that the archive belongs in the public domain. But how could they make it happen?

DigVentures first met Tom in 2010. Born and bred in Yorkshire himself, our Projects Director, Brendon Wilkins, was researching cave archaeology in the Dales at the time for an article in Current Archaeology magazine. Over the next few years, Tom and Brendon stayed in touch; DigVentures was growing, and Tom’s work on the collection was continuing apace.

In 2014, and with support from Heritage Lottery Fund, DigVentures set to work building Digital Dig Team – an app which anyone working on a community archaeology project can use to record their finds and share them online. This app laid the foundation for the Under the Uplands project.

In 2015, the moment was right to use Digital Dig Team to build a Virtual Museum and bring the Victoria Cave archive into the national spotlight, and to ensure that the new project was born within the very community that brought the first discoveries from the cave to light in the 1800s.

With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, DigVentures has joined up with Tom Lord and the Yorkshire caving community to launch Under the Uplands: a project to ensure that the Victoria Cave collection is made publicly accessible, and that anyone who wants to participate can be a part of the project’s community. Our goal is to build the online archive with the same combination of archaeology, science and public participation that characterised its beginnings.

Get involved

It’s a project that has been a lifetime (or lifetimes!) in the making, and it’s open to anyone to join. You can come and see the incredible archive of artefacts from the cave and help us build a Virtual Museum, or join the excavation team who will start work in August 2016. And remember, just like Joseph Jackson, the cave’s original Victorian excavator, no previous experience is necessary!