Milestones in story of Victoria Cave
With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, DigVentures is teaming up with Tom Lord - the custodian of the Victoria Cave archive - to bring this fabulous collection to national attention.
Tot Lord and the Pig Yard Club carry out further excavations of the Hyena Bone Bed. They also dig up other evidence of Lateglacial hunters, including an implement made from reindeer antler deep in the cave's inner chamber.
Lack of funding means the excavations now end. By now, Richard Tiddeman has taken over from William Boyd Dawkins as the Scientific Director, and has interpreted the sedimentary deposits as evidence that the Ice Age consisted of a series of cold and warmer events, rather than a single prolonged period of extreme cold as many Victorian scientists had believed.
The deep bed of bone that built up during the Last Interglacial (125,000 years ago) is excavated, revealing that hippo, rhino, and elephant once lived in the Yorkshire Dales.
Over the 8 years of excavations, the Victorian archaeologists make lots of incredible discoveries, like evidence that Lateglacial hunters once used the cave, including a wild horse vertebra that had been butchered with stone tools, and several hunting implements carved from reindeer antler.
Thomas McKenny Hughes (a geologist working for the Geological Survey in the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales) set up the Settle Cave Exploration Committee in 1869. The Committee included many of the most eminent archaeologists and geologists of the time, like Charles Lyell. Joseph Jackson - now in his 50s - was appointed the Site Superintendent and William Boyd Dawkins the Scientific Director in overall charge. Together, they ran excavations for several months each year from 1870 to 1878 with a break in 1871. The work cost around £200 annually, a huge sum at the time.
By 1840, Joseph Jackson had amassed so much evidence that he contacted Charles Roach Smith, an expert in Roman history. Together they published the first evidence that Romans had used the cave. Later that year, Joseph found something much, much older: a hyena’s jawbone...
Joseph Jackson is a plumber and glazier from the local town of Settle. He is just 20 years old when he begins excavating Victoria Cave's inner chamber. Cut off from all sunlight, he carries out his investigations in the evenings after work by candlelight...
Michael Horner re-discovers Victoria Cave after his friend's dog disappeared down a hole while they were out walking. He followed the dog and found a narrow passage leading to a chamber. He returned a few weeks later with Joseph Jackson, who discovered an even bigger chamber deeper inside.
A Romano-British cave cult has been leaving offerings inside Victoria Cave for a few hundred years, but this activity is now abandoned.
Soon after the Roman conquest, people begin placing small artefacts in the dark recesses of Victoria Cave, including coins, brooches, bits of pottery, crafting implements and some mysterious pierced bone 'spoons'.
Many of the soldiers came from places with strong beliefs about caves, and it seems that Victoria may have become the site of a new Romano-British cave cult initiated by people associated with the Roman military.
People aren’t using the cave to place human bones, unlike at Jubilee Cave which features Neolithic activity. There are a few examples of human bone from the scree from outside Victoria Cave (and some show evidence for blunt force trauma and cut marks) but more secure dates are needed to understand how this fits in with the Victoria Cave story.
Things get cold again very suddenly. Bears and people disappear from the Dales. Did they manage to migrate south, or did they simply perish in the sudden cold?
People are still using the cave sporadically. This time, they leave behind a double-ended harpoon point and a decorated lance - both carved from reindeer antler.
Magdalenian hunters reach the Yorkshire Dales, leaving behind some cutmarked wild horse bone and a lance point.
Brown bears are hibernating in Victoria Cave, and the oldest include the remains of a female bear skull and her cub. They probably died during hibernation, and chew marks on the bone show their carcasses were later scavenged by wolves.
Abrupt and very rapid global climate change.
The ice sheets start to retreat, but not because it's getting warmer... it's because it's getting drier, which means snow isn't being deposited.
This is the period that really forms the Yorkshire Dales landscape as we know it today. Ice sheets form drumlins, scour the surface clean of earlier features and depositions, and leave those big, misplaced boulders called 'erratics' on the hillsides.
The Yorkshire Dales are more like a tropical savanna. Hyenas are using Victoria Cave as a den, bringing in prey like hippo, elephant, rhino, giant deer, bison and woodland mammoth.
The Yorkshire Dales are frozen over. The entrance to Victoria Cave was left open, but before that it was blocked.
The entrance to Victoria Cave is blocked during this time, but there are humans (Neanderthals!) in Britain - they just don't make it this far north to Victoria Cave. In fact, even though it's relatively warm, there's little evidence of life inside the cave at all, probably because the entrance was blocked.
Laminated clays are forming
The cave is forming stalagmites.
This is the time of the Anglian Glaciation, and this ice sheet is so big it spreads as far south as London, stopping just north of Finchley. Ice is blocking the entrance to Victoria Cave and water is ponding up inside. In this low energy environment, very fine sediments get deposited, allowing the first set of laminated clays to form.
A now-extinct species of wolf is sheltering in the cave, but the only evidence we have is a few teeth dating back to this time. This is when the earliest surviving sediments in Victoria Cave start forming. Stalagmites are growing and it's becoming a beautifully decorated cave. Meanwhile, the valleys are starting to deepen for the first time.
One million years ago, the valleys we see today hadn’t yet been carved out by glaciers. The ground was flat and the landscape was completely unrecogniseable. Victoria Cave is nothing more than a small hole filled with surface water, but it’s slowly getting bigger…