Church Hole

Since the most spectacular figure, discovered at the start, was in Church Hole (Pl. 11), we decided to begin our systematic prospecting in that cave—from its mouth, along the left wall to the interior, as far as the far end over 75 metres

depth, and then back again towards the exterior along the right wall. During the systematic campaign of documentation of spring 2004 we discovered new figures which have potentially increased, in our opinion, the iconographic corpus of British Palaeolithic rock art to fifty-six figures in Church Hole, one in Robin Hood Cave, and one in Mother Grundy's Parlour.

Our work centred on Church Hole Cave, making the most of the scaffolding installed for that purpose. The methodology of the study was that which we routinely employ in various caves; as mentioned above, taking a detailed look from the entrance to the back along the left wall, and then returning to the exterior along the right wall. Each of the incised elements was recorded on a plan of the cave, and physically with pieces of coloured tape to mark their location in the cavity. Later we began the systematic documentation of each of the panels. So far, we have identified a total of twelve decorated surfaces, five of them on the eastern (left) wall, and seven on the western (right) (Fig. 2.2).

Panel I

This surface is practically on the threshold of the cave, very close to the metal gate, at a height of 4.25 m above the present floor. In this zone we have identified the head of a bovid (probably aurochs, but believed to be natural by PP), facing left, which is 22 cm long by 7.5 cm wide (and a maximum between parallels of 22 cm). It has an orientation of 325° relative to the north, and a positive inclination of 57° west. Basically it seems to be a highly schematized head, but within it one can clearly distinguish the horn pointing forward, and a very elongated muzzle. It has a 'Creswell eye', and the artist also seems to have

used this technique to make the nostril. Behind the horn is the rounded ear, made with a broader incision than the rest. The dorsal line leaves from there. The groove is patinated and relatively broad (>0.8 mm) with a U-shaped section. In the area behind and above the head one can see a series of zigzag incisions with the same morphology as the zoomorphic figure, which form two clear angles.

Panel II

The second panel is also located on the left wall, about 10 m from the cave mouth, in a small niche that is 3.8 m above the present floor. The figure discovered here comprises an oval with a curved base that is 6.5 cm long by 3 cm wide with an orientation of 355° relative to the north and a positive inclination of 14° west. The groove is very superficial (<0.5 mm) with a V-shaped section, and is totally patinated. To the right of this ideomorph we have identified a series of unconnected lines.

Panel III

This is the discovery panel, which is located about 12 m from the cave mouth, and at a height of 3.7 m relative to the present floor. During our initial visit on 14 April we identified three figures here, which comprised what we thought were a large caprid and two birds. The identification and initial sketches of these three figures were based on photographs taken in something of a hurry, and for that reason they subsequently had to be revised and reinterpreted.

When we were at work on tracing this figure, we noticed the hiatus in the front of the caprid's horn and its slight inflection forwards. This fact, together with the general morphology of the head which did not conform to reality since its jaw is far more gracile than in a caprid, led us to consider the possibility that it was not a caprid but was actually a cervid, but this needed to be proved in situ.

During the Creswell conference, we carried out the work of checking the tracings of the various figures that we had studied, among which is found the one that concerns us here. Up to that time, we had always illuminated it from the left, since this brought out the incised lines of the head with maximum clarity. But when we lit the horn area with a weaker light from the right we discovered that it had the point of a tine projecting forward, and which we had not spotted before because of the existence of a natural crack. Consequently, we were not dealing with two horns drawn with single lines, but the front and back lines of a stag's antler. In the closing stages of the conference we presented this discovery which was endorsed during the visit that the conference participants made to the cave.

Scientific investigation does not follow strict rules, and is subject to revisions and rectifications. The ability to rectify and recognize errors is one of the pillars that allows progress in our discipline.

Figure 1

In the left-hand zone of this third panel, we identified a small incomplete depiction of a quadruped, possibly a young stag. It faces left, and the dimensions of this figure barely attain 9 cm in length by 12 cm in width, with an orientation of 20° relative to the north and a negative inclination of 49° east. The groove, totally patinated, has a fine U-shaped section, and its width and depth are less than 1 mm.

The clearest line is that of the chest and jaw, while the groove that corresponds to the head is now covered by a superficial flow of whitish calcite, shaped like a tiny banner. It is possible that the incision of the engraving served as a duct to the fluid loaded with calcite, and that, as time passed, the spelaeothem formed this way. The horn is depicted in simple perspective; it seems to be curved backwards, and is slightly covered by the calcite flow. The ear, located behind the horn, has the shape of an open ellipse, and the cervico-dorsal line starts in the middle part of this appendage, instead of from its base. The general appearance of this small figure is quite distinct from the large stag next to it, being much more synthetic and schematic.

Therefore, and bearing in mind that the figure in question is partially hidden, and that we only have the head and foreparts (protomos) depicted, we think that it is more prudent to classify it as a quadruped. However, because of the horn that curves back slightly, it may perhaps be a young stag, an animal which in general until the age of four only has a straight antler without tines.

Church Hole Cave
Fig. 2.3. Church Hole Panel III, the 'stag'

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