Upon discovery of the Creswell cave art in April 2003, and a systematic survey and study of known images in June of the same year, it was believed on several grounds that the art was clearly of Pleistocene antiquity (Pettitt 2003). The reasoning was as follows:
• The sharp line and bright colour of engraved graffiti dating to the 1940s stand in clear contrast to the eroded and dulled nature of the genuine art. Clearly, on the grounds of weathering the art is not a modern forgery.
• In several places, thin flowstone crusts clearly overlay engravings, demonstrating a degree of antiquity for the art.
• The location of almost all of the art at heights considerably above the reach of an adult's arm span, given the current level of the floor in Church Hole Cave, indicates that if the engravings were made after 1876 (when the sediments were excavated down to their current levels) a ladder would have been necessary. While this cannot be ruled out, it would imply considerable effort in forging the art, certainly to avoid drawing attention to the perpetrator.
• Several images bear clear resemblances to known Upper Palaeolithic art, particularly that of the Magdalenian, both in terms of style and subject matter. By contrast, none of the art can be said to have Holocene parallels, that is, if it were Mesolithic or later, it would be unique. On the grounds of
A variant of this paper first appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Science. We are grateful to Creswell Heritage Trust for their kind assistance in providing access into the caves at Creswell Crags, to Jon Humble and Alex Bayliss of English Heritage for facilitating the scientific study of the Creswell art, and to the staff at the NERC U-series Facility at the Open University.
parsimony it seems that the closest estimate of antiquity therefore was Pleistocene.
• At least one of the images (the large bovid) represents a species known to be extinct in Europe, either since the seventeenth century (if identified as Bos primigenius) or the Late Pleistocene (if Bison priscus).
The discovery team were therefore conWdent from the Wrst that genuine Upper Palaeolithic cave art had been discovered. This having been said, a critical reason for the 'Creswell Art in European Context' conference was to expose the art to the scrutiny of international experts in Palaeolithic archaeology and rock art, and the clear consensus of the conference delegates was that the art is genuine. The most appropriate period is that of the Creswellian, which can be dated relatively tightly in the UK to the 13th millennium (uncal) bp (see Jacobi, this volume), that is, contemporary with stylistically similar cave art of the continental Late Magdalenian. One cannot rule out that the art is older, although given the scarcity of human occupation of the UK in the Aurignacian and Gravettian, the lack of convincing stylistic parallels for the Creswell art on sites of these periods on the continent, and the relative abundance of Creswellian occupation in the UK, it was felt that the art was very likely to be of Late Magdalenian age (see Pettitt, this volume for a discussion on terminology).
This having been said, the need for independent verification of these archaeologically and stylistically based arguments was clear. With the support of English Heritage, a programme of dating of the flowstones which clearly overlay some of the engravings was carried out, with the aim of establishing a terminus ante quem for the art. The project has been successful in doing so for three separate images and, given this, we feel it is highly likely that all of the identified art is of similar, pre-Holocene, antiquity.
Was this article helpful?