For the next few weeks I will be on placement at Creswell Crags. Creswell is a small museum and visitor centre on the site of a huge limestone gorge. This would be reason in itself for a visit, but Creswell is also famous for the number of Palaeolithic finds discovered in some of its caves, including hyena skulls from the last ice age and flint hand axes reflecting the human occupation of the site stretching from approximately 43-10,000 years ago. This even includes evidence pointing to an earlier period of Neanderthal occupation! The evidence left by early Homo sapiens all those years ago includes 13,000 year old engraved rock art figures of deer, birds, bison, and horse.
I’m pleased to be at Creswell as I have long harboured a keen interest in the Palaeolithic period; and am currently reading a great book by Daniel Lord Smail: ‘On deep history and the brain’ during my commute into Creswell. The little knowledge we have derived from archaeological remains allows much speculation and discussion about how early Homo sapiens lived. The finds discovered at Creswell help to add additional validity to the image we have of Palaeolithic life.
Early excavations at Creswell were carried out by William Boyd Dawkins, an early curator of Manchester Museum (who also tried to create a Victorian channel tunnel!) This, along with the fact that the purpose-built museum and visitor centre only opened at Creswell in 2009, helps to explain why Manchester has got many finds from Creswell as part of its collection. Other finds from Creswell can be found in many institutions such as the British Museum and even the Smithsonian in the US.
Thanks to the efforts of Rogan Jenkinson (previous curator at Creswell) the museum now holds an impressive collection of osteological remains from all across the animal kingdom. This comparative collection has its uses, but unfortunately there are too many examples of certain species that bear little or no relevance to Creswell crags (61 Chinese quail anyone?) The majority of my time over the next two weeks will involve assessing the usefulness, condition and relevance of objects in the collection and offer some recommendations about what should be kept, what should be offered to other institutions and what should definitely be disposed of. It’s a difficult task to ever get rid of material, but in this case the condition and relevance of some objects mean that its use at Creswell is limited. Many people, myself included, wouldn’t know about the scale of the collection at Creswell. But fortunately, once this review is over, the collection will be catalogued and made available online.
Creswell is a unique and spectacular place and I look forward to continuing my exploration of the site and collection in future weeks.