December 1999

Dear Jane,

I have spent the most interesting few weeks working with archaeologists in a cave called Pin Hole at Creswell Crags. Its nothing like I expected.The TV programmes make excavations seem so quick but there we were for weeks digging, making notes and drawing.

Much of the cave had already been explored, most of it by an archaeologist called Leslie Armstrong in the 1920's and 1930's. He had done a good job for his day but left many questions unanswered. We started where he left off, looking at a cut through the depth of the deposits nearly four metres high. This section looked quite daunting as you could see many changes in colour which could be significant but they did not extend in nice horizontal layers like you see in text books. They were horribly complicated, dipping, rising, thinning out and disappearing in ways it was tricky to follow. How would we sort all this out and understand it?

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  • Discovering clues about the Ice Age

  • Tiring work

  • Identifying when the cave was used

  • Post excavation work begins

With best wishes,

PS: I have enclosed some useful articles on various techniques, hope you find them useful.

Stone Tools

Studying stone tools is an important area of research. It is our most direct link to Ice Age people. Stone tools are quite often the only artefacts that have survived.

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  • Using Tools

  • Activity in a cave

  • Types of Sites

  • Cultural groups


Animal Bones

Animal bones found on archaeological sites can provide an enormous range of information. Explore this bone to discover what animal remains may be tell us about the Ice Age.

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  • Environment and Environmental change

  • Hunting and butchery

  • Animal Bones


Evidence from Plants

Information about the plants which grew at a site in the past can help to build up a picture about the climate, the soil conditions around a site, and provide some clues about the range of animals who were likely to have lived in that environment.

One of the main techniques used to understand about plants is the study of their pollen. Pollen is released by the male part of flowers and can survive in the ground for thousands of years. It is carried by wind, insects or animals to the female parts of other flowers.

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  • Identification

  • Cave pollen

  • Vegetation Change


Cave Sediments

Study of sediments which have built up in a cave, will help you understand what the conditions in the cave were like when they formed.

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  • Flowstone

  • Breccia

  • Red Sand and Clay

  • White Sand


Dating Techniques

How old is it? Archaeologists use various methods to date the sites and objects which they find. These can be grouped together and distinguished as relative and absolute methods of dating.

Relative dating simply allows the archaeologist to say one thing is older than another. This is usually done by placing it in a particular period such as the Lower Palaeolithic which is the oldest part of the Old Stone Age, the Devensian or Last Ice Age, oxygen isotope stage 3, or pollen zone II. These periods and the ways in which they relate have been worked out by careful study of the archaeological, geological, climatic and biological evidence. Estimates of how long these periods might have lasted can be made, but it is not possible to say exactly how old they might be unless scientific techniques can be used to provide absolute age estimates.

Absolute dating is based on the use of scientific methods to measure the age of a material in years. These techniques include: thermoluminescence (TL) which can be applied to burnt flint and pottery; Uranium series (U series) which can be used to date flowstone and so is useful for dating different levels within a cave and electron spin resonance (ESR) which can be used on teeth and bones. However, the most successful and widely applied technique is that of radiocarbon dating. Most of these methods, particularly radiocarbon, have been used at Creswell Crags.

This letter was composed in 2001. It is based on documents and publications from excavations carried out in the late 20th century.

Exploring objects