The caves of Creswell Crags have yielded deposits rich in palaeontological and archaeological finds. These have been collected through numerous excavations from the middle of the 19th century until July of this year.

In a recent video we showcased the trowel and trousers held in the collections here at Creswell Crags. They belonged to (Albert) Leslie Armstrong, who excavated a number of the crags’ caves during the 1920s and 30s.

But who was Leslie Armstrong?

Armstrong was apparently an important figure of his time, being a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He was also vice-president of the Anthropology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Although his work maintained a palaeontological and archaeological focus, his discoveries ranged in age from the Palaeolithic to the Roman period.

What did he discover at Creswell Crags?

Armstrong excavated Mother Grundy’s Parlour, Pin Hole, Boat House Cave and Yew Tree Rock Shelter.

In Mother Grundy’s Parlour he found stone tools alongside remains of spotted hyaena, cave lion, woolly rhinoceros, woolly mammoth, reindeer, and horse. This assemblage of species is typical of the last glacial (cold) period in Britain.

The above items were uncovered despite difficult working conditions. At the time, a road ran through the gorge, necessitating that the excavation site be filled daily to secure the site. This meant that 1.5 tonnes of sediment had to be removed and replaced each day!

 

 

 

 

 

Images: spotted hyaena lower jaw that Armstrong excavated from Pin Hole, bone gnawed (likely by hyaenas) that Armstrong excavated from Pin Hole.

Difficult conditions pervaded in other sites. Armstrong described the excavation of Boat House Cave as ‘arduous and baffling’. Digging through 6 ft of sediment, including a great deal of stiff red clay, he reached concrete, rather than natural cave deposits. Explosives were ultimately employed to break up the concrete.

In addition to palaeontological and archaeological discoveries, Armstrong even collected flies from Pin Hole. Thomas Petch used these flies to discover new information about species of fungi found on them.

Where else did he work?

The geographical scope of Armstrong’s work was vast. Near to Creswell Crags, he excavated Whaley Rock Shelter. In addition to spotted hyaena and reindeer, the excavation yielded Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman artefacts. He also investigated the development of flint mining methods in Grime’s Graves, Norfolk.

Slightly further afield, he excavated the banks of the Zambezi river in Zimbabwe, uncovering a variety of stone tool types.

The importance of Armstrong’s work

Overall, we have reason to be grateful to Armstrong and his colleagues. His work uncovered a great number of specimens, which have been important in understanding the past environmental conditions at Creswell Crags. His finds were displayed in exhibitions during the 1930s, indicating public interest in his work. The exhibitions were displayed in the high-profile locations of the British Museum, Manchester Museum and at the Institute of Archaeology in London.

Armstrong’s work held further importance, to the long-term condition of Creswell Crags. Along with his colleagues, he was instrumental in Pin Hole and Mother Grundy’s Parlour being listed as Ancient Monuments (now Scheduled Monuments), thus providing a degree of protection.

References

Armstrong, A.L. 1925 ‘Excavations of Mother Grundy’s Parlour, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire, 1924’, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 55, pp.146-175.

Armstrong, A.L. 1935 ‘Evolution of flint mining at Grime’s Graves, Norfolk’, Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp.423.

Armstrong, A.L. 1936 ‘Fourteenth interim report of committee appointed to co-operate with a committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute in the exploration of caves in the Derbyshire district’, Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp.307-308.

Armstrong, A.L. 1936 ‘The antiquity of man in Africa as demonstrated at the Victoria Falls’, Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp.386-387.

Armstrong, A.L. 1937 ‘Fifteenth interim report of committee appointed to co-operate with a committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute in the exploration of caves in the Derbyshire district’, Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp.300-301.

Armstrong, A.L. 1938 ‘Sixteenth interim report of committee appointed to co-operate with a committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute in the exploration of caves in the Derbyshire district’, Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp.343-344.

Petch, T. 1934 ‘Report on fungi occurring on flies collected in the Pin Hole Cave’, Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp.255-256.