The internationally famous artist, perhaps best known in the UK for creating The Angel of the North at Gateshead, and Another Place on Crosby Beach, visited Creswell Crags, near Worksop, on Friday, to see the Ice Age cave art in Church Hole Cave. He was accompanied by Dr. Paul Bahn, who discovered the prehistoric art, which is over 12,000 years old and the only verified example of Ice Age cave art in the UK.  

Sir Antony toured Church Hole, and then visited the site’s largest limestone cave, Robin Hood Cave, where he ventured to the depths of the rocky tunnel to see the early modern Witch Marks, first identified in 2019 as marks carved to ward off evil, a further example of humans leaving their mark in the caves. He was even able to witness the Stone Age skill of flintknapping, with archaeologist and craftsman James Dilley, who ran a workshop at the site on Friday.  In addition, he visited the on-site museum which exhibits artefacts found on site, including the Ochre Horse – believed to be the oldest coloured drawing ever found in the UK and on loan from the British Museum. 

Of his visit, Sir Antony said, “At Creswell Crags with its rugged limestone cliffs and a sense of a forgotten world we are immediately embraced by the environment in which our ancestors and Neanderthal cousins thrived. Here is a precious place where early humans and animals observed each other. In the caves the first artists left signs of how much they loved and respected the animals on which they depended. These caves are rare places that call on us to dream, imagine and reflect on our place in time and amongst all living things. Anyone interested in landscape, art and human origins cannot fail to be moved by the gorge and the secrets it holds.” 

A group of people outside a cave entrance

Visiting Church Hole Cave. L to R: Elle Clifford, Sir Antony Gormley, Dr Paul Bahn, Dr Tim Caulton (Chair of Creswell Heritage Trust), Paul Baker (Executive Director of Creswell Heritage Trust).

The visit comes at the end of a very difficult time for Creswell Heritage Trust, the registered charity which runs Creswell Crags as a museum and heritage visitor attraction: 95% of the site’s income is from visitors and it was forced to close between March and August due to COVID-19 precautions, only able to reopen in August with emergency funding from Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund£250,000 Boost to Creswell Crags from National Lottery Heritage Fund. The financial future is still far from secure, with hopes resting on further funding from the government, via Arts Council England. Sir Antony’s visit was a great boost for the team, and a reminder of the internationally significant heritage of Creswell Crags.  

Dr. Tim Caulton, Chair of Creswell Heritage Trust, who toured the caves with Sir Antony, said: “It was a huge privilege to welcome Sir Antony to Creswell Crags to view the most northerly Ice Age cave art in Europe, discovered by Dr Paul Bahn who was on hand to interpret his findings. In 2019, Sir Antony made a brilliant BBC documentary How Art Began: the engraved drawings at Creswell complement the complex story that unfolded, revealing our ancestors’ motivations to leave their mark on the landscape. Creswell Crags is not only the home to the UK’s only prehistoric cave art, but it is also the setting for some of the UK’s best-known later artworks, by George Stubbs and Hieronymus Grimm in the eighteenth century. The site continues to inspire artists and host art installations to this day, such as 2019’s Entirely hollow aside from the dark by AlanJames Burns. Sir Antony’s long-awaited visit to see our inspirational site made perfect sense, since he is one of the most renowned artists working today.” 

Two men look at the ceiling in a cave

Dr Paul Bahn illuminates the Ice Age Rock Art for Sir Antony Gormley in Church Hole Cave

The first month of reopening since lockdown has also seen a site visit from Bolsover MP, Mark Fletcher, and Creswell Crags featured in an essay by Sheffield musician and songwriter, Jarvis Cocker, published online via the WeTransfer platform, as well as new private cave tours which are nearly sold out, with visitors returning to enjoy the open spaces and connection to the distant past. Sir Antony’s visit cements the reputation of Creswell Crags as an inspirational place, of importance to the whole of the British Isles, and to international understanding of humanity, and creativity.  

A group of men talking

Sir Antony Gormley (left) and Dr Paul Bahn discuss ancient flintknapping techniques with archaeologist James Dilley (right)

A man wearing a headtorch looks into a cave

Sir Antony Gormley in Robin Hood Cave