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Tue, 10 January 2023

Researching The Crypt, part 1

The Crypt 

The Crypt is a small cave or rock shelter located on the Nottinghamshire side of Creswell Crags gorge. The gorge contains more than twenty caves and rock shelters, which have been subject to numerous excavations since the 1870s. However, The Crypt was only discovered and excavated relatively recently. 

The Discovery 

Beginning in 2006, Professor Paul Pettitt led excavations of a spoil heap, created when the Victorian excavators dug out Church Hole. During these investigations, The Crypt was discovered in 2007. It had been almost completely filled with sediment, and by 2008 the roof was revealed to a length of 2m Pettitt et al. (2008).   

Researching The Crypt 

Excavations revealed that The Crypt contained mostly Ice Age archaeological and palaeontological deposits, with some younger material. Digging was thus carried out carefully until 2012. Initial finds reported by Pettitt et al. (2008) included flint artefacts (Late Magdalenian Cheddar point and blades), alongside animals such as wild horse and reindeer. 

I was first introduced to The Crypt when I undertook the MSc in Quaternary Science at Royal Holloway University of London. It formed my dissertation project, under the supervision of Professor Danielle Schreve. My dissertation focused on identifying the specimens from within and outside of The Crypt. While some large specimens were found (notably a mandible of a reindeer), most specimens were small mammals, including voles (water, bank, narrow-skulled and northern), collared and Norway lemmings, and steppe pikas (Jones, 2013). 

The samples studied for my dissertation constituted only a portion of those excavated. Many bags of unsorted sediments reside in the Collections Store here at Creswell Crags. Excitingly, we recently received funding from Museum Development East Midlands to enable me to work on this material. 

What does this work involve? 

 - First, the sediment is sorted, with items of interest picked and placed into tubes and petri dishes. These items include bones, teeth, shell and charcoal. Due to the tiny size of most of these items, this is done using a microscope and tweezers. 

 - Once the items have been sorted, the faunal remains are identified. For small mammals, the teeth are the most diagnostic.  

 - The identified items are placed into tubes, which are labelled with information such as the species, the element (e.g. lower incisor, first upper molar), and the stratigraphic provenance (e.g. spit, square or context). 

  Petri dish containing stones and bones.  Person at microscope holding tweezers, and sorting bones and stones on a petri dish  Petri dish with teeth

Keep an eye on our social media for updates to the project. Researching The Crypt, part 2 will be written later in the year. 


Jones, A.K. (2013) The Mammalian Assemblages of The Crypt, Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire. Unpublished MSc Dissertation. Royal Holloway University of London. 

Pettitt, P.B., Jacobi, R.M., Chamberlain, A., Pike, A.W.G., Schreve, D., Wall, I., Dinnis, R. and Wragg-Sykes, R. (2009) ‘Excavations outside Church Hole, Creswell Crags: the first three seasons (2006-8)’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire, 113, pp. 35-53. 

By Dr Angharad Jones (Curator)