Dove Holes is an Incredible Place!

It’s good to get out into the landscape and get a sense of where exactly Buxton Museum’s artefacts have come from. Some of the staff braved the winter weather last Friday to visit local Stone Age monument The Bull Ring, where flint tools have been discovered. The plucky adventurers were accompanied by experimental archaeologist and expert flintknapper James Dilley.

Dove Holes is a village just over three miles away from Buxton. Despite being a quiet and unassuming place that most people just drive through to get to somewhere else, it has a rich heritage. Apart from the henge known as The Bull Ring, the local quarry has yielded remains of some remarkable prehistoric animals such as the mastodon and the scimitar-toothed cat. The remnants of these dentally-challenged creatures are an insight into how different the Peak District must have been thousands of years ago although the snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures made it easier to imagine an ice age!

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photo by Laura Waters

The Bull Ring is clearly sign-posted about halfway along the main road but its location seems at odds with the patchwork arrangement of the village. The circular earthwork has had a fight for survival over the centuries. Apparently, the stones from the henge were removed and used on the Peak Forest Tramway in the late 1700s. Developments in the 19th century caused further damage and until recently, the annual village bonfire was held here. In terms of history, The Bull Ring is as vital as the other famous local stone circle, Arbor Low, but it has not been quite so lucky. Arbor Low still sits majestic and mysterious, largely undisturbed and surrounded by the rugged landscape of the Peak District. Fortunately, both monuments are protected these days and are free for visitors to speculate on their exact purpose and meaning. It is interesting to note that both henges are accompanied by burial mounds. The barrows lend weight to the sense of ancient significance.

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Dove Holes 15,000 years BC

You can visit The Bull Ring for yourself. The closest part of Buxton is Fairfield where I have already explored a wealth of history, including the barrow known as Fairfield Low or Skeleton Wood or even Skelebob Wood so you could include this on the same tour but the land is private so seek permission from the adjacent farm first.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reopens on May 1st 2017 and the brand new Wonders of the Peak gallery will feature artefacts found in Dove Holes. Like us, you may come to think of the village as the home of The Bull Ring and the scimitar-toothed cat.

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Pictures in the Landscape returns

This week, as well as being the Derbyshire schools half-term holiday, the Discovery Days festival is being celebrated across the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. When we were asked to join in, we wanted to find a way to use the museum collections in a different setting.  We don’t have many objects that relate to the mills themselves but we do have some wonderful images of the local area.

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Cromford, taken from the Bridge. Watercolour by William Day, 1789.

 

Cromford has been attracting visitors since the 1700s, when artists came to paint the landscape and tourists came to admire the industrial innovations taking place at the mills. The images in the museum collection span the period from then until the 20th century, with the landscape reproduced in paintings, drawings, engravings and photographs.

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Engraving, published by Rock and Co, 1852

This is also a revival of a project that first took place in Dovedale in 2010 as part of the Derbyshire Literature Festival. This time round, we found 16 images of Cromford to reproduce and they have been hung along the short section of the canal from Cromford Wharf to Leawood Pumphouse, a route which is easily accessible and much used by local residents, day visitors and tourists.

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Pictures in the Landscape: Cromford, 22-30 October 2016

We hope everyone will enjoy seeing some historic views of Cromford along the canal during Discovery Days – and, if they haven’t been before, take the opportunity to visit Cromford Mills and High Peak Junction at either end to make it a real day of discovery.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery would like to thank our friends at Derbyshire Countryside Service, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and Cromford Mills for their help with all our Discovery Days events.

The Oldest Building in Buxton

What is the oldest building in Buxton? And where is it?

The Old Hall Hotel might spring to mind. Parts of the building date at least as far back as 1573. Others might suggest St Anne’s Church – an inscribed date on the porch reads ‘1625’, but other sections of the church are understood to be much older.

And what did the Romans do for us? We know they were drawn here by the natural hot and cold springs. Their baths, temple, fort and houses are buried beneath the foundations of contemporary Buxton.

But to find the site of the oldest building in Buxton we need to follow the River Wye south-west. Stroll through the Pavilion Gardens and along the Serpentine Walks to a patch of raised ground by a 20th century housing estate. Welcome to Lismore Fields.

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The entrance to the Serpentine Walks, 2016

The area around Lismore Fields, 2016

Lismore Fields, looking north, 2016

In the 1980s archaeologists excavated this site anticipating the presence of a Roman Road. Instead they discovered evidence for some of the oldest structures in Derbyshire.

Three buildings were discovered dating from around 6,000 years ago, during the Early Neolithic, but it isn’t known if they were used at exactly the same time. The buildings were rectangular and supported by posts. We can’t be sure what they looked like but it’s likely they had walls of mud plaster and heather-thatched roofs.

The people who lived here at that time were some of the earliest farmers in Derbyshire. Analysis of pottery found at the site suggested various contents including milk, animal fats and vegetable matter – the diet of those raising domesticated plants and animals.

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The Neolithic farmers of Lismore Fields can claim the title of ‘Oldest Building in Buxton’. But the site also produced stone tools and debris associated  dated to the Mesolithic, or ‘Middle Stone Age’, a time before farming was practiced in Britain. These highly mobile people lit fires and backfilled their rubbish into pits at their camp, but there’s no hard evidence of any built structures. The ‘Oldest Campsite in Buxton’ perhaps?

 

 

Making faces

This week two of the human skulls at Buxton Museum were scanned to see if these faces from the past can be reconstructed. This will help us tell their story in the new Wonders of the Peak gallery. One skull is of a young person found at Fin Cop Iron Age hillfort, dating from around 300 BCE. The second skull belongs to a man buried around 2000 years earlier at Liffs Low.

The scanning was carried out by Mark Roughley and Dr. Eilidh Ferguson from Face Lab Research Group at Liverpool John Moores University and it was absolutely fascinating watching them work.

Mark and Eilidh make an initial assessment of the material.

Mark and Eilidh make an initial assessment of the material.

The research group at Face Lab provides expertise in analysing the bones of the skull and face. They use it to identify bodies in forensic investigation, and to make archaeological images of historical figures. Mark has a background in medical illustration and Eilidh in forensic anthropology and they were able to explain brilliantly what they were doing and why, and what we could learn about people from looking at their skulls.

First the bones were inspected to see which parts needed to be scanned. Some of the remains were fragmented, but Eilidh could identify whether they were relevant and she helped us identify some unknown parts.

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Eilidh identifying some of the fragments as parts of the hand.

For example, some of the fragments stored with the skull were actually parts of the hand, so we re-labelled their packaging accordingly. Mark and Eilidh then set to work – Mark scanning each part in turn and Eilidh carefully photographing them for later reference back in the lab.

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The Artec Space Spider hand-held scanner looked rather like a steam iron!

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The image above shows Mark scanning and Eilidh working at our photography area in the Project Space watched by Collections Assistant Dave and volunteer Cynthia.

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An image was built up as Mark moved the scanner back and forth round the skull.

The scanning was done in our public Project Space, so visitors could see what was going on and we could explain about the project.

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Eilidh photographs the Liffs Low skull.

The Fin Cop skull is relatively complete and has not yet been on display. The Liffs Low skull is part of a complete skeleton which has been displayed in a reconstructed burial. Using a hand held scanner meant it was disturbed as little as possible. We’re hoping there’s enough of this skull to make a reconstruction, but it is quite fragmented with some of the key central part of the face missing. Mark and Eilidh will put all the pieces together digitally to create a more complete image of the skull and hopefully visitors to the new gallery will be able to meet these early Peak District people face to face!

Peak District Cave Lions!

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This amazing Cave Lion foot is part of Jackson’s collection of animal bones from Hindlow near Buxton. We recently decanted it from its ‘Bone hole’ on the gallery where it lay along with other Hindlow remains of bison, horse, mammoth and wolf. Up close, it’s much more obvious what a large animal the Cave Lion was, much larger than present day lions.  Going for a walk would be very different if these creatures still roamed the Peak District!

Painting of lions at Chauvet Cavern, Southern France (museum replica). Wikimedia Commons

 

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Part of the Cave Lion material in store.

Most of the Hindlow material is held in store because there is just too much of it to display. One of our expert volunteers Bente Loudon is working her way through assessing the material but previous research by Danielle Schreve (1997) on the Hindlow bones identified the presence of at least two lions. The bones include most of a right hind leg and may be the most complete articulated lion remains from the Pleistocene era. Along with the lions were the remains of at least three horses and four animals identified as cattle or bison. Gnaw marks on the bones and the variety of animals led suggests that the cave was a den for lions preying on horses and bovids (cattle/bison).

Also in the cave were the remains of another large, wild bovine, an aurochs. This led Schreve to suggest the bones were laid down in a warmer interglacial period when aurochs were here, rather than a cold stage, and this might explain the very large size of the lions and horses.

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Representation of the now extinct aurochs. (Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.)

We’ve really enjoyed sharing the objects with our visitors close up and our Artists in Residence @KidologyArts have been taking inspiration from the Cave Lion too!

What Ewe Looking At?

Gazing down upon the Boyd Dawkins study at Buxton Museum with glassy-eyed indifference are two sheep heads.  You can be forgiven for missing them; the room is crammed with a bewildering variety of objects and the sheep heads are mounted high on the wall. Despite their inconspicuous position, the two dismembered ewes are actually local heroes.

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Sheep are not an uncommon sight in the Peak District. The national park has an association with sheep farming that dates back to medieval times. These two specimens earned distinction in 1830 when they were sold by their owner in Hope Valley to a farmer in Kent. It seems that they did not care a great deal for their new surroundings and decided to walk back to Derbyshire. Sheep are not well known for their decision-making skills but this couple were from a hardy breed called Penistone Ewes, bred to survive on the bleak moors of the Peak. Perhaps it was a call to their natural environment that spurred their return? We can only speculate.

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As a reward for their loyalty, the audacious duo were allowed to live the rest of their natural lives back home where they enjoyed a degree of fame. When the sheep died, their owner had their heads mounted and displayed for many years in Hope parish church and then, of course, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Next time you are passing, perhaps you can spare a few minutes to pop in and ponder their miraculous journey? Their tale is an obscure local legend. Infact, despite working at the museum for nearly twenty years, I can only recall two visitors who asked about the sheep that decided to walk from Kent to Derbyshire. Hopefully, this blog will permit them a little more recognition.

Thanks to the staff at the Derbyshire Record Office for their assistance.

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Lava in the landscape

Lava in the landscape

Some geology additions to the Buxton collections show volcanic events in the making of the local geology and gave a great excuse (as if one was needed!) to get out and explore to see where they came from. Some of the new specimens came from Cressbrook Dale, a dramatic limestone dale near Litton dominated at the top end by the imposing Peter’s Stone. At various times there’s been volcanic activity at a number of centres in the White Peak, which include Tunstead, Matlock, Alport and Eyam Edge. Not necessarily large volcanoes, these could have been areas of vents and fissures under the shallow sea that covered the area at the time, and from which lava flowed or material was ejected to produce falls of ash. This led to layers or intrusions of lava flow and tuff inside the limestone.

In Cressbrook Dale these outcrop where the rocks have been worn away.

Cressbrook Dale

The picture above shows the North end of Cressbrook Dale and another feature of limestone dales – the seasonal river produced by our recent heavy rains!

Standing above the valley on a cold, damp, windy January day, it takes a real leap of imagination to picture the area as it was over 300 million years ago – not here, but thousands of miles away near the equator, covered with a warm shallow sea. Could it have looked like this …?

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Cressbrook Dale lava.

Cressbrook Dale lava.

Tuff is formed from volcanic ash blown out of vents, eventually settling on the sea bed.  There’s evidence that the Litton Tuff was the result of at least two volcanic vents, one west of Tideswell and another under Bleaklow, which probably erupted repeatedly to build up a layer of material.

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Litton Tuff from Cressbrook Dale.

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Tuff from Peter Dale Vent with limestone fragment.

At Cressbrook Dale the tuff layer forms a ‘wayboard’ separated by a depth of limestone from a lower layer of lava. The picture below shows such a wayboard in Ecton Copper Mine, where the ash appears as a soft clay.

The horizontal ledge shows the sea floor at the time with 'wayboard' of volcanic ash above.

The horizontal ledge shows the sea floor at the time with ‘wayboard’ of volcanic ash above.

Reference:

Hunter J. & Shaw R. 2011 The Cressbrook Dale Lava and Litton Tuff between Longstone and Hucklow Edges, Derbyshire. Mercian Geologist 17(4); 229-242.