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.

Re-discovering Some Derbyshire History in the Museum Stores

By Heather Miles

As a recent graduate, caught in the vacuum between finishing a BA and jumping into the black hole that is Postgraduate Study, I have found myself temporarily sheltered in the relative calm of Buxton Museum. By playing the part of a volunteer, I seem to have tricked them into unknowingly giving me refuge, and I have spent this past August blissfully recording archaeological finds in a quiet office.

My project has been to update the digital records of small finds and pottery from a series of archaeological digs around Carsington and Hognaston, Derbyshire, in the 1980s. This is no small task, as I have unboxed over 700 finds lying in storage unrecorded and anonymous. Many objects sit unidentified in dusty Ziploc bags, sadly a life shared with much of our nation’s archaeological record – not all finds can be as revered as the Sutton Hoo helmet or Richard III’s skeleton.

An unassuming cardboard box, sat in storage for over a decade, contains 22 bags of cremated human remains.

An unassuming cardboard box, sat in storage for over a decade, contains 22 bags of cremated human remains.

Fortunately for me, this absence of information has created a great learning opportunity. In order to record what is in front of me, I have had no choice but to learn fast how to identify pottery wares, animal and human bone, flint objects, and metallic ores, as well as how to best preserve them when items are in need of repackaging or protection (for example, old cardboard boxes can be rather acidic). As I delve deeper into the collection and begin to understand more about our local past, more and more exciting objects are appearing before me.

One of my favourite finds so far is a leaf-shaped flint arrowhead from Hognaston Reservoir. This type of arrow is typical of the Neolithic era (4000 – 2000 BCE), a form produced for its aesthetics over the more practical barbed triangle you might tend to associate with an ‘arrow’. This particular example is of great quality, a delicate and regular shape that would have required an artisan’s skills. Because it is quite thin, and there isn’t any visible wear, it is possible that it was created purely for ceremonial purpose and was likely never used.

A leaf-shaped flint arrowhead, Neolithic era.

A leaf-shaped flint arrowhead, Neolithic era.

Apart from the occasional small find, though, there is an abundance of pottery. Locally produced Derbyshire ware fills bags in vast quantities, sometimes with over 200 sherds in one bag. It has its own rough beauty, varying from brick red to deep purple or black, with a distinctive coarse surface covered in quartz and stony grit.

Other less commonly found types of pottery give evidence of a rich Roman trade with the rest of Britain and the continent. Multiple types of Gaulish wares are present, as well as colour-coated wares from Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. One piece of colour-coated ware in particular bears an enduring mark of humanity, a clear fingerprint pressed into a Roman box-lid from the 3rd century AD. Other sherds display intricate decorations, some made by rolling a patterned stamp across the surface, some carefully etched in using a point by hand.

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A fingerprint on a Roman box-lid, 3rd century.

 

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Four sherds of pottery showing different decorative patterns.

I feel excited to be re-discovering artefacts that give insight on all aspects of life: eating habits, organised craft production, burial, trade and commerce, and even military presence. People have settled in Derbyshire throughout the ages, and all have left their permanent impression on the landscape – and eventually, in Buxton Museum’s store rooms.