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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8 Things we Learnt from our Pop up Museum

Whilst Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is closed for refurbishment, the staff have taken the opportunity to do something unusual. Equipped with a rather swanky gazebo and an assortment of artefacts, we have braved the single-figure temperatures and taken our “pop-up museum” out into the landscape. You may have seen us around. Our aim is to tell people a bit about the history of the Peak District and the Collections in the Landscape project. We try to draw attention to the fact that this part of the world was inhabited by brachiopods, mastodons and Romans and how its story can be told through objects. The education worked both ways and we actually learnt a few things ourselves:

Plesiosaurs are reptiles, not dinosaurs

The Peak District was not a land mass at the time of the dinosaurs but there is a piece of fossilised Plesiosaur from Dorset in Buxton Museum’s collection. However, as one clever young man was quick to point out, although these creatures flourished during the Jurassic era, they are classified as reptilian. We knew that – honest!

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There were underground toilets on Buxton Market Place

Many people are interested in how the landscape has changed within their own lifetime. When we popped-up at the Buxton market, we exhibited a few old photographs and residents were reminded of the subterranean water closet that can be seen in this 1929 photograph by J.R. Board. More conveniences were situated at the bottom of The Slopes. Apparently, they were both filled in and tarmacked over in the 1970s.

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Collections Assistant Laura Waters made a couple of observations whilst running the pop-up museum:

Keep it real

I noticed pretty quickly that people weren’t interested in replicas – so when I went with Gordon to Dovedale in half term and I had the replica coins, as soon as people realised they weren’t real they weren’t bothered about them at all: they only wanted to see and handle real stuff.

Look with your fingers

Also people really love just being able to touch things – so parents will come up telling their kids ‘do not touch anything’ or adults will come up really sheepishly assuming you can only look at things and then be amazed to discover that you can handle it all. It’s great to see how happy it makes people being able to actually get hands on with historic objects which isn’t something you get to do very often.

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Events Coordinator Gordon MacLellan, aka Creeping Toad also had some revelations:

Any excuse to talk but we need to listen

Objects are good starting points, but people want to talk as much as listen to us, so we need to be ready to listen to their stories of things found, treasures lost and wonders to be discovered

Connections to immediate environment

Our handling collection largely comes from the Peak District and it helps a lot to have a good sense of just where objects have come from and to be able to talk about those sites. But where objects have come from this immediate location that generates even more reaction; or again being able to talk about artefacts found here is really good for getting people talking and looking beyond the walls of our pop-up museum; being specific helps.

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Have something to do: Mix standing and chatting with an activity

We have drawn huge pictures on long rolls of paper, made boxes to keep personal treasures in, given out clipboards and invited people to go drawings; keep everything active -not everyone will participate but the opportunity is valued

Enjoy the opportunity

Relax, let go of worries about other work not being done and just enjoy meeting people and sharing these fascinating artefacts….

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Keep an eye on our website for more events. If you spot our pop-up museum when you’re out and about, come and say hello and tell us something we don’t know!

Evidence for a top predator of the past

This week Museum Manager, Ros Westwood looks at early evidence for some terrifying local fauna!

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Sabre-toothed cat and mastodon diaroma at Buxton Museum

Last week there was another amazing natural history programme on BBC, following lions in the drought torn Kalahari Desert in Botswana tracking equally emaciated elephants. Nature is grim in both tooth and claw, and everything needs to eat. No, I did not watch it – in programmes like this I always want the targeted ‘dinner’ to survive, and prefer not see the blood and gore of the kill, but I know it cannot be so, but it did make me think.

You see, that same tale was being lived out 1.9 million years ago in a local landscape, in fact not four miles north of Buxton near the village of Dove Holes. I can’t comment about the weather at the time – but I suggest the area was more like a savannah grass land, with less rain than we are familiar with.

But the events that occurred were similar, even if the protagonists may have been a little different – sabre tooth cats rather than African lions and mastodons not elephants. It may not have been so hot and parched, but the evidence of the Victory Quarry assemblage suggests the story of cats as top predators seeking the easiest prey.

How do we know this? Museums are places of story and memory, and this story goes back to 1901 when young Master Hick (we do not know his first name) was assisting his father at the quarry. When the dust from the charges settled, the boy found a collection of bones and teeth among the scatter of rocks. He brought these to the local museum which was then at Buxton Town Hall. The curator Mr Hill called on Professor Boyd Dawkins at Manchester Museum to help identify them.

With this evidence, Boyd Dawkins could explain that the plains of this ancient landscape were home to hyena, mastodon (adult and juvenile), mammoth, rhino, horse and deer but the lead carnivore was the sabre tooth cat.  After much consideration, Boyd Dawkins identified a piece of tibia and two teeth as belonging to as Homotherium sainzelli Amyard. Further research in recent years by Dr Ross Barnett at the University of Durham has reattributed this recommending it should now be recognised as H. crenatidens.

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Tibia of a Sabre-toothed Cat found at Dove Holes.

Boyd Dawkins declared these to be “the very oldest collection of remains of animals from caves which have been met with in the whole world”.  This claim continues to have relevance, with Dr Barnett asserting in 2010 that it currently represents the earliest appearance of Homotherium in the British Isles. Although Boyd Dawkins described this as Pliocene, the age has been revised and is now considered as Early Pleistocene, but to the museum visitor that is still a very, very long time ago.

The bones are on display at Buxton Museum and the teeth are at Manchester Museum.   As part of collections in the Landscape we are investigating the possibility of establishing a better date for the assemblage by examining the dentition of the baby mastodon molars.

The Victory Quarry site is now owned by Derbyshire County Council and is managed as a fishing lake, but beware, the ghosts of the sabre-toothed cats may still prowl around the rocks.