The Historical Background to the Discovery
of Cave Art at Creswell Crags
Paul G. Bahn
BRITISH CAVE ART
On 14 April 2003, we made the first discovery of Palaeolithic cave art in Britain. Since portable art of the period had long been known in this country (Sieveking 1972; Campbell 1977: vol. 2, figs. 102, 105, 143), it had always seemed probable that parietal art must also have existed. It was fairly obvious that paintings were unlikely to be discovered—barring the finding of a totally unknown cave or a new chamber within a known cave—since paintings tend to be quite visible, and somebody (whether owner, speleologist, or tourist) would probably have reported them by now. Engravings, in contrast, can be extraordinarily difficult to see without a practised eye, oblique lighting, and, often, a great deal of luck. Such was the purpose of our initial survey and, sure enough, we rapidly encountered engraved marks in a number of caves, which we will be investigating more fully and systematically in the near future. At the well-known sites of Creswell Crags, on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border, we found both figurative and non-figurative engravings of the period.
This was third time lucky for British cave art, following two false alarms. In the first, in 1912 the abbé Henri Breuil and W. J. Sollas claimed that ten wide red parallel horizontal painted stripes under calcite in the Welsh coastal cave of Bacon Hole (east of Paviland) were 'the first example in Great Britain of prehistoric cave painting' (see The Times, 14 Oct. 1912, p. 10; Sollas 1924: 530–1; Garrod 1926: 70; Grigson 1957:43–4); but Breuil later stated (1952: 25)
I am most grateful to Brian Chambers, Andrew Chamberlain, Nigel Larkin and Gillian
Varndell for help with the documentation for this article, and to Carole Watkin for the source
of Gascoyne's phrase.