Rewriting the History Books: The
Magdalenian Art of Creswell Crags
Claire Fisher and Rob Dinnis
The text books say that there is no cave art in Britain. These will now have to be
rewritten…. There had been a psychological barrier to the existence of cave art in
Britain… but never a satisfactory explanation as to why there was none. (Jon Humble,
Inspector of Ancient Monuments, English Heritage, in an interview with John Pickrell
for National Geographic News)
In April 2003 Britain's first unequivocal Palaeolithic parietal art was discovered in Creswell Crags, a narrow limestone gorge located on the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire border in the English North Midlands. The announcement of its discovery was accompanied by a furore of media attention. Archaeological dogma had long maintained that no such art would be discovered in Britain, although, as Bahn (2003) has suggested, there was no good reason for such art not to exist. As Bahn highlighted, Britain has plenty of caves with evidence of Upper Palaeolithic occupation, plus examples of portable art from the period, including two figurative engravings attributed to Creswell Crags.
The Magdalenian era was the last time that Europe was unified 'in a real sense and on a grand scale' (Paul Pettitt, quoted in The Guardian, 15 April 2004) and the conference organizers realized that to fully appreciate and understand the Creswell art, it must be considered in its wider continental context. The conference in Creswell was conceived to bring together specialists from across Europe and to place the art of Creswell in its European setting. The conference was held at the Social Centre in Creswell from 15 to 17 April 2004, and was organized by the team who had discovered the art, along with Andrew Chamberlain of the University of Sheffield and Ian Wall of the Creswell Heritage Trust.