Victoria Cave was discovered by chance in 1837 and since then has been completely excavated. Within the cave’s thick clay deposits, scientists found an amazing record of climate change in the Dales over thousands of years.
Victorian excavators were particularly fascinated by ‘bone caves’ where there might be a possibility of finding evidence for the earliest humans along with long extinct animals. Victoria Cave certainly had plenty of animal bones. The earliest, at 130,000 years old, included those of hippos, narrow-nosed rhino, elephants and spotted hyenas. They date to an Upper Pleistocene interglacial when the climate was much warmer than today. It seems as if at that time, the hyenas were using the cave as a den and dragging scavenged bones back to it. No evidence was found for human activity during this period.
The glaciers then returned and from 120,000 to around 12,000 years ago the cave gradually filled with layer upon layer of clay deposited as the glaciers periodically melted.
After the last Ice Age the cave was used by hibernating brown bear. In amongst the animal bones of reindeer was an 11,000 year old antler harpoon point, the first evidence for people in the Yorkshire Dales.
For archaeologists, the Roman layers were even more interesting. Here a collection of unusual bronze and bone artefacts were found, including brooches and coins. The unusual nature of some of the finds has led archaeologists to believe that the cave was being used as more than just a storage place or shelter for craft workers. It may even have been some sort of shrine.
Dearne, Martin J & Lord, Thomas C (1998) The Romano-British Archaeology of Victoria Cave, Settle. Oxford: BAR British Series 273
King, Alan (1970) Early Pennine Settlement. Clapham:Dalesman
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