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Sheltering Memory: The Prehistoric Use of Limestone Features in the Forest of Bowland

Rick Peterson

The project will investigate the evidence for human activity in prehistory preserved in caves, rock-shelters and swallow-holes in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The particular area of interest is evidence for later prehistoric (Mesolithic- Iron Age) mortuary ritual in caves and rockshelters. The limestone geology of the area is restricted to a number of small reefs on the south-east side of the AONB. The intention is to map, record and sample all the potential sites within three study areas within the limestone reefs. These study areas will be centred upon Whitewell, Slaidburn and Gisburn Forest. Preliminary research has already begun on the Whitewell study area with the co-operation of Mr John Alpe of New Laund Farm and the intention is to spend three field seasons exploring and characterising the archaeological remains in this area.

Site visits, inspection of aerial photographs and the Lancashire HER have established 17 possible locations within the Whitewell study area. More intensive walkover survey will be used to map and record potential sites on a more systematic basis and also to record the locations of post-medieval limestone extraction. Brook et. al. (1994, 260-2) record two further systems in the locality, Dinkling Green Mine Cave and Whitewell Pot, which are highly unlikely to have been open in prehistory. All the other sites will be investigated through at least sample excavation to characterise the surviving archaeology and its distribution.

The potential sites include:

A small (c. 2 m wide and 1 m high) west-facing rock arch currently visible in the tributary stream valley immediately to the south of New Laund Farm (figure 1).

Fairy Hole Cave – excavated in 1946 (Musson 1947). All the surviving deposits appear to have been removed at this date and the only recorded finds were a few chert blades, sherds of pottery identified as Early Bronze Age urn and animal bones (Musson 1947, 166).

A medium sized (c. 8 m long) east facing rock shelter above the track to Tunstall Ing Farm.

A complex of swallow holes which may have a buried outlet at a nearby limestone outcrop (figure 2).

Whitmore Pot – a shakehole leading into 27 m long cave system (Brook et. al. 1994, 262) and mapped caves and pot holes at the southern edge of Whitmore Knot. At least some of these may have been truncated by historical limestone extraction.

Brook, D., Griffiths, J., Long, M. and Ryder, P. 1994. Northern Caves: Volume 3 – the Three Counties System and the North-West. Skipton: Dalesman Publishing.

Musson, R.C. 1947. A Bronze Age cave site in the Little Bolland area of Lancashire. Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society 59, 161-70.