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www.cheddar-caving-club.org.uk April 2009 Volume 2 - No. 2



Meets List 2009

A proposed list of club trips for the year ahead


Exploring Lionel’s Hole: Chris Lank


Chris Lank’s experiences with Lionel’s Hole

Digging with J Rat: Robin Gray A tribute to one of Mendip’s great heroes


The A-Z: Rowan Norman

Steve and Sumpy’s master plan


Goughs Cave: Chris Castle

Its importance to man before the tourist trade

Committee Members President/Training Officer:


Chris Castle t: 01749 344 870 m: 0787 078 2701 e: chriscastle46@tiscali.co.uk

Robin Gray t: 01934 744 957 m: 0796 828 7961 e: robingrayartworks@yahoo.co.uk


Equipment Officer:

Chris Lank t: 01275 390 761 m: 0787 640 2180 e: ablw57@ukgateway.net

Steve Pointon t: 01934 744 824 m: 0788 058 7244 e: kazandsteve@aol.com

Membership Secretary:

Journal Editor:

Mark Whyte t: 01460 240 787 m: 0781 302 4728 e: markwhyte52@yahoo.com

Martin Lee t: 01373 455 145 m: 0777 851 3419 e: mxjxl@hotmail.com


Trip info & equipment hire:

Tricia Denning Kendall t: 01934 740 390 e: p.a.denning-kendall@bristol.ac.uk

Andy & Rachel Sparrow t: 01934 741 427 m: 0798 962 0540 e: andy@mendipnet.co.uk

Cover Photo: CCC trip to East Twin Swallet, Spar Pot Series


Club meetings will be held every third Sunday of the month at the Kings Head, Cheddar, either in the lounge bar or the functions room, starting at 8pm. All members are welcome.

The Meets List We aim to run three fixed-venue trips every month and typically these will include a fairly simple evening trip (about 2 hours), an intermediate trip (about 4 hours) and an off-Mendip trip (various durations). These trips are described in the meets list (overleaf) and each is assigned a leader or organiser.

Wednesday Nights

Club info

Club Meetings

There is usually a caving trip on a Wednesday night. Some of these are scheduled in the meets list but others are arranged at short notice between club members and then communicated by email to the rest of the club.

Equipment The following items are available to borrow from the equipment officer, Steve Pointon, in Cheddar: Oversuit x 3 (extra large, large and medium), Helmets x 7, Lights x 4, Belts x 8, Light Chargers x 2, Rope 13m x 1, Caving bag (large) x 1, Ladders x 2, Ladder Spreaders x 2, Krabs x 5, Slings x 3, SRT kit x 1, Drill x 1, Shetland Attack Pony (surveying tool) x 1, Boilers Suits x 4, Knee Pads x 3.

The Blackdown Caves Project The objective of the project is to extend and connect the group of caves on the western side of Burrington Combe. The project involves cave digging, surveying, aven climbing, squeeze pushing and hopefully the discovery of previously unknown passages.

The Website


The Club forum on ukcaving.com

We have a forum within ukcaving.com where we keep an online logbook and discuss various topics from the topical to the frivolous. This is a public access forum which can be read by anyone, we are able to moderate contributions to our own area. http://ukcaving.com/board/index.php/board,35.0.html

Google Groups

Google groups provides us with a private forum which can only be accessed by our own membership. We keep a log of the Blackdown Caves Project activities here and various other pages of interest. New members will be invited to join the group. 3

Meets List 2009

This list will be reissued throughout the year to include additional trips. For any queries regarding any of the trips, contact Club Secretary Chris Lank.


Wednesday 7th Digging Wednesday 14th Burrington Surveying - Andy S or other Sunday 18th Burrington Surveying - Andy S or other Wednesday 21st GB Cave - Rowan Sunday 25th Goatchurch Cavern - Brendan Wednesday 28th Burrington Surveying Andy S or other


Sunday 1st Burrington Surveying - Andy S or other Wednesday 4th Digging Wednesday 11th Bath Swallet Exploration - Chris L Sunday 15th Swildon’s Hole Short Round Trip - Chris L Wednesday 18th St Cuthbert’s Swallet - Chris C (Leader) Wednesday 25th Tyning’s Barrows Swallet - Chris L


Wednesday 4th Wigpool Mine - Andy S Sunday 8th Swildon’s Hole Upper Series - Ellie Wednesday 11th Digging Sunday 15th Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 2 - Chris L


Wednesday 18th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Sunday 22nd Rhino Rift (This may possibly be a ladder trip instead of the more usual SRT) Andy P Wednesday 25th Stoke Lane Slocker - Chris L


Wednesday 1st Digging Wednesday 8th Sidcot Swallet Photography Trip (Bring your “Fireflies” along) - Chris L Wednesday 15th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 22nd Bath Swallet/Rod’s Pot Through Trip Chris L Sunday 26th Ogof Draenen - Chris L Wednesday 29th Cuckoo Cleeves - Chris L


Wednesday 6th Digging Sunday 10th Goatchurch Cavern - Martin Wednesday 13th Burrington Combe Caves (Find as many of the 45 caves as possible) - Chris L Wednesday 20th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 27th Goatchurch Cavern - Ellie Saturday 30th Manor Farm Swallet - Robin & Barry


Wednesday 3rd Digging Wednesday 10th Great Oone Hole - Barry Sunday 14th Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 2 - Chris L Wednesday 17th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 24th Shatter Cave/Withyhill Cave/Hillier’s Cave - Chris L (Leader Chris Binding)


Wednesday 1st Digging Wednesday 8th Read’s Cavern - Chris L Sunday 12th Ogof Draenen - Chris L Wednesday 15th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 22nd Charterhouse Cave - Chris L (Leader Elaine Johnson) Wednesday 29th Swildon’s Hole to Sump 2 - Chris L


Wednesday 5th Digging Wednesday 12th St Cuthbert’s Swallet - Chris C (Leader) Wednesday 19th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 26th Lionel’s Hole Round Trip - Chris L


Wednesday 2nd Digging Saturday 5th GB Cave Photography Trip (Bring your “Fireflies” along) - Chris L

Wednesday 9th Brownes’ Hole - Chris L Wednesday 16th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 23rd Swildon’s Hole Upper Series - Ellie Sunday 27th Swildon’s Hole Short Round Trip - Chris L Wednesday 30th East Twin Swallet - Chris L


Sunday 4th Swildon’s Hole Upper Series - Brendan Wednesday 7th Digging Wednesday 14th Swildon’s Hole Oxbows - Chris L Wednesday 21st A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 28th Attborough Swallet - Rowan


Wednesday 4th Digging Wednesday 11th Eastwater Cavern - Chris L Wednesday 18th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 25th Swildon’s Hole to Sump 1 - Chris L


Wednesday 2nd Digging Wednesday 9th Pierre’s Pot - Chris L Wednesday 16th A-Z Trip - Rowan & Steve P Wednesday 23rd Goatchurch Cavern - Chris L Wednesday 30th Swildon’s Hole Upper Series - Chris L 5

Exploring Lionel’s Hole Words: Chris Lank


arly in 2008, I set myself a challenge to visit and successfully navigate myself around Lionel’s Hole. Various events conspired against me (broken finger and lack of free time) so it was not until early April that I finally managed to arrange my first trip.

I had heard that Lionel’s Hole was a difficult and unpleasant cave and this seemed to me to make it an ideal challenge in the development of my caving abilities. During my various trips I was always careful to ensure that I had reliable call-outs in place – this being especially important for the various solo trips I undertook. 6

Martin making his way across the traverse

Although it is sharp, tight, muddy and extremely arduous, it is nevertheless an interesting and varied cave, with a vertical range of about 125 feet. Route finding is challenging to say the least but the feeling of successfully undertaking the round trip is very satisfying. Having learned the round trip route, I plan to make further trips to investigate the numerous interesting holes along the route. After carefully studying the surveys and noting the various bedding planes within the cave, I also have a suspicion that more still remains to be found. Martin accompanied me on my first trip. Our plan for this initial trip was to locate and investigate the streamway. This was my introduction to the dubious pleasures of Duck 1 and Duck 2. The streamway is mostly a crawl along cobbles, with very limited opportunities to walk or even stand. Being of somewhat larger frame than me, Martin really suffered getting through Duck 2 and I fared only slightly better. We made good time getting along the stream way, so I pushed on towards Horrifice 2. This involved crawling along the single most muddy and unpleasant phreatic tube I have ever come across. Just before Horrifice 2, I came to a constriction that opened out into a small rift. This necessitated bending my body through 90-degrees and was extremely tough to pass through. Having done so, I found myself exhausted and unable/unwilling to go any further so I had to make the same horrible contortions in reverse before crawling out along the steam way. As I noted at the time in the log book, both of us were extremely glad to reach daylight again.

A few weeks later in April, I made the first of my solo trips. My plan for this trip was to try and get through the large boulder ruckle around the Labyrinth. This was definitely a character building exercise for me and if I am honest, I did not enjoy the loneliness. I did not know it at the time, but I managed to get as far as Junction Chamber. Being on my “lonesome”, my major worries were getting lost and over-committing myself (i.e. getting down a hole from which I could not climb out). Although it was a nerve-wracking trip, I was able to enjoy some of the fascinating (and sharp) fossils in the locality of the Labyrinth. It was not until late June when I made my next trip. This time, Sam DK accompanied me. We again targeted the boulder ruckle around the Labyrinth. As a precaution against getting lost, we laid a length of string along our route. This was retrieved while on the exit leg. We did find some deep areas that I had not previously explored, all of which closed down and ultimately led nowhere. We also accidently found several routes that led into the Traverse, which was interesting but slightly frustrating as we knew exactly where the traverse was located. As before, we made it as far as Junction Chamber without realising it. Early in July, I decided to go for broke and try the round trip on my own by putting together the routes from my previous trips. To reduce the problems navigating through the boulder ruckle, I decided to take the stream way first and hope that I could find a way through the boulder ruckle from the other side. If I could not, then I would have to retreat back along the stream way – this prospect being a strong motivation to find a way through the boulder ruckle. On the day in question, 7

there was a lot of percolation water in the stream way and a small stream was running. I had a good look for a few minutes before deciding that it was safe enough. Nevertheless, as I crawled along, I was desperately listening to the water and hoping that the water level did not suddenly rise as I would be in serious problems. Having made the strenuous crawl along the stream way and up Bishop’s Bypass, it was quite pleasing to find some larger passage in a rift where I could actually stand upright. After a short distance it closed down and I looked upwards to see some conveniently-located rope hanging down. After earlier discussions with Andy Sparrow, I had already ascertained where the likely route finding problem was likely to occur. I therefore climbed upwards into the inclined rift and found a way onwards that looked like it intercepted a boulder ruckle. This looked promising to me so I started laying own my length of string as I progressed. After a few wrong turns, I eventually found myself in something that looked a lot like Junction Chamber. I was cautiously pleased with myself but not being entirely trusting of my own abilities, I continued laying out the string and navigated my way through the Labyrinth boulder ruckle into Boulder Chamber near the entrance. At this point I allowed myself to be really pleased. However, I was brought down to earth when I remembered that I would have to go back past Junction Chamber and retrieve the string. Fortunately, I had some energy in reserve to do so. Having gone back to collect the length of string, I really felt that I had worked hard enough to earn my Lionel’s Hole spurs. Several weeks later, I decided to reinforce my most recent experience with another solo round trip – this time in reverse. 8

The idea for this was that it would help me to memorise the route. While it was certainly another physical trip, I found the route finding to be much easier with the whole trip taking about one hour (with no particular rush). However, I did have some “fun” getting through Duck 2 again. It seems to get smaller every time that I pay it a visit. This series of trips has enabled me to learn a number of key lessons: • When exploring, always looks backwards at key junctions and passages. More often than not, features look unfamiliar and very different in reverse. • Try and keep an idea of the direction that a passage is trending towards and also try to estimate the distance covered over the ground. This is not easy but practice does improve matters and it helps when trying to read surveys or locate one’s whereabouts. • When a way on can not be found, check every hole and passage, no matter how small and no matter how high. I took several trips to find the way out of Junction Chamber because I missed an unfeasibly small exit up high. • Finally, trust your instincts and don’t be put off just because something is unfamiliar or has a bad reputation. I certainly had some hard times in Lionel’s Hole when I was on my own and attempting to find a way on without getting lost. However, I persevered and my confidence grew, which enabled me to achieve my goal.

Main Pic: Towards Horrifice 2


Digging with J Rat S Words: Robin Gray

ue and I came to live on Mendip in 1978. It was a move we just had to make as we were caving in Mendip every weekend and we knew more Mendip cavers than anyone else.

Our first ‘home’ was in that dark and damp Nissan Hut that was the headquarters of the MNRC. We had been members for about five years and it seemed natural that as hut wardens, we should take up a brief residence while we looked for something slightly better. The fact that what we eventually bought, was rather worse is another story, but we ended up living at the MNRS for over a year. At that time our new friend and constant companion was Dave ‘Tuska’ Morrison. Tuska was a cave digger of immense enthusiasm and great optimism and soon we were digging most days, at Horse Shoe Hole. One Sunday afternoon we were hard at it and things were looking very promising. We had put in a hauling ramp and really needed some extra help to finish it off. Suddenly the daylight in the entrance section diminished and we noted two silhouetted figures at the mouth of the cave. Tuska looked up and smiled. He was quick to introduce them. 10

J Rat in Caine Hill dig Published by Shepton Mallet Caving Club


Cartoon: Robin Gray


Thinking that they would join in immediately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. ‘This is Tony Jarratt and that’s Trevor Hughes said Tuska. I offered my hand and Tony took it almost graciously with a huge smile. ‘Good to meet you dear fellow’ he said as he rocked gently backwards and forwards. Then he just closed his eyes and fell back into the long grass. His legs rose and fell back once, and that was how he stayed till we finished digging. It wasn’t long after that that I fell under the spell of J-Rat. He was a caver who inspired everyone to probe deep into the hill. Just trying to count the number of digs I’ve been on with him seems an impossible task. So I shall merely recall some of the memories of digging with J-Rat. Stock Hill Mine Cave brings back many treasured recollections. It was every Sunday afternoon that we drove the short distance from the Hunters to the shaft. It was located behind the Forrest cottages and disguised every time we finished digging until a winch went in. Half way down the shaft a filled phreatic tube, just larger than man size zoomed off and it wasn’t long before we were well on our way into the hill. I remember taking some of the superb sand fill to point my newly converted stable studio. Every Sunday was the same Tony, Trevor Hughes and me, plus occasional assorted mates digging out the fill. It was easy going but full to the roof. After some time we encountered a large steeply descending passage and in an urge to go deeper we cleared what turned out to be a significant pitch! Sadly in our efforts to go deep we failed to notice a tiny tube completely filled with mud that we had cut through. The water that flowed between the rock tube and the clay filling was barely

noticeable but after just one week, we were surprised to find a deep pool at the bottom of our pitch. Next week it was deeper and on the third week it reached the top and was flooding back up our newly cleared tube. Pumping proved useless so reluctantly we capped the shaft and covered it over for someone else to work on later. Another dig that I will always look back on with enormous admiration for the organisers was the attack on Sump 2 in St. Cuthberts. This was indeed a massive effort and involved running old fireman’s hose from a hydrovane compressor on the surface, all the way to the sump. The pressure in the pipe fed the pumps at the sump and water was pumped behind dams in the stream way. Climbing over the joins was quite character building because we were all well aware of the possible consequences if a pipe should come adrift. Once when the pipes came off the Hydrovane, Martin Grass’s brand new Sierra Cosworth was written off by the flailing pipe. It was an amazing thing to see; the end of the hose like a demon elephant waving madly about and seemingly aiming at the car and missing several other cars parked nearby. It was indeed a brave man who turned off the machine. In the sump we had encountered a pitch; quite a long pitch, and I well remember that last day of the dig lying alongside J-rat as we dug in black lead tailings towards a steady drip above us. While this was going on the dams were reaching overflow state and we were desperate to break through, but frightened because the constant drip suggested we might break into the bottom of a flooded section beyond. At last we felt the water running back into the section we were in and 13

reluctantly had to call it a day. Later several of ‘we toughies’ brought out the pumps which was much harder than digging. Snablet, Tom Chapman, John Chew and myself would take it in turn, one each side, to run with the pump until it became too heavy and we had to put it down again. It was certainly a grand effort and one which is not likely to be attempted again. Another great digging trip that I recall was to the far end of what remains one of the most difficult trips in the country: West End series in East Water. The series had recently been discovered by Keith Gladman and Andy Lolly: both BEC members. I am so glad that J-rat was on that trip, otherwise I might still be there. We were at the top of one of the shafts and I was in a difficult predicament. If I breathed in, I stuck fast, and if I breathed out, I slipped back. There were no hand holds and Tim Large who had made the climb successfully in front was able to offer no assistance as he was in a very confined space. Just as I was running out of steam, I felt a foot hold beneath my foot and soon had my hands on something to pull on. Strangely the foot hold seemed to move up with me and I was surprised to discover later that the foot hold was in fact J-rat’s head. ‘No trouble dear boy’ said he, as I sweated through the next few less troublesome thrutches. It is typical that J-rat made no mention of my incompetence in his caving log. (note that all J-rats log books are available on the Web at MCRA logbooks.) This trip was on 18/8/84.

Tony Jarratt Photo: Nick Williams


Another dig that went the day I couldn’t be there was White Pit. Many of us had dug there for months and the cave just kept on yielding up its

secrets. Just past Forty Backs, the pond once thought to be a sump, but which eventually became a dry pitch into a lower section, was a continuing passage that was filled to the roof. The digging wasn’t easy and it took a lot of will power to keep going. Sometimes the air wasn’t much good either. Tony eventually broke through into the amazing and humorously christened St. Alectite’s. (Typical J-rat humour) Was it a chamber, a pitch or an aven? It was certainly a wonderful discovery and one which provides a sporting take off onto the ladder pitch: the lucky caver having to turn round and back out through a man sized hole and onto the first rung of the ladder directly below. There was always something to try and there was always Tony’s tremendous enthusiasm and great optimism to keep us coming back; in fact several new members of the BEC, who were proposed by Tony, had no idea that you could just visit a cave for a look. Snake Pit, Five Buddles, the nearby Mine shaft, all yielded depth and length to our inspirational leader. Several times we nearly lost him under rock falls. He was struck by Lightning twice! But if drilling and banging was required, he was your man.

Sunday or perhaps Monday, (J-rat would be digging every Monday, Wednesday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon. More when he could.) he would put in a charge and every Wednesday evening we would clear the debris. Great fun and it went on for weeks. The dig at Hunters Lodge Inn Sink went on for some time and the fabulous cave discovered, stays as a lasting tribute to J-rats leadership. J-rat was very much a man of the Hill: a caver’s Caver. He would always enter into the club challenges with enthusiasm and his typical fancy dress which was always hilarious and relevant to the occasion. He lived up to the BEC motto, ‘everything to excess’ and possibly this is what led to his early demise, but it is true to say that he lived his life to the full and enjoyed it immensely. He has been and will continue to be an inspiration to young Mendip cavers and to the caving world in general. I miss him as do his hundreds of friends. There is an empty chair in Hunters which will take a long time for somebody else to fill.

My last dig with J-rat was one of his most inspired. After several weeks of no caving due to Foot and Mouth it was obvious that a certain Mendip explorer was about to go apeshit. Roger Dors came up with a possible answer, saying one evening that water seemed to be running away in the back car park. Within just a few days a deep shaft had been dug and a small gap was seen to be taking the water. Every

Shuv Hapenny at the Hunters


The A to Z Words: Sumpy aka Rowan

There is an organized club A to Z trip every third Wednesday of the month and Steve P and Sumpy are usually doing an A to Z trip on any Wednesday that there is no official club trip organized.

Sumpy on the Bishop’s Chair, Banwell Stalactite Cave



o Steve P and Sumpy were sitting in the pub talking about which cave to do next week and were rattling off all the caves they had done when they suddenly remembered that fine publication ‘Mendip Underground a Caver’s Guide’.

They started to look through the hundreds of caves mentioned within its pages and very soon realized that both of them had barely scratched the surface. So the plan was hatched, why don’t they try to visit every single cave in the book. The big ones, the little ones (smallest so far a staggering length of three metres), the boring ones, the well visited ones and the caves that are harder to get access to. So in late January 2008 it all started. We kicked off by visiting “Attborough Swallet” which is a very muddy and sandy cave but great fun, a big rabbit warren of passages and abandoned digs. Well worth a visit. Steve P and Sumpy have been going now nearly every week (except when there is a pre-organised club trip or a digging trip) for the last twelve months and have just started all the C’s.

Top: T  he team near Crook’s Peak (Compton Bishop) Above: Anonymous caver in Denny’s Hole


Tricia in Conning Tower Cave

Sumpy in Burrington Combe

So far they have been down 56 of the 200 caves in the book and have found, one “Bleadon Cavern” which the land owner is denying all access to. They have also discovered so far that five caves are blocked and the entrance needs digging again, these are Beryl Swallet, Biddlecombe Swallet, Blake’s Farm Swallet, Hopeful Hole and Reynolds Rift. Although we are sure there will plenty more like that to come. There has been two caves that everybody on the trip have been too big to get down, the first was Simonds Mine (where even Dani G tried) and the second was Arachnid Rift, where Martin got award-winningly stuck! There is an organized club A to Z trip every third Wednesday of the month and Steve P and Sumpy are usually doing an A to Z trip on any Wednesday that there is no official club trip organized. Anybody is welcome to join them on any of the trips just give them an e-mail to find more info. To check the progress of the A to Z trips you can look at “The Master Plan A to Z” page on the Google groups found here:

Steve emerging from Foxes Hole



Below is a list of caves visited so far. A list with dates visited, locations and difficulty ratings can be found at the google groups web page address opposite. For more details and grid references refer to the book Mendip Underground. A


Arachnid Rift Ashwick Grove Attborough Swallet Avelines Hole Axbridge Ochre Cavern

Downhead Swallet Drunkard’s Hole



Badger Hole Balch Cave Beryl Swallet Banwell Bone Cave Banwell Stalactite Cave Biddlecombe Rift Cave Biddlecombe Swallet (Blocked) Bishops Lot Blake’s Farm Swallet (Blocked) Blackmore Swallet Bleadon Cavern (Access denied by landowner) Bone Hole Bottle Head Slocker Bowery Corner Swallet Box Cave Brownes Grotto Brownes Hole

Fox Holes Foxes Hole



Chelms Combe Quarry Cave Compton Martin Ochre Mine Conning Tower Cave Coopers Hole Coral Cave Cuckoo Cleeves

Reynolds Rift (Blocked from entrance chamber) Rhinoceros Hole


Elephant’s Hole


Goatchurch Cavern H

Halloween Rift Hazlenut Swallet Hopeful Too Hyena Den L

Lizard Hole P

Pride Evan’s Hole


Simonds Mine

Rowan and Dani in Banwell Stalactite Cave


Gough’s Cave

Its importance to man before the tourist trade Words: Chris Castle


ll of you know of Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge: the resurgence for a large part of Mendip, a Showcave for the last 110 years, home of The Great Hairy Ring SRT training route and Lloyd Hall, the diving base for a major river cave. You may also know that it is an important archaeological site. Cheddar Man was buried here 9000 years ago and before that, somewhere between 14,000 and 12,000 years ago,


it was used by Stone Age hunters to process their prey, which was very likely to have included their fellow humans. But more archaeology has been found there than is commonly known about, including art, and it is this that I would like to discuss. Much of the following article is based on the dissertation I wrote for my BA in Archaeological Studies which I recently completed at the University of Bristol.

To most British people cave art conjures up images of the famous Palaeolithic paintings in such French caves as Lascaux in the Dordogne or Pêch Merle in the Lot.

Lascaux: The Bulls’ Chamber

There are hundreds more examples, all over the world. Why, one may ask, is cave art not found in Britain, especially as Britain was joined to the Continent at the time? The answer is that cave art is found in Britain – not as dramatic as those just mentioned, and there are no paintings; but there are engravings, both on the walls (parietal art) and on objects (portable art). The only uncontested examples of parietal art are at Creswell Crags, a small gorge in an outcrop of limestone at Creswell near Worksop on the Nottinghamshire/ Derbyshire border.

Creswell Crags. Photo: Chris Castle 2007

The gorge contains a number of small phreatic remnant caves a few of which have animal and other engravings discovered in 2003 by British and Spanish archaeologists. The reason these engravings are undisputed is because a direct date was obtained from calcite overlaying an engraving by measuring the ratio of two isotopes of uranium from which a quite accurate date can be obtained. This is called Uranium Series Dating and the explanation of how it works is highly technical and beyond my knowledge – I accept the peer-reviewed work of the specialists in that field, but the basis of the technique is easily available on the Web for those who are interested. The date obtained was about 13,000 years Before Present, which is, of course, the date of the calcite; the engraving is older by an unknown number of years. This discovery stimulated a search for cave art in the Mendips and in 2003 a possible engraving of a mammoth was found in our very own Gough’s Cave, in an alcove on the left just before the Fonts. It remains very controversial, with, as so often in archaeology, complete disagreement between experts in that particular field. The problem is it cannot be dated. There is no overlying calcite. Because of this I will not discuss it further. What interested me was portable art: decorated objects of antler and bone. Before I discuss these objects we need to consider what we mean by art. I gave this a lot of thought when preparing my dissertation and consulted Robin Gray and a couple of other people in the art world. They agreed with Robin that art is any adornment or alteration to a surface or object that is not utilitarian, even if the object is. Although much of the art appears badly executed and crude to us it is still art. 21

There are many objects found in Gough’s Cave that have series of etched lines in what appear to be notations. These include the three bâtons percés which are short lengths of reindeer antler with holes carefully bored through them. Like the other objects, their function can only be guessed at but they certainly had a function as the holes are worn from soft material being repeatedly drawn through them. Perhaps they were used as arrowstraighteners or thong-stroppers (which would make an interesting folk song!). The lines engraved on to them are examples of rapidly and apparently careless work, and theories about their meaning include a means of improving grip (not art) or some sign indicating the owner or owners (art).

Bâton Percé found in 1927. Photo of the original in the British Museum by Chris Castle 2006.

Of more interest (in this context) are two objects with lines or notches carefully engraved which were made with some degree of planning. These are illustrated by photography and drawing because photographs cannot show all the detail, so archaeological artefacts are always drawn with great care – not a job for me, but fortunately that is Nicky’s forté and she did that for me. One is on a hare tibia with groups of notches along the three edges. 22

The original hare tibia in the British Museum. Photo: Chris Castle

Drawing of the tibia by Nicky Dennis.

The amateur archaeologist E.K. Tratman, writing in the 70s, thought it was a calculator but this is unlikely as it is difficult to envisage what Palaeolithic people would need a calculator for. A tally perhaps, to keep count of arrowheads, kills, skins, anything. This is much more likely. Another theory was that of an American archaeologist called Marshack who claimed to have found lunar calendars on objects from the Continent. I tried his method on the tibia and after several attempts got a fair match. The trouble is there are so many combinations that such a match is likely, but to be possible an exact match

is needed. It’s a bit like ley-lines, keep looking and you’ll find what you want. I’m not convinced that hunter-gatherers would need a lunar calendar; they could easily observe the phases of the moon over a month. We need to remember that they would be far more observant than us and have good memories for such things. Their livelihoods depended on them and they probably had no writing. I say probably as the notations could be considered writing, but not a lunar calendar.

There are many more engraved objects, such as fragments of an ivory rod and a stone. All of this suggests that the Cave was more than a workshop for processing hunted horses and Red Deer, it had some deeper use where perhaps ritual was practiced. It is a bit unfashionable to use the word “ritual” in archaeology now and is referred to as “the R word” because it has been overused to explain anything not easily understood, but I think it is relevant in this case. Another point to consider is that cannibalism was almost certainly Another object is a piece of rib bone practiced in or near the Cave – this with a complex series of notations, cross- theory is now generally accepted for hatchings and other lines. The lines are reasons I’ll come to in a moment. too worn to count accurately, but it is an It is interesting to describe these enigmatic object and is due for detailed artefacts, but the most important examination by workers at the British question is, what were they used Museum, where it is kept. I suspect it for? For my dissertation I suggested may turn out to be the most important that they were exchange gifts, gifts artefact found in Gough’s Cave. that were exchanged many times and possibly the notations recorded each transaction event and other detail impossible to understand. The population was very scattered at this time, with bands of hunter-gatherers, each band probably consisting of an extended family. These bands needed contact with each other to exchange wedding partners and news. I believe they knew the importance of avoiding in-breeding just as much as they The original rib in the British museum. understood the importance of all Photo: Chris Castle manner of things, understanding they gained from observation and memory, skills greatly attenuated in modern western society. They formalised these meetings with solemn gift exchanges, probably using gifts that had no intrinsic value, before getting down to the business of bartering. There are many examples of formal gift exchange recorded from historical times, although most have disappeared under modern pressures. One of the best known was Drawing of the rib by Nicky Dennis the Potlatch, an exchange system used 23

by Native Americans from the northwest of the States and British Columbia until the late nineteenth century. I used another example: the Kula exchange system of Melanesia, which still survives. This is used by a scattered maritime population, but I applied it to a scattered land-based population. The Kula was used by my tutor for his PhD and applied to southern Scandinavia in the Mesolithic Period, not that this influenced my choice for Gough’s Cave, of course. This idea, I must stress, is one suggestion that fits many of the known facts – I am certainly not claiming that such an exchange system definitely existed. All of this discussion suggests that Gough’s Cave was important to people of the Late Upper Palaeolithic. Many other cave sites had evidence of animal processing; such as the caves of Creswell Crags, and King Arthur’s Cave, near the River Wye in south Herefordshire, but objects similar to those discovered in Gough’s Cave have not been found in them. We cannot discount the fact that finds were missed by crude excavation techniques, but some excavations in recent years have been to the highest standard where everything is recorded and kept. And what has been lost from Gough’s Cave? I suspect a great wealth of important material.

published, around 14,000 years BP, and cover a much smaller time period with the inference that Gough’s was only used for around 200 years. One implication of the revised dates is that the butchered animal and human bones found near the Skeleton Pit in the 1980s were exactly contemporary and the assemblage was a midden. This makes the possibility of cannibalism far more likely.

Cuts marks on a human skull, the result of de-fleshing. Cheddar Caves Museum. Photo: Chris Castle 2006

If this work is accepted, a major re-think will be needed, but as I said, it has not been published and strictly speaking I should not be writing this.

Assuming this to be true for the sake of argument, why should this be so? The cave was an excellent site for a There are a few more comments to workshop, a major landscape feature make about Gough’s Cave which I did and had become important. Well, I have not include in my dissertation as work a theory and it concerns Cheddar Man. has not yet been published or the comments were not strictly relevant. One He, as you all must surely know, was a male with a nasty jaw abscess who died concerns the dating. New radiocarbon and was buried in the cave around 9000 dates have been obtained for bone and years ago in the Mesolithic Period. A lot antler by Dr Roger Jacobi, well known of rubbish has been written about him to many Mendip cavers, using the latest techniques which purifies the sample far since he was found in 1903 but I won’t go into that. I think it is likely that the more than was previously possible and people at this time used Gough’s Cave as gives more accurate results. He told me that the dates are earlier than previously a cemetery because they did exactly that 24

at Aveline’s Hole in Burrington Combe more or less at the same time. A lot of skeletons were found there in 1797, but most of the material has been lost since then, mostly due to the Luftwaffe. In Gough’s the post-Palaeolithic layers were cleaned out sometime in the Iron Age for reasons unknown, possibly including all the Mesolithic skeletons except Cheddar Man, who survived because he was hidden away in his alcove. We know this because hardly any Neolithic material has been found, nothing from the Bronze Age but various objects of the Iron Age, Roman and later periods. So, let us assume for the moment that the cave was used as a cemetery. A secluded site would be needed, perhaps somewhere that needed to be dug into. Aveline’s had been sealed and was perhaps opened for each interment. Gough’s would not, I suggest, have been wide open as it had been in the Upper Palaeolithic but partially or totally blocked, and here we come to the nub of my theory: the cliff above collapsed sometime during this period and it became unusable as a processing site. This cannot be proven, but there is some slight evidence in a brief report made by UBSS in 1954 when the talus slope was removed. The sketches show very large boulders among the debris. Gough’s Cave is famous as a tourist attraction and famous among cavers as an important resurgence and a river cave with big sumps, but I believe that if only its archaeological potential had been recognised by the Victorians, or it had not been excavated until much later when so much archaeology would not have been trashed, it would be internationally famous as an archaeological site, on a par with Lascaux.

The next edition of the journal is planned for publication this autumn (2009). We are always very grateful for material our members provide for inclusion. If you have any Cheddar Caving Club related articles, pictures or information you would like to submit, please contact the journal editor/ designer - Martin Lee. e: mxjxl@hotmail.com m: 07778 513419 Happy Caving!


The Gallery

The photographs below were taken over the last year or so by various members of the club. Submit your pics for future issues to: mxjxl@hotmail.com

Andy and Rachel make their way to, and around, Ogof Draenen


Chris at Sump 1, Swildon’s Hole

Chris Entering Mud Sump, Swildon’s Hole

New Members about to enter Pierre’s Pot

Rowan in Sidcot Swallet

The Scottish Excursion

Cheryl, Anna and Keith in Pierre’s Pot

Chris, Tricia, Sam & Mark in Water Wheel

Sam’s Silhouette, Aveline’s Hole

Chris H, Spar Pot Series, East Twin Swallet

Rachel escapes Rhino Rift


Š Cheddar Caving Club No part of this journal to be reproduced without the permission of Cheddar Caving Club

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Cheddar Caving Club 10th anniversary bash at the Kings Head, Cheddar, Summer 2008

Profile for Martin Lee

Cheddar Caving Club Journal - Vol 2 No.2 - April 2009  

A Journal highlighting the recent activities of Cheddar Caving Club. Featuring a wide range of articles and photographs by club members. Als...

Cheddar Caving Club Journal - Vol 2 No.2 - April 2009  

A Journal highlighting the recent activities of Cheddar Caving Club. Featuring a wide range of articles and photographs by club members. Als...

Profile for martinlee