RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 42 Number 2 Article 6
November 2005

Haverbrack Dog Hole

I first found Haverbrack Dog Hole whilst Jacq and I were following a walk in Eric Holland's Book in about 1976. I'd read about the 23 skeletons and artefacts found there but was unable to get past a grill over the entrance shaft. Years later, Lionel Rice told me that his friend had been talking to him about a cave with a grill that he had come across whilst exercising his dogs. He said there was an access hole in the grill and with a ladder we would get in easily.

It was one evening in May 2004 we went up there and were soon down the 20 ft. inclined shaft and into a chamber, where apparently the finds were made. We agreed it was more like a large passage than a chamber and might repay a bit of work.

Sometime afterwards, I called at Kendal Library to try to discover more information on this cave. The girl in charge soon supplied me with Jackson's 1914 Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological Society's Transactions. I found that this hole was only excavated for 13 ft and, although they found many animal bones and a piece of Medieval pottery, they gave up as there seemed little hope of anything else. In 1956, Milnthorpe Boy Scout Group started a project led by Benson and Bland, two scouts who were about to go to university to study archaeology and thought this was a good place to start. Their article was published in the above transaction in 1957 and they had done an excellent job which included a fine survey.

Lionel and I went back to Dog Holes later that month. First we went down a continuation of the entrance shaft which was protected by 15 feet of corrugated iron and scaffolding poles to where it was blocked by a winch drum complete with wire!! jammed across the shaft. As we had also run out of ladder, we left. This drum had not been mentioned in any of the articles we had read. Later we returned with a 60 ft ladder and Li managed to squeeze past it to a phreatic tube blocked with cobbles at a depth of 50 ft, 15 ft more than was shown on the scout survey. We then went to the end of the main chamber and had a dig at the right hand side of a split rift. It was blocked with rocks and the most glutinous pink clay I've ever dug. It just wouldn't come off the shovel!! Li said it was a waste of time and moved to the left hand side. Here he pulled out a tyre with a crushed bucket underneath it. He then came to general fill. Suddenly he said "You'll like this", and handed me a wolf's jawbone about 8 in. long with two 2 in fangs... "and there's more" he shouted. I looked over his shoulder to see a full skeleton!!

"Hold on," I said "we'd better do some research into this before we go any further", and we left.

I researched both Kendal and Lancaster, where they had the Roman jewellery that had been found at the sight, but no bones. Andrew Walsh and I went to an archaeological seminar held in Arnside some time later and met all the county archaeologists from around the bay. They too knew nothing about the Dog Hole bones but I spoke to Susan Stallibrass from English Heritage who advised to get in touch with Hannah O'Reagan at John Moores University in Liverpool, and I discovered she also was looking for the missing bones for carbon dating and tracked them down to the scout Don Benson, now working in Edinburgh. He had stored them since 1957, four boxes full, and was pleased to find some one interested.

On getting in touch with her and telling her of our recent find she said they had been to the cave 12 months previously and found nothing of any consequence, but asked if we would like to show her the exact spot in the cave. I explained we had been warned off by the county archaeologist, who turned out to be a colleague of hers and so a key was duly obtained from Dallam Towers Estate. Wow, a legal trip!!

It finally came off on August 1st, Li and I met Dave and Hannah O'Reagan and picked up the key holder Richard Newman {county archaeologist} at Milnthorpe and off we went. They had been down a couple of years before and were amazed at the difference in the cave. {ha ha.} The entrance shaft then had finished at 20 ft, it now went to 30 ft to a winchdrum jammed halfway down. Li and Richard squeezed past this another 20 ft into the phreatic passage blocked by clean washed rocks heading down at 50 degrees. Unfortunately there is no place to stack the rocks, so the only way is to take them up and out. The archaeologist kicked that into touch by pointing out a horizontal level of bones in the wall including a protruding human skull!!

The bones that Li and I had found in the main chamber were now being logged and measured by Hannah and Dave. We were disappointed to find our wolfs jawbone was of a boar. Hannah was disappointed with some of the bones, as they were "light" with an absence off collagen which makes carbon dating difficult, but as there were so many she felt she would get a reasonable result.

This hole poses many questions... What are the origins of all the bones? They span from 400AD for the human bones to 800AD for the animal bones with 1066 for the red deer antlers found. Were there settlements near by? Was it a burial site later used as a tip? Were the remains washed in during a flood?

Perhaps this latest excavation with the removal of some of the bones for carbon dating will give us some answers.

Jim Newton

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