Dog Hole

Originally, in 1912, Wilfred Jackson, a Barrow archaeologist, started an exploratory dig in the limestone pavement near Milnthorpe. He gave up at 15 feet, due to difficulty of excavation of large rocks and little real finds.

In 1956, the hole was rediscovered by 2 Milnthorpe boy scouts, Don Benson and Keith Bland. They were preparing to read Archaeology at Cambridge University and thought the site ideal for field experience. Basically, the scout group removed the rocks and broke through into a 20 foot long by 10 foot wide chamber with a large number of red deer antlers on the floor. This excavation went on for 2 years, in which time were found the skeletons of 14 different types of animals, 23 human skeletons of various ages, bronze bangles and rings, an iron axe head, brooches, and glass and jet beads. The work of assessing and writing up continued for a further 4 years.

Very little work was done since that time apart from a grille being placed over the entrance in 1987. In 2005, Lionel and I were told that the hole was open so off we went for a look. The large chamber looked like a passage on the fault, so as you do, we had a bit of a dig. We had no sooner turned over the first shovel, when Lionel handed me a large jaw bone with 2 big canine teeth. He said a whole skeleton was laid out, so we thought we should report this.

Luckily, Andy Walsh put us in touch with a seminar being held in Arnside about Morecambe Bay archaeology. We went there and were put in touch with Hannah O’Regan, an archaeologist, who was working in the area. She told us that she had looked in the hole but found nothing and asked us to show her the place.

By 2006, Hannah had the key for the cave and we had a legal trip to show her the place where we had found the skeleton, which turned out to be a boar. This was the start of a long association. Hannah was trying to combine cavers and archaeologists into a working group and this seemed to be the perfect site.

Later that year, 2006, the A.O.N.B. asked for our help to remove a winch drum used by the scouts, which had mysteriously turned up at the bottom of the 2nd pitch. This was done and the way was open for Hannah to get permission to hold an archaeological meet in the area.

It was 2009 before the next meet took place; more of an investigation in what we needed but the next year, 2010, was a great success with plenty of volunteers, cavers, archaeologists and geologists all discussing the possibilities of the site. Hannah’s ability to age the bones gave us plenty of encouragement for “Next Year.”

2011 and the weather was excellent. Loads of samples to wash and sieve with plenty of blue glass beads (27) appearing, leading to a race to see which siever found the most. Also, stacks of human and animal bones were found.

Towards the end of the 2nd week, we were visited by Don Benson, the original digger, who took part in the general discussion that the dig and finds were of the same era and that it was much the same: Roman, Roman, Roman, and we should close the site down early, but as we were tidying up the dig face, the skeleton of a horse appeared. This was definitely not Roman and it could not have fallen in there!

All the samples have been washed and taken back to John Moores University to be examined and dated. So what will happen next year? Only a metre of the horse skeleton is showing; the rest is buried under a wall of scaffolding, erected for access and holes are appearing in the floor. From a cave diggers point of view, it looks good.

Jim Newton

 

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