- Museum number
- Object: Robin Hood Cave horse
Engraved rib bone fragment intentionally grooved and snapped at one end and broken at the other. One surface of the bone carries a carefully engraved drawing of the forequarters, head and neck of a galloping horse shown facing right. Prior to drawing, the bone was scraped smooth leaving faint tool marks on the surface. The horse head is outstretched, the eye, nostrils and mouth simply drawn, the back of the jaw strongly marked. The upright mane is shown along the top edge of the rib as a series of diagonal hatched lines and the line of the back extends behind it. The raised, foreshortened right leg is drawn towards the left end of the lower edge. Fine, widely spaced, vertical lines are incised over and in front of the horse. The drawing is damaged by an ancient break at the left end of the bone. This break occurred after the bone had been coloured with red ochre and the horse engraving had been partially crossed through with deep horizontal incisions, perhaps in an attempt to delete it.
The opposite side of the bone is covered by slightly curved, oblique incisions with some finer lines transecting them. These are overlain a by straight, vertical incision near the unbroken, left end.
Length: 7.30 centimetres
Thickness: 0.80 centimetres
Width: 2.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is the only piece of Upper Palaeolithic figurative art depicting an animal known from Britain. Its authenticity has been disputed ever since Thomas Heath of Derby Museum suggested that William Boyd Dawkins had introduced it into the cave for Mello to find on one of the rare occasions that Heath was not present directing the workmen. He also claimed that Mello had told him at first that the piece had come from Church Hole not Robin Hood Cave. Mello strenuously denied this claim.
The engraved drawing of the horse is comparable and similar to Late Upper Palaeolithic engravings from France. The vertical incisions over the top of the horse are variously interpreted as spears or posts of a stockade. They occur occasionally in French images but are distinctive on the Creswell piece. The deliberate crossing out of the image and breaking of the bone is also unusual even among late narrative pieces that seem to depict a story. The curving incisions on the opposite side are similar to those on Palart.852 but there is uncertainty as to the cave in which that was found.
Examination of the bone using a digital imaging microscope indicates that the bone was prepared using a stone tool that left clear scraping marks, before the horse was drawn, the vertical incisions added and the image crossed out. The bone is fossilised and there is no indication that the work was done historically as the incisions do not appear fresh within the ancient surfaces.Furthermore, if a French piece had been copied by someone skilled in the use of stone tools, it is improbable that the vertical incisions, and the decoration on the opposite surface would have been included, as they were not known in the 1870s. It might also be noted that there is no doubt about the age or authenticity of Palart.852 which has similar decoration to that on the reverse of Palart.855. The distinctive colouration of the bone has led some authors to suggest the piece was introduced from a French site so that Dawkins could confirm his opinion that this period in England was linked to the continent, but this is historically problematic and may simply be due to the presence of red ochre on the surface confirmed by Rahmen spectroscopy in the British Museum Science Laborartory in 2004.
The Robin Hood Cave horse is a genuine Palaeolithic object but the historic controversy may always cause its original provenance to be questioned. This perhaps has more to do with Boyd Dawkins personality than an actual misdemeanour. Although an extremely able palaeontologist, he was not well liked by his contemporaries who may have been all too willing to believe Heath's accusations. It is probable that he looked down on Thomas Heath who was a self educated working man who had managed to get the job of curator at Derby Museum and Library just as it was being refitted to reflect the developing industrial wealth of the town. The museum had allowed him to work with Mello at Creswell because of the prospect of new finds for the museum. Seeing Dawkins remove objects and faunal remains to Manchester possibly worried Heath. He might have considered his job and tied house at risk if he could not fulfill the promise of a return for Derby causing him to overreact when he was not present to witness a major find. He was also aggrieved that he had been on site supervising the workmen and sometimes paying them from his own pocket while Mello and Dawkins dropped in from time to time but claimed credit for the finds and did not include him in the authorship of their papers. He was encouraged in his complaints against Dawkins by John Plant, Librarian and Curator of the Peel Park Museum and Public Library in Salford. Plant was a competent geologist and, like Heath, a self-made man. He disliked Dawkins who was his rival in Manchester.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2014 29 May- 2017 28 May, Worksop, Creswell Crags Museum, LT Loan.
2013 24 Jun-16 Sep, Spain, Santander, Fundación Botín, Ice Age Art
2013 7 Feb-26 May, London, BM Ice Age Art
2009 23 Jun- 2012 Dec, Nottinghamshire, Creswell Crags Museum, LT loan.
2003 26 Apr-24 Aug, USA, Lexington, Kentucky Horse Park, All the Queen’s Horses
1984-1985 1 Oct-31 Dec, France, Paris, Musee de l'Homme, Arts et Civilisations des Chasseurs de la Prehistoire
1970 28 Jul-29 Sep, Sheffield City Museum, 10,000 Years of Man
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The object was found by Reverend J Magens Mello, Professor Boyd Dawkins of Owens College, Manchester University and Mr Tiddeman, while working at Creswell Crags. Augustus Wollaston Franks of the British Museum and a Trustee of the Christy Collection was a member of the Exploration Committee (Mello, 1877, p.580). A selection of finds from the Creswell caves, including the horse engraving, were given to the Trustees of the Christy Collection to be accessioned with that Collection as they were regarded as comparable to finds made by Henry Christy and Edouard Lartet in caves of the Dordogne, France. British Museum Trustees Reports volume 1, 5 February 1884, records that the Trustees of the Christy Collection received the donation through Franks in 1883 and transferred it to the Trustees of the British Museum on that date 'to be held on the same conditions as the rest of the Christy Collection'.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Christy +8164