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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Museum planned for prehistoric cave art
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

The earliest-known example of prehistoric cave art in Britain could get a new 4.5m museum.

Ibex, PA
The ibex is partially obscured by 1940s graffiti
A lottery bid is being prepared to allow the cave art to go on public view, although the exact details have yet to be worked out.

The art - first revealed in June - consists of 12,000-year-old engravings of birds and an ibex carved into the stone walls at Creswell Crags, on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Nigel Mills, manager of the Creswell Heritage Trust, told BBC News Online that "these discoveries show how important Creswell Crags are in global terms.

The engravings do not have the sophistication of French and Spanish cave art

"Twenty thousand years ago, the edge of the ice cap was only 30 kilometres north of Creswell, so this was one of the most northerly places to have been visited by our ancestors during the Ice Age."

Before Stonehenge

The proposed museum and education centre will, hopes Nigel Mills, change the prevailing view of prehistory in the UK.

"Usually prehistory starts with the Romans with a brief look back to Stonehenge, and that's about it.

Ibex, Antiquity
Enhanced view: This image traces the outline of the ibex
"But there is much more. The people who lived at Creswell were remarkably sophisticated, and they faced the problem of environmental change, just like we do today."

The Creswell Crags Trust hopes to submit its lottery bid later in the year, as part of a 14m initiative to extend facilities in the Creswell area.

The plan was already under way before the discovery of the cave art. Its inclusion has added a new dimension to the project.

The trust also hopes that many of the objects removed from Creswell by Victorian archaeologists, and distributed to museums throughout the country, could be displayed at the new centre.

Mystery animal

"Every European country has a museum telling the story of life in the Ice Age, except Britain. We hope to change this."

Courtesy English Heritage
Life 500 generations ago
Before the Creswell engravings were identified, archaeologists had always insisted that it would have been a surprise not to find Palaeolithic cave art somewhere in the UK.

Although some experts said most cave paintings would have been destroyed in Britain's damp climate.

Of the two birds carved on the wall of the cave at Creswell, one might be a crane or swan, the other a bird of prey.

The other engraving could be an ibex, an animal not thought to have existed in Britain.

Britain's 'earliest' prehistoric cave art
16 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature
Ice Age museum wins award
13 Nov 02  |  England
Faces from the Ice Age
28 May 02  |  Science/Nature
Science shows cave art developed early
03 Oct 01  |  Science/Nature
Oldest lunar calendar identified
16 Oct 00  |  Science/Nature

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