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8 April 2007
The home-hunting habits of prehistoric Britons

Pre-historic cave-dwellers may have placed the same emphasis on finding the right location for their homes as modern house-hunters, a new study has revealed. Four hundred caves in the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks (England) were studied for the 95,000 project funded by English Heritage. It found that the size of the cave, the direction of view from its entrance and its location were all important in determining whether particular caves were used 6,000 years ago.
     The study was led by Professor Andrew Chamberlain, of the University of Sheffield, and Dr Randolph Donahue, from the University of Bradford, and aimed to find out more about the caves and how best to protect them for future generations. Prof Chamberlain said: "Caves have been used throughout history for a number of purposes. Pre-historic hunters and farmers will have used them to stay in as they travelled through the landscape - almost like an ancient B and B - and they were also used as burial grounds and as storage facilities."
     The study focused on the White Peak area of the Peak District, which stretches from south of Matlock to beyond Castleton in the north and over the Staffordshire border. The area has around 500 caves, of which 200 were surveyed along with 200 in the Yorkshire Dales. Researchers recorded the setting and dimensions of each cave and looked at archaeological deposits within them. Items unearthed included pottery, stone tools, animal remains and human remains because some were used as burial chambers. They also found charcoal deposits where fires would have been lit and items that were left at different times, suggesting that different people visited the caves at different times.
     From the items found inside, the team concluded the Castleton area, the Manifold Valley in Staffordshire and Dovedale were all popular places for cave dwellers. Professor Chamberlain said: "We found that the larger caves and those that were higher up were preferred locations. We concluded the location was important to cave dwellers after looking at the setting of the caves. Entrances would face a certain way to account for the weather - the sun mostly shines from the south and the wind blows from the west. The size of the cave itself and size of the entrance were also important, for example the entrance would be smaller if the caves were to be used for secret activities."
     It is hoped the research will guide national policies for the conservation of caves and pave the way for a national study. Jon Humble, English Heritage's regional inspector of ancient monuments, said: "This project has helped significantly to lift some of those veils - the archaeological investigation providing a much better understanding of the conservation needs of the present day and the future."

Sources: Evening Telegraph, This is Derbyshire (27 March 2007)

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