The Oldest Northerners

My research on the hunting of Horace the Elk has led me to look into whether there is any evidence in the surrounding area for his hunters. David Barrowlclough says: ‘a winter camp must have existed within eight to ten kilometres of the find spot’. I have found nothing in the Fylde region of Lancashire from 11,500BC. However, further north, in caves overlooking Morecambe Bay, animal bones, tools, and weapons dating to slightly later provide evidence for people who hunted elk and reindeer.

Bones of elk (chewed by a wolf or large dog), horse, and the mandible of a lynx dating to around 11,000BC were found in Kent’s Bank Cave. A pair of elk antlers from Kirkhead Cave, near Grange-Over-Sands have been dated to 11,027 – 10,077BC. Lithic materials from Kirkhead Cave and a flint blade from Badger Hole Cave, on Warton Crag, date to 1100 – 9500BC. 80 lithic implements of a similar date were excavated from Bart’s Shelter, Furness, with bones of elk and reindeer.

There is nothing beside what has been found in caves. It seems likely this is because after the Late Glacial Interstadial (12,670 – 10,890BC) the Younger Dryas Stadial (10,890 – 9650 BC) brought cooler weather and the return of the glaciers. This not only drove people south but obliterated evidence of their existence from everywhere but caves and the depths of lakes and peat, which the ice didn’t touch. (The remains of Horace the Elk were found at the bottom of a former lake).

After the climate began to warm up again people returned. There is plentiful evidence for the inhabitation of north-west England during the Early Mesolithic period. At Bart’s Shelter microliths and a ‘bone or antler point’ were found. Perhaps the most significant discovery was a fragment of human leg bone belonging to ‘the oldest northerner’ in Kent’s Bank Cave dating to 8,000BC.

This can now be found in a small window in the cave-like ‘Stone Axe, Blood Axe, Conquest’ display in the Dock Museum at Barrow-in-Furness alongside the lynx mandible and a flint labelled as ‘the earliest worked tool found in Cumbria’. It is about four inches long, of a slightly yellow colour, flecked with dark spots. As I crouched beside it with a dramatic image of a lynx looking over me I had the sense of this ancient person having received a new burial with the same constant guardian.

It is noted with the bone that it is contemporary with the cave burials in Somerset. In Aveline’s Hole 70 to 100 skeletons dating from 8,200 – 8,400BC were found along with ‘a rare example of a biserial antler harpoon’. This cave is referred to as our earliest Mesolithic ‘burial site’. Another is the famous Cheddar Man from Cheddar Gorge whose features have recently been reconstructed to show he had dark skin and blue eyes. Perhaps the oldest northerners shared his appearance?

Unlike in the Harris Musuem, where Horace the Elk and our ancient ancestors have centre place, the 11,800 years of our prehistory occupy only that small cave-like space in the Dock Museum. The rest of the displays document the development of Barrow’s iron, shipping, and nuclear submarine industries. The museum itself stands in the shadow of a BAE Systems hangar that is huge as the hills.

A BAE Systems poster boasts: ‘The royal navy has maintained a ballistic deterrent submarine at sea 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, since 1969’.

As I walked around the dock and past the vast hangars and numbered shipyards with their metal gates and ‘No Entry’ signs I found myself pondering what the oldest northerners, who were also a sea-faring people, would have made of these manufacturies and the new astute class of Dreadnought nuclear submarines…

Would they agree with the the BAE Systems video for the launch of the Audacious this is ‘inspired work’?


Anon, ‘Aveline’s Hole, Burrington Coombe’, Historic England, (accessed 11/12/2019)
Anon, ‘Aveline’s Hole’, Discovering Blackdown, (accessed 11/12/2019)
Anon, ‘Oldest Northerner’, The Dock Museum, (accessed 11/12/2019)
BAE Systems astute class submarine: ‘Audacious Launch’, You Tube, (2017), (accessed 11/12/2019)
David Barrowclough, Prehistoric Lancashire, (The History Press, 2008)Kerry Lotzof, ‘Cheddar Man: Britain’s Mesolithic Blue-Eyed Boy’, The Natural History Museum, (2018) (accessed 11/12/2019)
Display boards at the Dock Museum

*With thanks to the Dock Museum at Barrow-in-Furness for permission to use the photographs from the ‘Stone Axe, Blood Axe, Conquest’ display.

2 thoughts on “The Oldest Northerners

  1. Greg Hill says:

    A sinister sort of ‘inspiration’ that nuclear missile submarine – carrying the seeds of nuclear war and desolation around under the seas.

    Elk, lynx and cave depositions evoke an inspiring past; the submarine threatens the future,

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