Dog Hole Cave, Haverbrack
In 2010-11 a team of academics and cavers led by Hannah O’Regan excavated a small portion of Dog Hole Cave, Haverbrack, Cumbria.
It is close to the town of Milnthorpe, and was excavated by J. Wilfrid Jackson in 1912 and by a group of Boy Scouts including Don Benson and Keith Bland in the 1950s (See Wilkinson et al. (2011) for further details).
Following extensive radiocarbon dating they have established that the site was used from the latest Iron Age/earliest Romano-British period, through to the Medieval period.
Non-human animal remains were deposited throughout, while all of the human burials date to the Roman-British period. Most surprising was the discovery in 2011 of the foreparts of a horse, probably representing an entire animal, which has been buried at the base of our excavations. Alongside the horse were a large number of foetal and neonatal bones, including humans, puppies, calves, lambs and piglets. Above this were a larger number of adult human burials, all dating to the later Roman period.
There were very few grave goods and only two fragments of pottery. The grave goods are very similar to those that might be found in burials from Roman York or Chester, and are rather unexpected in a rural site in Cumbria. This lead the team to wonder if the habits of urban Roman Britain were exported to more rural areas by retiring soldiers. Following a round-table discussion of specialists at Nottingham in July 2017, they’re now writing the work up for publication.
The team are also sampling the teeth of eight humans for Strontium and Oxygen isotopes, thanks to a grant from the British Identities: from the Archipelago to the Globe (BICCAG) Research Priority Area. This will let them see if the people buried at the site were local, or may have come from further afield. They have already tested the horse, and it is consistent with having grown up in the local area.
O'Regan, H., Bland, K., Evans, J., Holmes, M., McLeod, K., Philpott, R., Smith, I., Thorp, J., Wilkinson, D.M. (2020). Rural life, Roman ways? Examination of late Iron Age to late Romano-British burial practice and mobility at Dog Hole Cave, Cumbria. Britannia 51: 83-116.