Retro: when mammoths and hyenas roamed Sheffield

Life on the Edge, Weston Park Museum. How Creswell Cragfs might have looked 60,000 years ago
Life on the Edge, Weston Park Museum. How Creswell Cragfs might have looked 60,000 years ago
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We look back in time in Retro but it’s safe to say that we’ve never gone back further than this!

Life on the Edge,a fascinating new exhibition at Weston Park Museum, looks at some of the earliest humans to live in the area.

During the last Ice Age, the limestone gorge at Creswell Crags was the furthest anyone could venture in Britain because the land north of that was covered by a huge ice sheet.

Hyenas, lions, woolly mammoths and bears would have roamed the land at one time.

The first visitors to live in the Creswell caves were Neanderthals 60,000 years ago and the first modern humans arrived 28,000 years ago.

There is a long gap after that because the weather turned too cold for anyone to live in Britain and then people returned to the area 14,000 years ago.

The exhibition at Weston Park Museum looks at the lives of those ancient people, the animals they relied on for food and the other predators that they competed with and the remarkable art that they created.

Creswell Crags is world famous because of the cave art found there, which is the oldest discovered in Britain.

Hannah Boddy, exhibitions and promotions manager at Creswell Crags, explained that many of the finds made there have ended up in other museums like Weston Park because facilities were limited on the site before a proper visitors’ centre was built.

Hannah said: “We take people back in time. We make them understand that this area is rich in Ice Age history.

“This is the most northerly point in Britain that people came to. Mammoths and hyenas were walking around. It’s not something that you expect on the streets of Sheffield!”

Hannah is working with Lucy Cooper, exhibitions and display curator at Museums Sheffield, who said that many of the items on display have never been seen by the public before.

They include a huge pair of woolly mammoth tusks.

Lucy said: “Spike the woolly rhino is a very popular exhibit here. A lot of people would like to see more about the Ice Age in the museum, so we’re bringing out a lot of different stories about how people lived, as well as the animal side and the landscape.”

University of Sheffield PhD student Jane Ford is working on a section looking at how hyenas and Neanderthals lived alongside each other, competing for prey.

She said: “There would also have been cave lions and bears, woolly rhinos and mammoths.”

The first people who came to Creswell were following herds of reindeer, horses and bison that they relied on for their food. They made clothing and tools out of the animals’ fur, bones and other body parts.

Some of the items on show include a fur scraper made from a horse’s jaw and a replica of a beautiful carving of two swimming reindeer made from animal bone.

Hannah said that people would only have lived in the Creswell caves during the warmer summer months, walking here over Doggerland, which was the land bridge that once connected Britain to the Continent. It disappeared as sea levels rose when the ice sheets melted.

The area has been investigated by archaeologists from Victorian times onwards and some of the scientific equipment that they used is also on display.

As well as the displays there is a dressing up area for youngsters and a video explaining how the rock art was found by archaeologists Paul Bahn, Sergio Rippoll and Paul Pettit in 2003.

Life on the Edge opens today and runs until September 20.