AN AUTHOR who has written about cavemen in the Peak District is calling for archaeological investigations at the country's largest cave entrance which lies in the heart of the national park.
The 'Devil's ****' - otherwise known as the entry point to Peak Cavern at Castleton - has never been the subject of an archaeological dig.
Teams that have requested permission, including most recently one from Cambridge University, have been turned down.
Stephen Cliffe, who lives just outside the western edge of the park, at New Mills, said: "So far, no archaeological dig has ever taken place there. Yet Peak Cavern has the largest cave entrance in Britain, and bones of extinct animals are regularly discovered near the surface.
"Peak Cavern is a clean slate begging to be explored. Quite recently the custodian there, Richard Taylor, picked up the tooth of a woolly rhino lying in sediment beside the main tourist path, and he believes quicklime in the cavern roof nearby was produced by fires lit by Neanderthals in prehistoric times."
Mr Cliffe, whose most recent book, Derbyshire Cavemen, was published last summer, claims of the 260 known caves in the Derbyshire Peak District only a tiny fraction have been archaeologically investigated, revealing stone tools and bones dating back to Neanderthal times.
Many are on display at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, and at Buxton Museum.
Major stumbling blocks to investigations at Peak Cavern are the terms of its lease from the owner, the Duchy of Lancaster, which prohibit archaeological excavations.
Mr Cliffe said: "Given the massive public interest in programmes like Meet the Ancestors and Time Team, this seems crazy.
"There are enormous deposits of undisturbed sediment from the Ice Age, as deep again as the cavern is high, which probably hold thousands of clues to past inhabitants, both human and animal, stretching back over the millennia. It would be an ideal opportunity to push the boundaries of knowledge even further about our earliest human ancestors."
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