The Devon Karst Research Society.
The Homepages for the
CATTEDOWN BONE CAVES,
Cattedown, Plymouth, Devon, England, U.K.

Section  8.0.    THE "CATTEDOWN REINDEER RIFT CAVE" EXCAVATIONS OF T.J. COLLINGS, 15 February 1964 :
CATTEDOWN REINDEER RIFT BONE CAVE, Cattedown Middle Quarry.

Updated on 20 July 2005.

8.1.    PRE-EXCAVATION DETAILS OF THE SITE :
We have no idea of exactly when the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave was first breached and found by quarrymen. We can say that a substantial amount of material has been removed from the cave either at or subsequently after the time that the cave was originally breached by quarrying operations, certainly long before the Collings Excavation of 1964.

At the time of Collings' first visit in 1963, he makes reference that :-

" ... the bottom of the rift has been used as a rubbish dump for about 40 years and would seem to be between 10 and 20 feet deep.... ".
The Society now has limited new information about the condition of the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave prior to, during and immediately after the Collings Excavation of 1964. We had thought that the records of the site kept by Shell-Mex & B.P. Ltd. in relation to the original construction of their Oil Terminal and its subsequent development, were scant and revealed nothing that was of any relevance. Even at the time of Collings' visit, very little detail was ever recorded by those involved at the time. Until recently, the very few contemporary photographs that we had been able to locate, revealed something of the disposition of the fossil bones within the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave at the time of the Collings discovery and consequently, of the relationship of the Collings finds with those made ten years later during the Lewarne Excavation. Notes and comments made at the time by Collings and published in the Newsletters of the Plymouth Caving Group, gave us hardly anything extra in the way of direct facts, however, as will become clear, by giving an indirect reference to prevailing conditions, he had inadvertantly given us the precise location of his finds. This latter aspect is now well supported by photographic evidence which the Society had previously not seen.

On 22 June 2005., our attention was drawn to a remarkable photo-archive pertaining to the history of the Oil Terminal installations at Cattedown dating from the period of the early 1930's until the Oil Terminal Refurbishment in 1979-1981. Amongst other data, the photographs record valuable information about the appearance of the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave during the periods before and after the Collings Excavation of 1964. They also contain views of the cave-interior during the Collings Excavation which we have never seen before. Astonishingly, there are even views of the Lewarne Excavation which we have never seen before!
The records were kept by Shell-Mex & B.P. Ltd. and when a change of ownership of the Oil Terminal Installation came about in 2001, ChevronTexaco Ltd. discarded the photo-archive into a waste skip for disposal along with other materials during a general tidy-up of the Oil Terminal Offices. We have to thank ChevronTexaco Ltd. employees Mrs L. Dyer and Mr. W. Webb for their prompt action in retrieving the photo-archives from the waste skip.
The images are a truly unique record of the industrial development of the Cattedown Area but, more importantly for us, also often provide a coincidental record of the karst and caves in the background !!

A selection of the early photographs relevant to the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave are given in the left-side column of this Section of the Cattedown Webpages.
 

Photo CRR.8.1.1. (left)
Showing a view of the south-east corner of the Shell-Mex & BP Plymouth Oil Terminal's No. 2. Site.
When this was photographed, this part of the Oil Terminal was known as Installation "S".
(Photo :  unknown, dated January 1965., from the Shell UK Oil Plymouth Terminal photo-archive. 537kB.)
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Photo CRR.8.1.2a. (below-left)
Showing a view of the south-east corner of the Shell-Mex & BP Plymouth Oil Terminal's No. 2. Site after Colling's
Excavation of the first part of the fossil Reindeer skeleton. The external appearance has obviously remained unchanged for decades previously.
The view is taken from the top of one of the nearby oil storage tanks
(Photo :  unknown, dated May 1964., from the Shell UK Oil Plymouth Terminal photo-archive. 614kB.)

.....8.1.1. General Condition and Description of the Bone Rift and Collings' Discovery :
The Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave is the southern part of a large north-south vertical rift within the far south-eastern corner of Cattedown Quarry. The wide south-facing Rift Cave Chamber is formed at the point where two narrower vertical fissures appear at its rear or inner, northern end. The two fissures have not physically coalesced into one but rather appear within the same Rift Cave Chamber as a result of natural cave breakdown (block breakdown) processes of the limestone bedrock column between them. The west wall of the main Reindeer Rift Cave Chamber is formed by the west wall of the West Fissure, whilst the east wall of the main Rift Cave Chamber is formed by the east wall of the East Fissure. Both the East Fissure and the West Fissure of the main Reindeer Rift Cave run to surface. Investigations have also proven that both Fissures and the Reindeer Rift Cave itself continue down into the buried quarry floor below Ordnance Datum. The Fissures and the main Rift Cave chamber appear to widen at depth in common with most others in the area.
Each of the two fissures continue to be blocked across their width at many different vertical levels with stalagmite floors beneath which are varying thicknesses of ossiferous stalagmitic breccia. Much of this is in evidence in the images above, where masses of this material contine to adhere to the walls of the main Rift Cave Chamber.
Horizontally, in a southerly direction towards the Cattewater, both Fissures and the main Rift Cave Chamber continue for an unknown distance. Horizontally, in a northerly direction, both Fissures re-appear in a fault-zone located in the far south-western corner of what remains of Prince Rock Quarry. Future investigative work will determine whether these Fissures continue horizontally further in a northwards direction cutting through the fault-zone.
The disposition of both these Fissures within the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Chamber can be clearly discerned in the three images illustrated immediately above.

.....8.1.2. Vertical Position or Elevation of the Ossiferous Stalagmitic-Breccia Matrix :
[The following text is about to undergo substantive revision]  ......

In this regard, if a detailed scrutiny is made of the contemporary image Photo CRR.8.4.1. below, of relevance is the position of the cave-floor on which the excavation team are standing. This view was taken before subsequent major and very damaging alterations were made to the site by Shell-Mex. The cave floor, as indicated in the view, is above the level of the concrete floor of the Oil Terminal area beyond the wire fence, immediately behind Collings.
Of equal relevance in confirming this, is the incidental capture in the photograph of a nearby building in the background behind Collings and out in the Terminal area in front of the cave entrance. The distinctively-shaped double roof and the windows running along and below the main section of sloping roof, indicate that the area on which the Team are standing is above the line of windows and is even level with the main sloping roof section of this building.
Other definite indicators of the level at which they are standing are given by individual and distinctive morphological features on the cave wall behind the team, which are still observable today.
Collings states in his Report in the PCG Newsletter No.10. (April 1964),

" ... The situation at the Rift at present is that no further excavations will take place until the site has been cleaned up, photographed and surveyed. The cleaning up operation could take some time as the bottom of the rift has been used as a rubbish dump for about 40 years and would seem to be between 10 and 20 feet deep. ... ".
This seems to infer that the actual walk-in level in the Bone Rift at this time was about 10-20 feet above the level of the Oil Terminal floor outside the cave entrance, which in turn does seem to be supported by the level indicated in Photo. CRR.8.4.1. below.

.....8.1.3. Horizontal Position of the Ossiferous Stalagmitic-Breccia Matrix :
The position of the ossiferous deposits within the cave seems to mirror that found in the Lewarne Discovery of a decade later. Again, from a retrospective point of view, in his Report in PCG Newsletter No.10., Collings even pinpoints the exact position of the fossil skeleton,

" ... You will remember from the last Newsletter, that we removed the front part of the skeleton from the boulders forward, the rear of the animal is still in situ and removal of this will be deferred until all the preparatory stages have been completed. ... "
We know from the Lewarne Excavations of June 1974 exactly where the rear part of the same animal was located in the Bone Cave, so by extrapolation, we know to within a foot or two, where Collings found the front part !!
From the Photos. CRR.8.4.2. and CRR.8.4.3. below, details of the ossiferous stalagmitic-breccia matrix can be seen.

The specific condition of the Rift Cave at the time of the Collings Discovery is now better understood. We know that the Cave had a wire fence across the front of the entrance separating it from the rest of the Oil Terminal area. However, it is also important to determine exactly where in this enormous rift cave that his discoveries were made. The positioning of the relative levels of this and subsequent finds, is desirable.

 Other information is available only by indirect reference made by Collings in Reports to the Plymouth Caving Group Newsletters. In PCG Newsletter No. 9., Collings makes his first entry about the Cave for Saturday 15th February 1964 :-
........   "THE NEW BONE CAVE AT CATTEDOWN - CATTEDOWN BONE RIFT.
This rift was noticed in the Shell-Mex quarry when the party was looking for the old bone cave, [Ed. note:  a reference to Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave.]. The rift is about 60 ft high and about 2 to 3 ft. wide. For much of its height it is blocked with breccia, all possible bone bearing deposit. The initial purpose of the investigation was to see if a new system could be found but it was found that the bottom of the rift went only 15 ft. before becoming blocked with the breccia. The Editor, [Ed. note: Mr T J Collings was then the Editor of the PCG Newsletter] then decided to examine the floor deposits and it soon became apparent that these were identical to those of the old bone cave, [Ed. note:  another reference to Worth's Cattedown Bone Cave.] Using a rather heavy hammer, not the best implement, the Editor removed some of the rock and mud from below the breccia layer and out "popped" the part of a lower jaw !  Bob Jeffery started working another part of the rift and soon unearthed some bones of a small animal; R. Lake did similarly at a lower layer. P. Price was in charge of sorting all the bones and arranging them. Within a few minutes, the Editor had uncovered an almost complete lower jaw - left side, and then came the upper jaw, but being very fragile, the thinner parts soon powdered. The work was left until after lunch when R. Bray joined the party. At the place of the initial find the front part of the skeleton of a deer-like animal was uncovered - parts of antler, 12 large vertebrae, a pair of humeri and the pairs of the other bones in the front legs, the metacarpals and parts of the shoulder blades. Everybody was very pleased, not the least Mr Galloway of Shell-Mex who had kindly given the PCG the necessary permission.
A letter was sent immediately to Dr Sutcliffe of the B.M. who identified the remains as the bones of a REINDEER - nowhere in Devon has a complete reindeer been found."  .......
The description of the "rift" as being "..  2 to 3 ft. wide .." is a reference to the left-side fissure in the back of the Rift Cave, rather than being the full width of the actual Main Rift Cave itself.

8.2.    THE COLLINGS EXCAVATION TEAM :
In one Report he submitted to the Plymouth Caving Group Newsletter, Collings alludes to the previous experience of his five-member Team with fossil bone excavation in the Joint-Mitnor Cave in Buckfastleigh. At Cattedown, his Team Members were R. Bray, P. Nottle, J. Percival and P. Price.
He also had the wisdom to contact an expert in vertebrate palaeontology, the late Dr Antony Sutcliffe of the British Museum (Natural History), for advice on bone and species identification. Mr James Barber, the Archaeologist in the City Museum was also contacted by Mr Collings and the finds were discussed with him.

8.3.    DESCRIPTION OF THE FOSSIL FINDS :
Collings did make a rough record of the excavated bones. These are listed in the appropriate Catalogue in Section 10.0.  of these webpages.
The Collings Collection represent the fossil bones of the front half of a single specimen of Rangifer tarandus, the Arctic Reindeer, an animal that was once indigenous to the U.K. and to Devon in the glacial and post glacial periods. The skeletal finds consist of fragments of the animal's skull and antler assembly, rib cage and thoracic vertebrae and fore-limbs, all of which were found in direct association with each other. The absolute age of the fossil remains is discussed in Section 13.0.

8.4.    CONTEMPORY IMAGES OF THE EXCAVATION SITE AND FOSSIL FINDS :
The previously unseen and unpublished monochrome images below were provided by the Shell-Mex Terminal Manager Mr. Galloway in 1974. We were informed that these photographs were taken by Members of the visiting Press in 1964 because no-one from Shell-Mex Ltd. was present to do so. We have not yet been able to locate any other contemporary images, although we know where some may be located.
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Photo CRR.8.1.2b. (left)
Showing a more detailed view of the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave in the south-east corner of the Shell-Mex & BP Plymouth Oil Terminal's No. 2. Site.
The building in the right of the view was the old Motor Repair Site leased to Turnbull's Garage where the maintenance was undertaken on the Oil Terminal's fuel tanker fleet.
Also of note is the chain-wire fence in position across the entrance of the cave at ground level. This can be seen in Photo CRR8.4.2. behind Colling's Excavation Team.
(Photo :  unknown dated May 1964., from the Shell UK Oil Plymouth Terminal photo-archive. 574kB.)


Photo CRR.8.4.1. (above)
Showing a view of the interior of the Cattedown Reindeer Rift Cave Chamber,
with the figure indicating the position of the fossilized skeletal remains of the Reindeer during the Collings Excavation of 1964.
The handwritten caption on the back of the original photograph reads :"Site of discovery of complete reindeer skeleton early in 1974."
(Photo :  unknown dated May 1964., from the Shell UK Oil Plymouth Terminal photo-archive. 391kB.)
8.4.    CONTEMPORY IMAGES OF THE EXCAVATION SITE AND FOSSIL FINDS :
The previously unseen and unpublished monochrome images below were provided by the Shell-Mex Terminal Manager Mr. Galloway in 1974. We were informed that these photographs were taken by Members of the visiting Press in 1964 because no-one from Shell-Mex Ltd. was present to do so. We have not yet been able to locate any other contemporary images, although we know where some may be located.


Photo CRR.8.4.2. (above)
Showing a view of the excavation-team Members, led by T.J. Collings on the left, who is pointing out details of the bone cave site to Dr. A.J. Sutcliffe (3rd from left) of the British Museum's Department of Palaeontology.
The view is taken of the team facing into the cave, with the west wall of the cave as the main backdrop and a partial view of the exterior Oil Terminal indicated behind Collings.


Photo CRR.8.4.3. (above)  Showing a view of the end of a METACARPAL bone of one of the fore-limbs of a Reindeer, in its original position within the cave-earth and stalagmitic breccia matrix. The figures are Mr Galloway, the Shell-Mex Terminal Manager (left) and Mr T.J. Collings (right).

If you return to the Cattedown Bone Caves frontpage and then select the Link to Section 9.0., you can read about and view a 65 second mute video sequence of a contemporary ciné-film. [Link currently inactive].
 

Photo CRR.8.4.4. (above)
Showing a view of a partly buried fossil bone in the stalagmitic breccia matrix. The scenario looks suspiciously contrived or unnatural and indeed,
was arranged to satisfy the reporting requirements of the visiting Press, as was admitted by Collings in the PCG Newsletter No. 10.
A scale is provided by the matchstick (approx. 2 inches / 50mm long) on the ground in front of the bone.

Photos CRR.8.4.5. (right-top) and CRR.8.4.6. (right-bottom)
Showing a very small selection of the 120 bones and fragments excavated by the Collings Team.
The lower of the two "leg bones" in the centre-top of the Top image is the METACARPAL seen previously in Photos CRR.8.4.2. and CRR.8.4.3. above.

(Photos :  unknown dated May 1964., from the Shell UK Oil Plymouth Terminal photo-archive. 283kB left and 330kB right.)

8.5.    CURATION OF THE FOSSIL BONES :
Subsequent to their discovery, the collection of fossil bones suffered two major catastrophes.
Firstly, a number of the bones were retained by individuals in the discovery team. Despite prolonged efforts throughout the 1970's and 1980's at trying to locate the Members of the Collings team, no-one could be traced and the missing bones have never been recovered.
Secondly, the remainder of the bone collection was never wholly preserved and in addition, was left laying around in open boxes in a damp environment for ten years. As a consequence, it has suffered some damage. The surviving material from the Collings Excavation was acquired by the Society in 1976 and amalgamated with the material from the Lewarne Excavation.

The bones and bone-fragments discovered in the Collings Excavation numbered 120. His Catalogue indicates only 114, of which those actually curated now number (? No. being assessed). This has been reduced to (? No. being assessed) due to a partial re-assembly of associated fragments and specimens for curation and display purposes. The Collings Collection has been articulated with those of the rear half of the same animal discovered near his finds at the same level in the cave ten years later during the Lewarne Excavations. Digital Images of the curated bones from the Collings Collection will be available below in due course.

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