The Homepages for the
CATTEDOWN BONE CAVES,
Cattedown, Plymouth, Devon, England, U.K.
8.0. THE "CATTEDOWN REINDEER RIFT CAVE" EXCAVATIONS OF
T.J. COLLINGS, 15 February 1964 :
Updated on 20 July 2005.
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.
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
which we have never seen before. Astonishingly, there are even views of
the Lewarne Excavation which we have never seen before!
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.
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.
Vertical Position or Elevation of the Ossiferous Stalagmitic-Breccia Matrix
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
" ... 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.
Horizontal Position of the Ossiferous Stalagmitic-Breccia Matrix :
" ... 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.
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.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.
THE COLLINGS EXCAVATION TEAM :
DESCRIPTION OF THE FOSSIL FINDS :
CONTEMPORY IMAGES OF THE EXCAVATION SITE AND FOSSIL FINDS :
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.)
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.
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
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.
CRR.8.4.5. (right-top) and CRR.8.4.6. (right-bottom)
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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