Ideas and Evidence in Science: The Kirkdale Cave

Background: Buckland´s theories about the cave

William Buckland came up with three theories to explain what he saw:

1. These various animals had entered the cave to die, or had fled into it as a refuge.


However, this cannot have been the case, as the cave entrance was far too small to allow an elephant or rhinoceros to squeeze in. Also "…we can imagine no circumstances that would collect together, spontaneously, animals of such dissimilar habits as hyenas, tigers, bears, wolves, foxes, horses, oxen, deer, rabbits, water-rats, mice weasels and birds."


2. The carcasses of these animals drifted into the cave by the waters of a flood.


Again, this couldn’t have been the case: the large animals still wouldn’t fit through the cave entrance, and this didn’t explain why the bones are so broken and jumbled.


3. The animal remains were dragged in for food by hyenas, who caught their prey near to the cave.

Buckland quickly recognised that the fossil bones were the remains of an ancient hyena den. He claimed that the cracked and splintered bones were the remnants of meals of the hyenas and the speckled texture on the bones was caused by vigorous chewing.


Hyenas live by day in dens, and seek their prey by night. They will attack stronger animals than themselves, even challenging lions, but they will also feed on dead carcasses (they have even been known to dig up graves). Buckland even went to the lengths of feeding a live hyena a carcass in order to examine the bones left behind, to compare them with the finds from Kirkdale!  


Buckland was convinced that the cave had been inhabited by hyenas, before the Biblical flood, over a great period of time. The effects of the flood had merely been to cover the bones already there, with a covering of mud.

This was a revolutionary idea, suggested at the time when the account of the biblical flood had not seriously been challenged. Though Buckland didn’t dispute the occurrence of the flood, he proved that these exotic animals once lived in Britain in conditions like those in Africa today.

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