Ideas and Evidence in Science: The Kirkdale Cave

Background: The Discovery of the Kirkdale Cave

The Kirkdale Cave was discovered in 1821 by quarrymen working near Kirbymoorside in North Yorkshire.  Strange bones and teeth had been turning up in the area, and visiting fossil collector John Gibson traced them back to the quarry in Kirkdale. A small number of local geologists set about excavating the cave during that summer, before the cave was destroyed through the work of the quarrymen.

Enormous numbers of bones and teeth were collected, which seemed to come from an amazing array of exotic animals - certainly not ones commonly seen in England. Bone remains of elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, hyenas, bison and giant deer were all found in the cave, as were smaller animals including wild pigs, foxes, rabbits, mice and birds. Most of these were not normal inhabitants of the British landscape.

At the time the widely held view was that these animals had perished and their remains washed into the cave as a result of the Universal flood, or Noah’s flood, of the Bible.

But that wasn’t the end of the story…

The finds at Kirkdale came to the attention of Reverend William Buckland, the Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford. He had been working on similar cave finds in Germany, and these specimens interested him greatly. He visited the cave, studied the bones, gathered the evidence and eventually mounted a challenge to the flood story.

These are his words…

“Scarcely a single bone has escaped fracture…”

“On some of the bones, marks may be traced, which… appear exactly to fit the form of the canine teeth of the hyena that occur in the cave”

“The hyena’s bones have been broken, and apparently gnawed equally with those of other animals.”

“Not one skull is to be found entire; and it is so rare to find a large bone of any kind that has not been more or less broken…”

“…there is no hope of obtaining materials for the construction of a single limb, and still less of an entire skeleton.”

“The greatest number of teeth are those of hyenas…many of these animals had died before the first set, or milk teeth, had been shed”

“I have information of about ten elephants’ teeth… they must have belonged to extremely young animals”

“In the interior of the cave I could not find a single rolled pebble… that bears the mark of having been rolled by the action of water.”

“… the bones… are never mineralised, but simply in the state of grave bones more or less decayed or encrusted by stalagmite.”

“…small balls of the solid calcareous excrement that had fed of bones”

Map view of the surrounding area of the Kirkdale Cave»

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