Kirkhead Cave


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Kirkhead Cave
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Lakeland (District Authority)
Lower Allithwaite
National Grid Reference:
SD 39100 75660

Reasons for Designation

Palaeolithic caves and rock shelters provide some of the earliest evidence of human activity in the period from about 400,000 to 10,000 years ago. The sites, all natural topographic features, occur mainly in hard limestone in the north and west of the country, although examples also exist in the softer rocks of south-east England. Evidence for human occupation is often located near the cave entrances, close to the rock walls or on the exterior platforms. The interiors sometimes served as special areas for disposal and storage or were places where material naturally accumulated from the outside. Because of the special conditions of deposition and preservation, organic and other fragile materials often survive well and in stratigraphic association. Caves and rock shelters are therefore of major importance for understanding this period. Due to their comparative rarity, their considerable age and their longevity as a monument type, all examples with good survival of deposits are considered to be nationally important.

Kirkhead Cave, one of only three known Palaeolithic caves in Cumbria, has provided artifactual and faunal remains from contexts both inside and outside the cave. Large areas within the cave and much of the platform beneath its covering of spoil contain undisturbed areas of deposits containing further archaeological and palaeoenvironmental material.


Kirkhead Cave is situated in a fault-scarp cliffline on the W side of Kirkhead Hill, a headland of Carboniferous Limestone on the N shore of Morecambe Bay. The cave consists of a single large phreatic chamber c.13m long x 7m at its widest point. Outside the entrance is a raised level platform consisting largely of spoil from past excavations, delimited by a steep talus slope to the W. During excavations undertaken by Ashmead in the 1960's ten Late Upper Palaeolithic flints were found close to the top of deposits of laminated silty clays towards the rear of the cave. An antler boss of a large-deer dated 10,700+/-200 BP (Before Present) was found above and close to the flints and other faunal material was discovered nearby. A further 13 flints were found in association with faunal material and a bone implement immediately outside the cave entrance in laminated silty-clays. Remains of a stalagmite floor can be found within the cave, deposits overlying the floor contained Bronze Age and later finds. There are considerable areas of undisturbed deposits both inside the cave and outside the entrance beneath the spoil accumulation. The deposits inside the cave are protected by a terramat covering overlain by a layer of Shap blue granite. The monument includes all the deposits inside the cave, and outside the cave it includes an area of 15m radius from the mouth of the cave.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Barber, H, Furness and Cartmel Notes. Ulverston, (1894)
Jackson, J W, Notes on the Bone Caves of Grange and District, (1909)
Ashmead, P, Wood, R H, 'North-West Speleology' in Second Report On Excavations At Kirkhead Cavern, , Vol., (1974)
Barber, H, 'Arch. Journ.' in Memoir On The Bone Caves Of Grange And District, , Vol. 25, (1868)
Gale, S, Hunt, C O, 'Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society' in The Stratigraphy Of Kirkhead Cave, An Upper Palaeolithic Site, , Vol. 51, (1985)
Gale, S J, Hunt, C O, Southgate, G A, 'Archaeometry' in Kirkhead Cave: Biostratigraphy and Magnetostratigraphy, , Vol. 26,pt.2, ()
Smith, H, 'Trans. Lancs. and Chesh. Hist. Soc' in The Limestone Caves of Craven and their Ancient Inhabitants, , Vol. 17, (1865)
Jacobi, R.M., Conversation with RNEB and SNC, (1986)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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