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Elbolton Cave

Black and white line drawing map of Elbolton Cave

Map of Elbolton Cave © Skipton Town Hall

Elbolton Cave

Neolithic and Bronze Age

Near Thorpe, Grassington


The History of Elbolton Cave

Elbolton Cave, otherwise known as ‘Navvy Noodle Hole’, is near Thorpe just outside Grassington. Excavations have found that it contained human remains from the Early Neolithic Period, along with animal bones, pottery and worked bone pins.

The cave has a narrow entrance with a drop of around 6 metres. It is found at the base of a limestone scar and is part of the ‘Cracoe Reef Knoll’ series. These geological features are the remains of an ancient coral reef formed in the warm seas that covered Craven during the Carboniferous period (around 350 million years ago).

The cave was first excavated by Reverend E. Jones and members of the Craven Naturalists Society, 1889-1891. It was then excavated again by Arthur Raistrick and Mary Kitson-Clark in 1920.

Black and white photograph of two men (one of whom is Arthurt Raistrick) in 1920s clothes, looking into a trapdoor on the side of a hill, leading into Elbolton Cave

Arthur Raistrick at the entrance to Elbolton Cave, 1920 © Skipton Town Hall

Three skulls on display stands

Three early Neolithic skulls from the crouched burials © Skipton Town Hall

Excavations and human remains

Reports from the time show that at least 11 inhumation burials and one cremation burial were found, along with three crouched-burials. These were all in the upper layers of the cave floor.

The crouched burial discovery was unusual, as there is evidence that the bodies were placed in an upright sitting posture with the knees close to the skull. It is thought they were interred in crude stone cists, and that ‘excarnation’ may have taken place (where the bodies were partly eaten by foxes or wolves before burial).

Radiocarbon dating results in 2022 show that these skulls date to the range of 3947 to 3764 BC, placing them in the Early Neolithic Range. For more information on the dating process, please see our news page.

Further cave finds

Alongside human remains, other finds in the cave such as worked bone pins and patterned pottery also show signs of human activity, mainly from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. A hearth along with fragments of food vessels and a collared urn were also found.

Animal remains were also discovered in the cave, including artic foxes, reindeers, cows, badgers and sheep. These animals may have used the caves for shelter, been dragged in by predators, or been killed and used by humans.

Brown bear bones have also been found, but below the level of human remains. This suggests they occupied the cave before people.

Pieces of decorated pottery found in Elbolton Cave. © Skipton Town Hall

Black and white photograph of an older Reverend Jones sat down, holding a cave find in his hand

Reverend E Jones © Skipton Town Hall

‘The fragments of pottery are interesting in character. They are all Neolithic and crude, seemingly made from the clay found in the cave, and formed into circular vessels’

– Reverend E. Jones quoted from the Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological and Polytechnic Society, 1889