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Palaeolithic circa 14599 - 8000 BC

Only a precious few fragments of archaeology have been left for us by the earliest inhabitants of the Yorkshire Dales. Any trace of even earlier people has been lost through the action of the glaciers that scoured across the Dales for thousands of years. By the time of the last maximum cold point around 18,000 years ago, most of northern Europe would have been deserted.

We can’t be sure exactly when the first people arrived back in Britain after the last glaciers melted but it seems to have taken some time. Current thinking is that it was around 12,600 years ago, although people may have been crossing from the continent on a seasonal basis following migrating herds of horse, reindeer and wild cattle. At that time, Britain was still joined to the continent by a land bridge.

There would have been very few of these early hunters anyway so it’s not really surprising that so little survived. It is also no surprise that the finds that we do have from that period in the Dales seem to be hunting tools. The most spectacular is a barbed harpoon point from Victoria Cave, made from antler. This has been radiocarbon dated to 11,000 bp (before present), a time when there was a return to much colder tundra-like conditions. People were hunting a wide range of large animals over the cold, open lands of the Dales and one of their prey may have been dragged into Victoria Cave by a scavenger such as a hyena. This is much more likely than that people were actually living inside the cave. Other sites in the Dales have produced only a handful of flint artefacts from this period such as the flint point from Wensleydale.