Kirkdale Cave, English School

Artist unkown

About 1824


43 x 51.5 cm

Kirkdale Cave in North Yorkshire was the site of an important scientific discovery when, in 1821, the bones and teeth from a variety of animals, including elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, hyenas and bison, were found. The bones were identified by William Buckland (1784-1856), the theologian and palaeontologist first Reader in Geology at Oxford University, who appears in the foreground of this picture. Dating from around 125,000 years ago, in the period before the last ice age, the bones were important evidence in establishing the idea of a geological past. Buckland’s work in proving that Kirkdake Cave had been a prehistoric hyena den, littered with bones of its prey, won him the Copley Medal. In later years Buckland became a pioneer in the use of fossilised faeces, which he termed ‘coprolites’, to reconstruct ancient ecosystems.