Treasures in the Kitchen: Archaeological investigation of Reynard’s Kitchen, Dovedale, Derbyshire

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Archaeologists faced a dramatic climb to the site each day.

Working with the National Trust and the Defence Archaeology Group’s Operation Nightingale, archaeologists from ULAS have recently undertaken an archaeological excavation at Reynard’s Kitchen, Dovedale, Derbyshire. The programme of controlled excavation work took place within a small cave set into the Dovedale gorge walls following the chance find of four Iron Age and Roman Republican coins.

Reynard’s Kitchen is a small but prominent cave set high up on the walls of the Dovedale gorge. It can only be reached by ascending a steep and rocky incline before passing beneath a large natural stone arch. Even today it remains a very special place and continues to draw many visitors. Legend states that the cave is named after a local outlaw named Reynard who is supposed to have used the place as a refuge. There is no physical or reliable documentary evidence to support this theory although the name of Reynard has been used for at least 200 years. 17th century “witch” marks or apotropaic marks which were used to ward off evil spirits can still be seen on the walls and again add to the atmosphere of the site. There are vague reports in a 1926 guide book of a small coin hoard being found there in 1925 but these finds have not been seen since. A larger excavation took place in 1959 near to the front of the cave which found some prehistoric pottery but no more coins were discovered at that time.

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Excavation in progress.

Because of the nature of the site it was decided to excavate in metre square boxes digging down 10cm at a time. In this way all finds could be recorded in a 3-D fashion across the whole cave floor. Rather surprisingly it was discovered that the cave deposits had been extremely disturbed by a combination of root activity, animal burrowing (mostly badgers) and human activity. In one case a sardine tin was found below some prehistoric pottery.

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The first gold coin found!

Despite this rather extensive disturbance, a wide range of pottery dating from the prehistoric, Roman and all the way through to modern periods was recovered. Fragments of cave bear jaw and teeth were also found as were two human teeth. A Bronze Age flint arrow head, lead musket and pistol balls, wartime .303 cartridges and a range of shotgun cartridge cases demonstrated the advances in projectile technology over the years. In addition to this, twenty two gold, silver and base metal Iron Age and Roman coins (including a counterfeit 13th century coin) were found along with a number of other metal finds including two Roman brooches and a range of 20th-century objects. The Roman Republican and Iron Age coins are indicative of one or more hoards, which could therefore suggest that the cave was used as a ritual/deposition site during the 1st century AD. It would appear that coin hoards are extremely rare within caves, which adds even more to the mystery of the site. The Iron Age coins have been attributed to the Corieltavi tribe which is more usually associated with occupying areas somewhat further to the east of Dovedale during the Late Iron Age. The Corieltavi tribal centres are generally thought to be around Leicester, Sleaford and Lincoln so this hoard might represent an unknown area under Corieltavi influence or that the coins were deliberately transported to this special site.

The coins closely match those found in the Hallaton hoard found in East Leicestershire between 2001 and 2009. It is hoped that the coins will go on display at the Buxton Museum later on this year.

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