Derbyshire cavemen by Stephen Cliffe. Amberley Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2010. No. of pages: 191. Price: UK£14.99. ISBN 978-1-84868-156-9 (paperback)


I have been walking the hills and dales of the Peak District of the English Midlands since the mid-1970s, researching aspects of the palaeontology of this region for about 10 years, and have been underground in many of the show caves in and about Castleton. But it is only in reading Derbyshire Cavemen that I have discovered the wealth of human remains and artefacts, both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, that the caves of (mainly) the White Peak (=Carboniferous Limestone) of Derbyshire and adjacent areas have yielded.

Cliffe's book is rich in detail. The book is well illustrated, but the author does not indicate the sources of the early (mainly 19th century?) diagrams and photographs. Indeed, all figure captions would benefit from more detail; Cliffe seems to have decided in most instances that one sentence can convey all necessary information, but he is wrong. Illustrations are generally good apart from the few obviously taken through the glass of museum cases (such as on p. 12). Yet the 32 colour plates on glossy paper are not only uniformly good but have detailed captions which I greatly appreciated. Quotations in the text would be more valuable if referred back to the original place of publication. In the information age, any and every reader may want to pursue original sources. But the explorer of underground Derbyshire will find this book a gold mine – there is a gazetteer of bone caves, almost a third of the book, and outline locality maps of the more important areas discussed in the text.

What Derbyshire Cavemen lacks is a road map, an opening statement that explains the structure of the book. The brief introduction gives a little more meat than just the title but appears to have been written in a hurry or at least uncritically; how else might we explain an eccentric sentence stating that “… the Derbyshire Peak's karst limestone, which in China has eroded into great pinnacles of rock” (p. 7)? Most of the chapters read as if they were designed to stand alone, perhaps as magazine articles, and there is little flow or continuity from one to the next. Rather, the book has a jerky feel, jumping between related topics, all of which are relevant, but none of which leads the reader on an easy path – there are always chasms to jump.

Overall, I recommend this book to any and all with an interest in the Derbyshire Peaks, the early human occupation of Britain by man, and the history of archaeology and exploration. I suspect that it is as good a guide in the field as in the armchair and I can't wait to give it a thorough field test.