NEW BOOK – THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS – ALAN HOWARD (OUT NOW)

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A cave, a bone, a tooth and time.

When I started out on this venture (writing my Curd the Lion book – see first post) years ago, a strangely parallel adventure befell us in real life.
I started writing and drawing the first pictures for this story of Curd the Lion and his friends, Pilgrim Crow, Sweeney the Heenie (hyena) and O’Flattery the Snake, when my fourth child, Oliver, was born.
Soon after this I took my eldest two children, Ben and Emily, on a picnic trip. Walking along the rocky bed of a half-dry stream winding through the woods, we noticed a small cliff.
Halfway up it we saw an enticing little cave with a ledge just right for a picnic. We climbed up and sat down to look at the view as we ate our sandwiches ( because children are always hungry), before exploring the cave.
The cave, we could see, went much deeper than we had expected and its lure gobbled up the sandwiches as fast as I could unwrap them.
We walked and stooped and crawled our way way into it as far as we could, discovering side tunnels and old stalactites and -mites and other bumps to bang your head and stub your toes.
Armed with my promise to return with torches and a ball of string (to find our way out again) we returned to the entrance. Scratting about in the mud looking for fossils, one of us picked up a very bone-shaped object. Picking off a little of the limestone coating we saw that it was indeed a bone.
The local museum curator confirmed that we had found, here in England, the metatarsal foot-bone of an hyena from before the last ice-age!
We were all very excited, given that Sweeney the Heenie, Curd’s rival in the story, was an hyena.
Six months later, just as I was finishing the first draft of the story, we returned, armed with hope, torches, string, trowels, a knife to scrape with and a bottle of water to rinse anything we found.
It wasn’t long before we unearthed an object that, upon scraping away the limestone coating, revealed itself to be a huge and pristine enameled tooth.
Of course, it could only be the tooth of a cave-lion just like Curd – a magical end to the story of my story-making.
We were only slightly disappointed when the Natural History Museum confirmed that BOTH foot-bone and tooth belonged to an hyena.
Only a year or two ago I discovered that our ‘secret’ cave was once famous.
Known as the ‘Hyena Cave’, discovered by quarrymen in the early 19th century, it contained a vast quantity of hyena bones, along with various other local Yorkshire creatures, such as elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, bison, giant deer, small mammals and birds.
The study of these bones led eventually to a refutation of the then accepted view that the Great Flood of the Bible had either swept such creatures there (all the way from Africa) or drowned them in situ.
All the animal bones except those of the hyenas, were chewed and broken, and only partial. The cave, it appears, was a den occupied by hyenas for a very long time.
It was the cave that changed time! (from that of a consensual biblical to a scientific perception of pre-history).
Our metatarsal has since taken a walk (perhaps it’s on its way home to Yorkshire) but the great fang still keeps me company in my little shed in West Sussex.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing coincidence!

    Isn't it funny when these things happen!

    There seems to be a pattern to this sort of occurrence but just when you think you can figure it out something else happens to throw you!

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