The Dales are made up diverse landscapes
Each Dale has been formed by nature at different times in history. For example, the rocks which are so prominent in the region were laid down during the Carboniferous era between 270 and 350 million years ago, such as can be seen at Thwaite Scar.
Moving forward in time, the limestone pavements found close to Malham and Ingleborough in Wharfdale have gradually been shaped by conditions caused following the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago.
While it is believed that people had lived in the Dales prior to the Ice Age, no evidence exists due to the way in which glaciers altered the land. What is known is that during the coldest part of the period (around 16,000 BCE) the whole of the UK was uninhabited. It is believed that people returned to the country some 12,400 years ago by walking across the land bridge that joined the country to mainland Europe.
These people would have been primitive hunter-gatherer types. Some evidence of their existence has been found in the Dales in the forms of hunting tools such as flints and the impressive barbed harpoon that was excavated from Victoria Cave in Ribblesdale during the 19th century.
When the climate began to warm, the population of the Dales region grew and the landscape gradually altered from open plains to rich woodland. Around 10,000 ago, 90 per cent of the area would have been covered by pine and birch trees. This dense foliage would have made it quite difficult for Mesolithic man to hunt larger animals such as deer and studies by the University of Bradford suggest that tribes migrated to more open areas such as Malham Tarn and Semerwater. In order to create more space, the hunters also burnt back the edges of forests.
The first people to use the land as a resource for farming inhabited the National Park during the Neolithic era around 5,000 BCE. With trees declining, people adopted a new way of living and much of their traditions live on to this day.
Wider expanses of land and the realisation that animals could be breed and crops could be harvested led to large campsites and settlements. Many items, including pieces of pottery and stone axes, have been found from this time.