Carved from sandstone, the dungeon (foreground) beneath England's Nottingham Castle (top)—scanned in 3-D via lasers—is superimposed on an image of the aboveground buildings.
The pictures were created as part of the ongoing Nottingham Caves Survey, which began in March and intends to use the scans to help safeguard the man-made caves from "development, erosion, and ignorance," survey leader David Walker said. "We can compare future scans with current scans to see whether change has taken place."
For centuries, Nottingham residents have taken advantage of the stable yet pliable sandstone beneath the city, carving everything from holding pens to World War II air raid shelters to beer cellars (some still in use).
Sited on a sandstone outcrop, Nottingham Castle was rebuilt as a duke's mansion in the 1670s after the original structure had been destroyed during the English Civil War. The mansion's medieval caves, however, survived the conflict, including the dungeon, where King David II of Scotland was reportedly held prisoner in 1346.
Mortimer's Hole is laid bare in a recent digital reconstruction of the passage through Nottingham's Castle Rock.
The passage is named after Roger Mortimer, lover of Queen Isabella, who was the mother of the King Edward III. In 1330 the couple stayed in the royal castle, while the teenage king was forced to lodge elsewhere.
"Edward realized that Mortimer and his mother weren't going to hand over the crown without a fight," David Walker said. As legend has it, "Edward III's troops snuck into the castle [via the cave] under the dead of night, captured Mortimer, and he was later hanged."
The archaeologists behind the 3-D project have extensively surveyed a secret tunnel (not pictured) that they say suggests Mortimer's Hole (detail above) was not the route into the castle that troops used to capture Roger Mortimer, after all.
The newfound tunnel, which runs from Nottingham Castle into a private garden, matches historical records of the capture. "We think it is the real Mortimer's Hole," Walker said.
Later Nottingham caves include this apparent drinking den, created under Willoughby House, an 18th-century aristocratic manor.
Complete with carved banquettes, the den is one of three chambers arranged in a cloverleaf shape—the largest of which was a wine cellar.
"Mr. Willoughby would have taken guests down there to show them his rustic caves and drink his port or whatever," Walker said. "It's a good example of architectural caves used to display wealth and status."
"There are various tunnels that run up to Nottingham Castle that are of medieval date that have been lost and refound over the years," Walker said.
Among these are supply tunnels (pictured) that lead from adjoined buildings in Brewhouse Yard, which back up to Castle Rock. One such tunnel served as an air raid shelter in World War II.
Elsewhere in the city, the sandstone caves have been used as medieval malt kilns and tanneries, 19th-century slum dwellings, and even a bowling alley. "It had a rock-cut slot down one side where your servant could return your ball," Walker said.
Picture courtesy Nottingham Caves Survey
David Walker, head of the Nottingham Caves Survey, surveys the base of Castle Rock, a large sandstone outcrop in the heart of the city.
Sandstone is the key to Nottingham's unique subterranean heritage, he said. The structural stability of the rock means the caves are safe to use, yet "in parts it's soft enough that you can carve it away with your thumb, which makes it very easy indeed to cut into," the archaeologist added.
The survey's "long-term goal is to let more people find out about the caves and get them to come to Nottingham to see them for themselves."