Sir Antony Gormley, best known for creating ‘The Angel of the North’ at Gateshead, visited Creswell Crags to see the Ice Age cave art in Church Hole Cave.
He was accompanied by Dr Paul Bahn, who discovered the prehistoric art, which is more than 12,000 years old and the only verified example of its kind in the UK.
Sir Antony toured Church Hole, and then visited the site’s largest limestone cave, Robin Hood Cave, where he ventured to the depths of the rocky tunnel to see the early modern ‘witch marks’, first identified in 2019 as marks carved to ward off evil.
He said: “At Creswell Crags, with its rugged limestone cliffs and a sense of a forgotten world, we are immediately embraced by the environment in which our ancestors and Neanderthal cousins thrived.
"Here is a precious place where early humans and animals observed each other.
"In the caves the first artists left signs of how much they loved and respected the animals on which they depended.
"These caves are rare places that call on us to dream, imagine and reflect on our place in time and among all living things.
"Anyone interested in landscape, art and human origins cannot fail to be moved by the gorge and the secrets it holds.”
The visit came at the end of a very difficult time for Creswell Heritage Trust, the registered charity which runs Creswell Crags as a museum and heritage visitor attraction.
More than 95 per cent of the site’s income is from visitors and it was forced to close between March and August due to Covid-19 precautions – only able to reopen last month with emergency funding.
The financial future is still far from secure, with hopes resting on further funding from the government.
Dr Tim Caulton, chair of Creswell Heritage Trust, said: “It was a huge privilege to welcome Sir Antony to Creswell Crags to view the most northerly Ice Age cave art in Europe.
"The site continues to inspire artists and host art installations to this day.
"Sir Antony’s long-awaited visit to see our inspirational site made perfect sense, since he is one of the most renowned artists working today.”