Excavation News from the High Pasture Cave site

Posted by steven on 30/07/2010 at 04:17 PM

Despite some pretty aweful weather throughout July, excavations at the High Pasture Cave site and within the wider landscape have been progressing well. In this much-needed update I will cover some of the work that has been taking place at the High Pasture Cave site, while in the next update I will cover just some aspects of the fieldwork being undertaken in the wider landscape surrounding HPC...primarily, targeted excavation of the potential prehistoric roundhouses/structures identified during the extensive surveys of Strath Suardal between 2007 and 2010.

Excavations taking place within the forecourt area outside the stairwell entrance in 2009

The Forecourt Area

At the close of excavations in 2009, we had removed some of the stairwell steps and associated side walls.....including a sequence of small slab-built hearths adjacent to the stairwell landings. In 2010, our last season of fieldwork at the site, we planned to remove the remainder of the stairwell to look at construction and potential phasing; while excavation would also include the removal of the last ash and hearth deposits within the forecourt area outside the stairwell and cave entrance to Bone Passage.

The west wall of the stairwell and associated deposits at the start of the 2010 fieldwork season

The extension to Trench 15 in the forecourt area of the site included the removal of ash deposits and overburden covering the remaining arc of the large enclosure wall F15.14 in this area of the site. However, to get to this archaeological horizon, we first of all had to remove part of a post-medieval wall relating to a small group of shielings and associated pens and walls overlying the site. This comprised a significant amount of stone removal before we finally managed to get down to the Iron Age deposits.

The image above shows Matt Williams and David Marquardt excavating the first of the ash deposits lying within the confines of the enclosure wall. These upper layers produced some fragments of bone, iron concretions, a possible iron pin and two fragments from a bone comb. Gradually, the removal of the ash deposits started to reveal the upper courses of the enclosure wall, which were angled at around 45 degrees from the vertical. This is due to subsidence within the underlying archaeological deposits in this area of the site.....the wall was found to be in a state of collapse; the sediments just managing to hold the wall in place!

The images above and below show the alignment of the wall and its relationship to the stairwell entrance.

With depth, the ash deposits became more organic and rich in charcoal lumps (including some impressive roundwood) and charred grain.....primarily barley. Small finds also became more numerous and varied including cobble tools (grinders and hammerstones), four soapstone spindle whorls and further iron objects including a knife/dagger, an iron pin and concretions. However, the most spectacular finds were a selection of worked pieces of wood......which had survived due to them having being charred and carbonised within one of the fires. Also associated with the wooden finds was cremated human bone (including skull fragments) and a vitrified burnt residue that contained carbonised grain and other organics.

However, it is the wooden finds I will return to, which included fragments of shaped hazel rods (possible hazel uprights for a wattle fence or the supports for a clay tower funace; flat and shaped pieces of wood; fragments from a possible wooden bowl; and most impressive of all the wooden bridge from a musical instrument......most likely a lyre.

If this is indeed the bridge from a lyre, and it does look almost identical to similar finds from these instruments from Anglo-Saxon graves such as Sutton Hoo (although these finds are from a thousand years later), then it would be one of the earliest finds from one of these instruments in Britain. The deposits from which the bridge was recovered date to around 450 to 550BC, which may fit nicely with the tuning pegs recovered in a cache from Bone Passage (within the cave in depositsalso dating to around 500BC). A tentative reconstruction of the bridge fragment would indicate a six-stringed instrument, while the cache of tuning pegs also contained six pegs.

Another important find from the ash deposits is this fine clay mould (see below).

We have now reached the base of the ash deposits relating to one of the larger slab-built hearths on site, which also post-dates the construction of the enclosure wall. We are now excavating a section through the wall and associated deposits, before we remove the wall entirley in order to access the superimposed hearth settings below. The image below shows the exposed lower course of the enclosure wall, which comprises large granite boulders, and a small area of paving that also contained two small stake/post-holes.

The Stairwell Excavations

We have been excavating the stairwell by individual courses including the upper corbelled stones that survive in-situ, and the associated packing/fill deposits behind the walls. The sediments within the walls generally comprise charcoal-rich deposits including the occassional sherd of pottery and fragments of animal bone. Within the wall structures themselves we have found coarse cobble tools (mainly pebble grinders) and fragments of quern stones. Recording of the individual courses of stonework has been completed and their relationship with the natural limestone bedrock, while we have also been looking for evidence to correspond with the various phases of construction of this major feature of he High Pasture Cave site. The following images show some of the stages at which recording has taken place.

The east wall of the stairwell has been built abutting the natural limestone bedrock, with the gaps and voids in this bridged by lintel slabs. However, during excavation of the west wall of the structure we uncovered an earlier phase of walling providing access to the cave entrance below. We cannot be certain if this is an earlier stairwell as yet, but it appears that the west wall of the main stairwell structure had been built directly abutting the earlier wall.....some form of modification of the access into the cave beyond. The image below shows the two individual walls on the west side of the stairwell entrance.

The images above and below show the current limit of the excavations in the stairwell area, including the earlier phase of wall. This wall may have been used to hold back the ash deposits from he sequence of hearths outside the cave entrance.

Two important small finds have been recovered from the fill behind the upper levels of the earlier phase wall including this fine socketed iron spear head.....manufactured n the same style as the earlier late Bronze Age forms;

and a length of double-linked bronze chain.....possible votive offerings/foundation deposits laced in the wall during the construction phase (see image below).

Visit the website again soon for more updates......

Next entry: Excavations at High Pasture Cave and trial trenching of roundhouses in the wider landscape.........

Previous entry: Fieldwork progressing well at the High Pasture Cave site.....


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