Fiskavaig Rock Shelter 2009 - Excavations Underway…..

Posted by steven on 22/04/2009 at 07:45 AM

After some hard work removing the overburden from Trench 3 at the Fiskavaig rock shelter site in Skye, the excavation of the underlying archaeological deposits has now started.

A view into the rock shelter excavations from the northwest

Martin standing at the junction of Trenches 2 and 3 from the southwest

The overburden above the archaeological deposits comprised large boulders and smaller stone from the roof of the rock shelter and wind-blown sediments, which in some areas is up to two metres deep. The material was removed using hand picks and shovels, but fortunately we did not have to transport the material far - it was used to create a large talus/spoil pile to the seaward-side of the excavations, which would help to protect the working areas of the site from wave action and erosion.

The overburden was quite sterile and devoid of any finds with the exception of a few sheep bones - probably resulting from animals dying and decomposing in the rock shelter. Eventually, we started to uncover fragments of bone and some shellfish (limpets and periwinkles), so we started to remove the remainder of the overburden with more conventional methods (trowel and brush) to reveal the upper surface of the archaeological deposits.

Martin recording the exposed upper surface of the archaeological deposits

The image above shows the trenches from the northwest, with Trench 2 in the foreground followed by Trench 3 (with central baulk) and Trench 1 beyond. The stake and post-holes uncovered in Trench 2 in 2008 can be seen in the image.

The upper surface of the midden included large boulders at the front (west) edge of Trench 3, which comprises the remains of the boulder talus that once existed to the seaward side of the site. To the east of the talus we uncovered a scatter of animal bone, including some large fragments, shellfish and fire-cracked pebbles. Several finds were also made at this level including two large fragments of red deer antler, three pieces of worked antler, several fragments of pottery, a degraded bone point and a finely polished bone needle.

The image above shows the north sector of Trench 3

The south sector of Trench 3. The archaeological deposits also contain fragments of shettered rock from the roof of the rock shelter, indicating that this must always have been a danger at the site. Martin and I have witnessed several rock-falls at the site, mainly comprising small fragments of rock. However, we have also seen and heard much larger failures of the shelter roof, with some boulders the size of dustbins!

After cleaning down to the surface of the archaeological deposits in Trench 3, Martin recorded all major visible bone fragments and other features using a one metre drawing frame. On our next visit we will start to remove the upper contexts in the trench to reveal the major midden layer containing the animal bone.

This view of the excavations from the northwest shows the main talus to the right of the rock shelter. The grass-covered areas are quite stable, but the exposed boulders are constantly being undermined by the sea and are prone to collapse. It is possible that the archaeological deposits run for some distance under the talus slope.

The weather of late has been generally dry in Skye and besides using our time to continue with the fieldwork at the Fiskavaig rock shelter site, we have also been busy preparing the High Pasture Cave site for the 2009 fieldwork season. This is due to start on Monday 4th May and we will be posting a website update here soon.

Next entry: First phase of the 2009 excavations completed at the Fiskavaig rock shelter.....

Previous entry: Late finish to the excavation season at the Fiskavaig Rock Shelter site....


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