Great weather and another exciting day of excavations at the Cave of the Speckled Horses, Skye

Posted by steven on 16/04/2008 at 08:23 PM

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Wednesday 16th April dawned fine and dry, with a little overnight frost, and we made our long trek out to the rock shelter at Fiskavaig. The walk does not feel any easier in the mornings, but the fine views and location of the site draws one along.

Martin approaching along the shore towards the Cave of the Speckled Horses - a few ‘speckled horses breaking on the shoreline rocks today with a fairly strong southerly wind

Martin, George and Steven continued with the excavations in Trench 1 investigating the phase relating to the final use of the site before it was abandoned. The view below shows the trench from the south after we had finished cleaning down to this layer (Scales=1m and 2m).

The hearth setting Feature F01, that was uncovered yesterday, is out of shot at the base of the image. The surface is covered with fire-cracked pebbles, animal bone and some shellfish, while areas rich in charcoal fragments can also be seen - especially around the hearth. The image below shows the trench looking from the NNW, with the hearth setting at the far end of the trench.

A close view of the cleaned hearth setting F01 from the NW (Scale=0.5m)

During the final cleaning of this layer in the north end of the trench, Steven recovered half of an amber bead, which would have measured around 30mm in diameter. The image below shows this find.

After finishing the excavations at this phase, Martin then recorded all of the visible features using a drawing frame. The image below shows this process underway, looking from the SW with the back of the rock shelter beyond.

We then continued to excavate the next layers of archaeological deposits in the sequence, removing these deposits by grid squares to retain control of recovered materials such as animal bone. George worked in the grid squares at the north end of the trench, where the archaeological deposits appear to be lensing out. He recovered some fragments of animal bone and some shellfish remains, but there was only small amounts of charcoal. However, George did find one small fragment of pottery and a fine piece of worked bone.

The object, the function of which is not clear at the moment, comprises a splinter of bone possibly taken from the rib of an animal (see image above). Notches have then been cut into each end of the object, on both sides of the bone splinter. It is possible that it could have been used as a type of winder. The image below shows another view of the object, showing how it has been deformed by the weight of material overlying it.

Martin worked in the area to the north and north-east of hearth setting F01, where he uncovered large amounts of well-preserved animal bone. Most of this appeared to be cow, although some pig was present. The layers he was working in also contained large quantities of fire-cracked pebbles, ash and some charcoal lumps, which rested on top of a layer of ash. Martin also recovered a splinter of worked bone (also possibly from the rib of an animal), with faint grooves visible towards one end (see image below)

Martin also recovered a small sherd of pottery, some small fragments of degraded copper-alloy, a fragment of copper-alloy containing a possible rivet of the same material and a nicely worked bone spatula, showing use-wear in the form of polish on the end (see image below).

Steven excavated the ash and charcoal-rich deposits to the west of the hearth setting feature F01, which abutted the hearth slabs and overlay large amounts of well-preserved animal bone (mainly cow, but some pig). The layer of animal bone, which also included fire-cracked pebbles and some large lumps of charcoal, rested on a thin lens of orange-coloured ash. This deposit only appears to the west of the hearth and may relate to one episode of ash disposal from this feature.  No finds were made in these archaeological layers, but to the south, adjacent to the baulk of the trench, Steven uncovered rich organic layers including charcoal, ash and what appears to be a mix of decayed vegetation matter (possibly bracken) and fragments of bark - possibly from Silver Birch. It is possible that these sheets of bark were being utilised to manufacture birch-bark containers. The deposits in this area also produced a finely made and well-fired rim sherd of wheel-produced pottery, fragments of copper-alloy and metalworking residues including slag deposits.

During the excavations in this area, it was noticed that the layers of bone and organic matter continued under the slabs of stone forming the hearth feature, so it was decided at this stage to section the hearth to find out these relationships. Upon lifting the hearth slabs, a layer of ash containing charcoal lumps and burnt hazelnut shells was found and sampled. This material will provide ideal materials for dating the construction of the hearth setting.

The image above shows the section cut through the hearth setting, looking from the west, with Martin working in the area beyond the hearth (Scales=0.5m and 0.2m). Here, Martin is uncovering significant quantities of fire-cracked pebbles several layers deep and some flat, abutting stones, which may be part of another, earlier hearth setting. Hopefully, we will find out more about this potential feature tomorrow. The image below shows a closer view of the section through hearth setting F01, with the orange-coloured ash deposits to the front. Also note the layer of animal bone, including part of a mandible of a cow, running below the hearth setting.

Another great day at the site, with cool but sunny conditions - that is once the sun has moved around to shine it’s warming rays into the rock shelter (around 1.30pm!). We are certainly recovering a wide range of finds from the site, which along with the archaeological deposits in which they are located, should tell us some of the background relating to the function of the site.

All that now remained for the day was to make the long walk back out to the road-head, helped along by some wonderful views of MacLeaod’s Maidens.....

.....and over the islands and peninsulas of Loch Bracadale......

What new finds will tomorrow bring at the Cave of the Speckled Horses?

Next entry: More small finds and another feature uncovered at the Cave of the Speckled Horses

Previous entry: Second day of excavations at the Cave of the Speckled Horses

Posted by on 18/04/2008 at 08:54 PM

This looks amazing and so exciting!!!

Posted by on 17/04/2008 at 03:42 PM

Hi Guys,
Nice to see Skye looking at its best. The cave looks really interesting along with all the finds.....glad to see Martin hasn’t lost his touch in finding copious amounts of pottery sherds!
Lynn Fraser

Posted by on 17/04/2008 at 06:30 AM

It looks a most interesting site; I don’t envy the daily walk in (and out) though. Looking foreword to seeing Thursdays finds!

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