- Regional Archaeological Context
- Fieldwork - 2002/2003
- Fieldwork - 2004
- Specialist Reports - 2004
- Geophysics Survey - 2004
- Specialist Report 2004 - Animal Bone
- Specialist Report 2004 - Charcoal
- Specialist Report 2004 - Fish Bone
- Specialist Report 2004 - Marine Mollusc
- Specialist Report 2004 - Amphibian Bone
- Specialist Report 2004 - Land Snails
- Specialist Report 2004 - Charred Plant Remains
- Specialist Report 2004 - Assessment Report on Small Finds
- Specialist report 2004 - Report on the Pottery
- Specialist Report 2005 - Report on the Human Remains
- Specialist Report 2005 - The Mammal Bone Assemblage (Methodology and Analysis of Bone by Context)
- Specialist Report 2005 - The Mammal Bone Assemblage (Butchery at High Pasture Cave)
- Specialist Report 2005 - Mammal Bone Assemblage (Interpretation & Comparison with other Assemblages)
- Specialist Report 2005 - Charcoal Analysis
- Specialist Report 2005 - Fish Bone and Marine Mollusc Report
- Specialist Report 2005 - Preliminary Analysis of Pollen and Spores from High Pasture Cave, Skye
- Specialist Report 2005 - Small Finds Assessment
- Specialists Report 2006 - Small Finds Assessment
Fieldwork - 2002/2003
Posted by steven on 14/02/2005 at 04:54 PM
After discussions with Tim Lawson, Andrew Kitchener (NMS), Fraser Hunter (NMS) and Noel Fojut (Historic Scotland) regarding the discovery of the disturbed archaeological material in High Pasture Cave in 2002, it was decided that a photographic record and detailed survey of the cave passage where the deposits were located should be made. This was followed by a grid collection of disturbed archaeological deposits throughout the length of Bone Passage, which were under constant threat from visiting caving parties to the area.
The detailed offset survey of the cave passage shows a steeply ascending ramp leading off the now active streamway in a south westerly direction. The floor of the passage remains largely intact and although muddied by activities of cavers within the system, the calcite floor can still be seen. This contains fragments of bone and shellfish remains interspersed with rock breccias of various sizes. The passage height here varies between 1.8 and 2.0 metres, although negotiating the farthest reaches of this section requires a short interval of stooping below a suspended block of limestone.
After passing below the suspended block, entry is gained into a larger continuation of the fossil passage, which now continues in a south south-easterly direction. The passage here is over 2.0 metres in height and averages some 1.5 metres in width, the floor showing areas of intact calcite flowstone floor and silt/stone breccia deposits. Moving along the gently rising passage, an alcove is passed on the right containing speleothem and flowstone, and suspended stones possibly indicating a former floor level. Within the flowstone and visible within open voids behind the speleothem barrier a significant quantity of bones survive in-situ, some of these deposits comprising large limb bones and mandible remains. Some of the latter were identified as those of pig (Sus scrofa). Two further shallow alcoves are passed on the left, also containing intact bone deposits, before the passage narrows and lowers slightly towards the end.
Disturbed archaeological deposits at the end of Bone Passage
Disturbed archaeological material was abundant in this area, the passage is lower here averaging around 1.4 metres in height, but maintains a width of around 1.8 metres. The floor of the passage comprises disturbed deposits consisting of stone breccias, silt and mud, most of which has been excavated by the cavers from the smaller section passage beyond. Some intact areas of flowstone containing bones and pot-boilers was identified along the western edge of the passage, and it is possible that further deposits still remain in-situ below the excavation spoil. Towards the far end of Bone Passage and to the right, there is a small area of stalagmite and flowstone interspersed with stones and boulders, some of which seem to be associated with some form of collapse feature. The total length of Bone Passage is just over 15 metres, with the excavated passage continuing for at least 5 to 6 metres beyond as a low, body-size tube.
Figure 9. Plan of Bone Passage showing where archaeological deposits were recovered.
Along the base of the passage where the walls come down to meet the floor, voids can be seen indicating that a substantial depth of material remains below that disturbed by the cavers. At this stage it is difficult to ascertain whether the archaeological deposits within the passage are merely a surface deposit, or if they continue down to lower levels within the cave sediments.
Recovery of Archaeological Material
Due to the presence of the deposits disturbed by the cavers excavating the passage and having no indication as to whether these activities were to be continued, a surface collection of faunal remains and archaeological material was conducted by zoned areas. A significant quantity of the recovered material has been damaged by the actions of the cavers and other post-depositional trauma. This material was placed in marked bags and removed from the cave, where the cave mud and sediments were carefully removed by gentle washing with a toothbrush and clean water. After allowing the material to dry in air, the deposits were sorted into basic groupings by zone, so that some form of quantification could be attempted, although much of the material had already been removed from its original contexts. Butchery marks were identified on some of the bone assemblage at this stage while the presence of speleothem encrustation on some material was also recognised, indicating the original context within the calcite/flowstone floor of the passage.
Figure 10. Fuanal remains collected from the cave including Roe Deer and Red Deer antler, the teeth of pig (Sus scrofa) and butchered limb bones of cattle and deer.
Figure 11. Cleaved skull, upper and lower mandible fragments of pig (Sus Scrofa). Calcite deposits can be seen on these faunal remains.
Although the bone deposits have been heavily disturbed and taken out of context by the activities of the cavers, with the resulting spoil deposited to the sides of the passage, concentrations of bone were still identified and recorded during the collection of surface deposits. The types and frequency of bone recovered within these concentrations would suggest that the remains of the animals had arrived in the cave passage relatively intact. In particular, large numbers of metacarpal and metatarsal bones of pig (Sus scrofa), and mandible/crania fragments of the same species, were collected from these zones along with the associated limb and vertebrae components; with three pig vertebrae found articulated. A significant proportion of the bones recovered revealed evidence for butchery and food preparation, including the splitting open of long bones to obtain marrow. Butchery marks in the form of single or multiple v-shaped grooves were particularly evident on ribs, vertebrae and limb bones and to a lesser degree on mandible fragments, scapulae and pelvic components.
However, a significant proportion of the faunal remains recovered from the disturbed sediments had received post-depositional damage, caused by the implements utilised by the cavers to excavate the passage. Many bones had also been crushed, through the removal and re-deposition of large boulders and by trampling of feet.
A total of 3326 individual bones were collected from the disturbed deposits, with 491 of these displaying clear evidence of butchery and food preparation. With regards to a basic analysis of this material conducted so far, it would seem that a significant proportion of the bones recovered relate to pig remains (Sus scrofa), although it is obviously difficult and beyond the experience of the author to suggest whether these are from domesticated animals or from Wild Boar (but see Appendix 1). The remainder of the bone assemblage includes red and roe deer, cattle and smaller mammals, although the assemblage requires a detailed analysis of species.
Red Deer antler is particularly well represented within the faunal assemblage, comprising both shed and unshed examples. The size of the individual antlers varies considerably with one specimen deriving from a large and mature animal, possibly indicating that deer on Skye at this time had access to a mature forest habitat. Many of the antler remains have been processed for possible tool-making material, with cut marks indicating where individual tines and sections of antler beam have been detached. One particular tine shows evidence of working in the form of two shallow parallel grooves, which display a ‘U’-shaped profile.
Digital images of bones recovered from High Pasture Cave displaying butchery marks.
Figure 16a Red Deer antler beam showing cut marks, possibly to extract material for tool making.
Figure 16b A second Red Deer antler beam with tines removed.
Figure 16c Rib fragments of pig from the cave showing clear butchery marks.
Figure 16d Limb bones of deer and cattle split and butchered to extract the marrow.
Remains of shellfish were collected from all zones within the cave passage and would seem to be interspersed with the bone breccias. The species represented include limpets (Patella vulgata/Patella aspera), periwinkles (Littorina littorea), mussel (Mytilus edulis), oyster (Ostrea edulis) and king scallop (Pecten maximus), although other sub-species may be present within the samples (see table below). One fish vertebrae was identified during the collection due its preservation in a small piece of calcite flowstone and it is possible that further fish remains are present within the finer cave sediments, although sieving would be required to extract this smaller material efficiently. Several different species of land snail were also collected from the deposits.
Anthropogenic Indicators from the Cave
Within the disturbed cave deposits charcoal fragments are numerous, from small flecks to large (35mm) diameter sections of burnt wood. Species identification should be possible on this material. A significant quantity of burnt beach or river pebbles (pot boilers) was also identified in the cave passage and several of these were removed for closer examination. Comprising sandstone, granite and basalt elements, many of these pebbles have been subjected to high temperatures and are heavily fractured. The pebbles collected range between 80mm and 150mm, although many are fragmented, and some are covered in speleothem deposits.
Several small quartz pebbles were also recovered from the disturbed deposits, one in particular showing evidence of pitting at both distal and proximal ends. The pebble measures 51mm in length and has a mean cross-section of 27mm. Several other small pebbles of sandstone and granite show areas of high polish and may have been used as some form of tool, while sandstone and quartz pebbles display distinctive areas of use from heavily worn and pitted areas to bevels on both sides at one end, these forming a chisel edge to the pebble tool. These may be some form of grinding or chopping tool.
On cleaning the samples from the cave fragments of pottery were identified, the outer faces of the fragments displaying a buff to light orange coarse hand-made fabric, with coarse grit inclusions. The pottery fragments include base and rim sherds from a variety of different vessels, and an incised cordon would seem to be typical of Late Bronze Age/Iron Age typology. The internal surfaces of some of the ceramic sherds are covered in a black organic residue, although this may also be due to post-depositional processes. Evidence of grass tempering is also visible on the majority of the ceramic pieces. Several of the sherds refit together.
One heavily corroded iron object was also recovered from Bone Passage. A close examination of this object revealed some form of socketed axe or adze complete with a mineralised section of the wooden shaft preserved in-situ. This was immediately despatched to the National Museums of Scotland, in order to provide the necessary conservation measures required for such a delicate and potentially diagnostic artefact.
Figure 19. Prehistoric pottery sherds from the cave passage. Most of the sherds show evidence of grass tempering, while several pieces are decorated. Black residues survive within most of the fragments, which may relate to the use of the vessels.
Finally, during the month of March 2003, Martin Wildgoose and myself visited the site to investigate the landscape surrounding the cave for evidence of surface features that may be contemporary in date with the recovered archaeological material. On previous visits to the cave the vegetation cover had been quite dense (mainly bracken and nettles), while the geology of the area creates a quite chaotic scatter of rock outcrops and loose stone, making the identification of any upstanding features difficult.
The landscape surrounding Kilbride and Torrin is rich in monuments from the prehistoric and historic periods. The prehistoric landscape in particular can be remarkably intact with settlements of round houses and their associated clearance cairns, enclosures and field boundaries, being well preserved. The small glen in which Kilbride is situated has provided a focus for settlement covering some considerable time, with a stone circle, a standing stone and numerous funerary monuments, forming a centre for the prehistoric inhabitants. During the early historic period the complex became a focus for Early Christian activities, later dedicated to St. Bridget, while post medieval settlement remains are well represented throughout the area.
During our visit to the site surface vegetation was at a minimum and we immediately identified a complex of features in close proximity to the cave entrance. A survey was carried out of these features during May/June 2003. In particular, the remains of a stone-built roundhouse around 10.0 metres diameter over walls averaging 1.5 to 2.0 metres thick, was located 15 metres north of the excavated entrance to the cave. With a possible entrance facing southeast the roundhouse has associated enclosures and features, many of which were obscured during the survey by bracken. Approximately 5.0 metres southeast of the roundhouse entrance are the remains of a stone-built ‘U’- shaped enclosure with walls varying between 2.0 and 3.0 metres thick. The stone and rubble walls of the structure still survive to a maximum of 1.2 metres in height, while the overall size of the building measures 14.0 metres on the SW-NE axis by 12.0 metres on the SE-NW axis. The opening of the ‘U’- shape structure faces the excavated entrance of the cave and a line of boulders set on edge forms a possible revetment.
The excavated entrance to the cave has a low semi-circular stone built wall arcing around the northeast sector, while a small stone-built cell was identified 10.0 metres to the southeast. Approximately 20.0 metres southeast of the ‘U’- shaped structure is a grass-covered levelled platform with no apparent surface features, although a large boulder-built wall cuts across the northeast edge. Additional sections of degraded boulder walls were identified running off this feature and it is possible that other structures are obscured by the natural geology of the area and clearance material.
Within the confines of the High Pasture enclosure other features of archaeological interest were identified including the remains of a farmstead, possibly of post-medieval date, and associated ancillary structures. Three separate phases of boundary dyke was also identified during the survey work.
The fieldwork undertaken so far in High Pasture Cave has revealed significant archaeological deposits possibly dating to the later prehistoric period, covering a period of time between the Late Bronze Age and the first or second century AD (Fraser Hunter, pers comm.), while the wider landscape setting includes evidence of settlement in the region over a considerable period of time. However, the material collected from the cave so far is derived from the upper levels of the in-situ deposits and it is not yet known if potentially earlier material remains within the lower levels of the stratigraphic sequence.
Andrew Kitchener and Fraser Hunter of the National Museums of Scotland have carried out a basic analysis of the material recovered from the cave, confirming that at least 80-90% of the faunal assemblage is from pig or wild boar and that they display a range of butchery marks. The cut marks reviewed so far would suggest cutting with a sharp knife (possibly of iron) and chopping with a blunt-edged instrument. Some of the bones analysed also provide evidence of pre-mortality trauma, such as three ribs from a young pig which had been fractured and that had subsequently healed before the animal was killed, or died (Kitchener, pers comm.).
The high proportion of pig remains from the assemblage, which contrasts considerably with other excavated prehistoric sites in the Hebrides and within the wider context of the United Kingdom, prompted me to research the available literature in some depth. The resulting data set failed to find excavated sites or faunal assemblages with such a predominance of pig, whether wild or domesticated. Most sites in the Hebrides showed pig to be fairly low in the species count with cattle, sheep/goat and red deer being more prominent, although red deer numbers are often slightly exaggerated due to the presence of shed antlers.
Archaeological evidence for wild pig has certainly been found on sites of Mesolithic date such as the Oronsay shell midden sites (Grigson & Mellars, 1987: 243-86), while wild and domestic pig remains are found in faunal assemblages from archaeological sites from the Neolithic period onwards. For example, sites in the Orkney Islands such as Knap of Howar on Papa Westray have produced well preserved pig bones from the extensive shell middens excavated there, although bones of cattle and sheep dominate the assemblage (Smith, 2000:706-7). During the Bronze Age evidence for pigs has been found in both domestic and funerary contexts, although the species is not well represented when compared with other domesticates (Idem:708). However, it would seem that during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age in Scotland, the relative frequency of pigs compared with the other main food-forming mammals increased, especially towards the end of the Iron Age. Sites such as Crosskirk Broch in Caithness produced a faunal assemblage where 16.4% of the food-forming mammals were of pig, while Howe in Orkney 17.7% were of pig (Idem:708).
Figure 20. Quartz and sandstone pebbles recovered from the cave, some showing distinctive wear patterns to indicate that they have been utilised as tools (above).
Figure 21 Coarse pebble tools from High Pasture Cave. Figure 19a Quartz hammerstone/grinder. Figure 19b Sandstone multi-purpose tool, showing evidence of grinding and facets where flakes have been detached to form working surfaces.
The significance of pigs in the diet of the inhabitants of the north and west of Scotland during the Iron Age has recently been reappraised by Pearson et al (1996), especially with regards to broch sites in these regions. In the light of recent work undertaken at Dun Vulan in South Uist where pig remains accounted for 22% of the recovered assemblage, Pearson et al concluded that people associated with brochs led a higher-status way of life than those of the wheelhouses and this would indeed seem to be the case when reviewing the recovered faunal remains from such sites. However, even in the case of the broch sites investigated to date, that have produced quantifiable faunal remains, pig usually figures third in the list of food-forming mammals below that of cattle and sheep/goat.
One broch site that displays a slight variance to this more general theme is that of Dun Ardtreck on Skye where the excavator, Euan MacKie, suggested that domesticated cattle provided most of the meat for the inhabitants, while ‘hunted’ red deer and ‘wild pig’ followed (MacKie, 2001:344). MacKie found the scarcity of sheep remains from the site rather surprising when contrasted with other broch sites such as Dun Mor Vaul on Tiree, where the latter species dominated the recovered assemblage. MacKie agreed with Noddle regarding the high ratios of red deer and pig bones recovered from Dun Ardtreck (Noddle, 1974), that the environment around the site must have had a significant amount of woodland suitable for deer and pig, this not being suitable for sheep. MacKie also suggested that the inhabitants of these ‘high status’ sites would also have been fond of hunting.
Having researched the literature relating to the incidence of pig bones in faunal assemblages recovered from archaeological sites in Scotland, I came to the conclusion that High Pasture Cave may have had some form of special significance at the time the site was utilised. My immediate thoughts turned to the hunting of wild boar in the adjacent woodlands, or some form of pastoral farming of semi-domesticated pigs. However, as to the potential function of the site, including the deposits within the cave passage and the overlying structures, ritual feasting was one possible scenario to which literary sources constantly referred me. For example, as late as 500 AD, pig meat was associated with feasting in Ireland and it is thought that this may have been a continuation of a much older tradition. During the excavation of Dun Aonghasa in the Aran Islands, Phase 1 revealed a large fire within the inner enclosure and although a significant faunal assemblage was recovered from the site the only pig bones recovered was associated with this feature (Irish Discovery Programme, 2000).
It was during this phase of research that I contacted Peter Rowley-Conwy of the University of Durham, whose research interests include the archaeology of the pig including the study of pig domestication and management in various parts of the world. After consultation with Fraser Hunter at the National Museum in Edinburgh, Peter performed a very rapid scan of the recovered bone assemblage from High Pasture Cave on the 16th June 2003. Peter confirmed that some 80-90% of the bone assemblage derives from pig (Sus scrofa) and that the assemblage is potentially very important and would repay a detailed analysis (see Appendix 1). Peter had also noticed the fairly high incidence of butchery marks on the bones, but that while the longbones of cattle and deer had been smashed to extract the marrow, the same bones of pig were complete. Peter thought this to be rather unusual, in that when bones are processed and meat removed in a domestic context, the longbones are usually fragmented for their marrow, which was an important source of nutrition until recent times.
Therefore, with this factor in mind and taking into consideration the high percentage of pig bones in the High Pasture Cave assemblage, Peter suggested one possible parallel for the site. The Late Neolithic ritual site of Durrington Walls in Wiltshire also produced a large sample of pig bones that displayed similar characteristics. The longbones were relatively intact at this site, while the recognition of unusual marks of burning associated with erosion on many of the numerous pig humeri, astragali, and calcanei, suggests the roasting of large joints of meat or even whole pigs. The ‘feasting’ that this indicates at Durrington Walls accords well with the assumed ceremonial function of the site, although the variability in the condition of other pig bones suggests that the site might also have had a domestic function, perhaps at different times of year (Albarella & Serjeantson, 2002).
Figure 22. The socketed adze recovered from Zone 3 in the high-level passage, with the mineralised remains of the wooden shaft (to the right in Figure 22b).
Additional important preliminary data resulting from Peter’s analysis of the pig bones is regarding mortality. He suggested that most of the pigs were killed young, with the majority of these being in the region of 8-11 months old, while two individuals were older and might have been 18-22 months old. Although these ages are approximate and provisional, and assuming that the pigs were probably born seasonally in April, then this could suggest that both age classes were killed in the winter. This agrees with mortality data obtained from other excavated pig assemblages in Scotland such as at Howe, Orkney, where 52.5% died, or were killed, before they reached the end of the first year of life. A further 32.7% died at this site before they reached the end of their second year, while at Crosskirk Broch a total of 61% of the pig bones came from young or juvenile animals. At Dun Vulan in South Uist, at least 70% of pigs had died or were killed within their first year (Smith, 2000:708-9).
Figure 24. Antler and bone artefacts from High Pasture Cave. Figure 24a & 24b - Antler tine showing decorative parallel grooves.
Figure 24c. A polished bone point.
Finally, within this discussion it would seem logical to attempt some form of explanation as to how the archaeological material was deposited in the fossilised high-level passage of High Pasture Cave. After reviewing the morphology of the cave and the proposed sequence of development, it seems likely that the passage containing the archaeological deposits was situated very near to some form of original inlet for the system, although any indications of a former sink or swallet are not visible on the surface. With regards to how the material entered the system, it seems improbable that this was water-borne as articulated bone and charcoal would not survive such turbulent processes. Also, the archaeological material shows no evidence of water erosion that would result from this action.
Therefore, there are three possible scenarios by which the material entered the system:
The material was dumped as refuse down the former sinkhole or swallet, which would have been open at this time, forming an underground midden. This is a practice that has continued into the recent past in cave entrances on Skye.
The high-level passage containing the archaeological deposits terminates at a position immediately below the large ‘U’- shaped structure and it is possible that this structure may have formed an enclosure encircling the entrance to the cave, where ritual feasting and offerings were made to the water deities? Special springs and wells, and votive shafts are known to have had special significance with Celtic societies and may have provided entrances to the ‘underworld’. Although sites such as these may be difficult to positively identify in the archaeological record, these sacred places might have been surrounded by an earthwork, palisade or ditch. The site of Minehowe in Orkney comes to mind here, with the underground steps leading into a chamber that would have housed a source of water, or well, while the site as a whole had been encircled by a large cut ditch.
Finally, had the underground passage been utilised as a natural souterrain, associated with a complex of domestic buildings on the surface? Souterrains have been found associated with surface structures elsewhere on Skye, such as the Iron Age house at Tungadale where the souterrain entrance was concealed within the thickness of the house wall (Wildgoose, pers comm.).
Therefore, the archaeological deposits discovered in High Pasture Cave on the island of Skye and the associated structures on the surface, constitute a site of considerable importance. The organic remains from the cave are extremely well preserved and the bone assemblage in particular is unusual in several respects, and would repay more detailed analysis (see Appendix 1). The high incidence of pig remains within the assemblage, possibly one of the highest ratios yet discovered on an archaeological site in Scotland, is also of note, while the implications of a possible ritual context for the material would be worth exploring. The data gathered from further work at the site would complement our rapidly expanding knowledge of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age society in the region at a time when significant environmental changes were taking place on a national scale.
The archaeological deposits remaining in the passages of High Pasture Cave are subject to a continuing threat from visiting speleologists. The cave system is the most popular in the region, having relatively easy access and quite extensive passages, while limited possibilities exist with regards to new extensions. It is this last factor that resulted in the disturbance of the archaeological deposits in the cave, although the frequent movement of people along the high-level passage was culminating in damage to the calcite floor and the deposits below.
Although archaeological material from the disturbed deposits has been recovered, the remaining sediments and any material they might contain are exposed to further damage. Therefore, a course of archaeological fieldwork and evaluation is urgently required in the cave, in order to limit the potential threat to this important site. However, there are other important factors to take into consideration regarding the site, including questions concerning the relationship of the cave to the complex of structures on the surface and the function of the site throughout its occupation. The high percentage of pig bones within the recovered faunal assemblage makes this site unique in Scotland, while at a national level I have been unable to find bone assemblages with such a high incidence of pig as a species, with the exception of Durrington Walls in Wiltshire.
Therefore, the question as to whether the recovered assemblage and the possibly associated complex of structures is domestic or ‘ritualistic’ in nature, or a combination of both, remains to be clarified. An evaluation of the structures and the deposits in the cave would be required in answering such questions, especially with regards to the potential differential deposition of animal bones within different sectors of the site and the nature of bone survival with relation to the various species represented. The resulting data set could significantly enhance our perception and interpretation of late prehistoric society in the region, while the in-depth study of the faunal assemblage would help clarify the role of domestic and wild animals within their subsistence economies. A detailed analysis of the faunal assemblage is a crucial aspect of this work and Peter Rowley-Conwy, under the auspices of the University of Durham, has received permission from the National Museums of Scotland to undertake this work.
The formation and development of the High Pasture Cave system would also require clarification from a qualified cave morphologist. Such questions as how and where the archaeological material entered the cave, the deposition and age of the cave sediments, and the formation of calcite, would have to be assessed in order to address the stratigraphy with relation to archaeological deposits. The importance of caves to archaeology in Scotland has been appreciated since the later stages of the 19th century, although there is a lack of understanding of diagenesis of archaeological sites in karstic environments (Oosterbeek, 1993:49). The record of cave excavations shows an abnormal dominance of ‘disturbed’ layers, which instead are likely to be complex stratigraphies. The origins of these sediments may be multiphase with time, often not show well-defined stratigraphy, may or may not be cemented and will often vary in nature both vertically and laterally (Latham, 1999:1). Therefore, these factors have to be clearly understood and taken into consideration when evaluating such a cave site.
Therefore, High Pasture Cave and the archaeological deposits it contains, in association with the complex of surface structures of possible contemporary date, would provide a complex and challenging project. However, the rewards could be unique, allowing us the opportunity to study and interpret domestic and ritual life during the later prehistoric period. In addition, such a project would provide the impetus to address the appropriate methodologies required in surveying and excavating within the cave environment.
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Preliminary Report on the Bone Assemblage from High Pasture Cave, Skye
Dr. Peter Rowley-Conwy
Department of Archaeology
University of Durham
The animal bones from Uamh an Ard Achadh are remarkably well preserved, particularly bearing in mind that bones are rarely preserved at all in the Hebrides. The bones were examined by the author on 16.6.03, but it must be stressed that this was limited to taking some measurements of the pig bones; full analysis will hopefully take place in the future. What follows is therefore strictly provisional.
The assemblage appears to be remarkable in a number of ways over and above the good state of preservation.
1. The overwhelming majority of the bones come from pig (Sus scrofa). Quantification was not undertaken, but the impression is that perhaps 80-90% of the bones may be from this species. This was unexpected for environmental reasons: the climate of Skye is not very well suited to pig rearing, and the traditional economy of more recent times has therefore been based on sheep.
2. The pig bones have a remarkably high frequency of cut marks on them. The bones were therefore definitely processed by humans, and the meat removed.
3. Despite this, most of the longbones were complete. This is unusual: when bones are processed and meat removed in a domestic context, the longbones are usually fragmented for their marrow, which was an important source of nutrition until recent times. There is however at least one possible parallel: the major late neolithic ritual site of Durrington Walls produced a large sample of pig bones that had definitely been processed by humans, but these too were largely unbroken (Albarella and Serjeantson 2002). The implications of this for a possible ritual context of the Uamh an Ard Achaidh bones would be worth exploring.
4. Preliminary indications are that the bones come from domestic pigs, not wild boar. Full analysis of this remains to be carried out, but in NW Europe domestic pigs are usually smaller than wild boar (Rowley-Conwy in press). The Uamh an Ard Achaidh pigs were quite small, and the preliminary conclusion is therefore that were domestic.
5. Most of the pigs were killed young, i.e. before they were dentally mature. Several of the mandibles had the second permanent molar in an early stage of eruption, which would indicate that the animals were probably around 8-11 months old. Two were older, with the second molar erupted and the third molar in an early stage of eruption; these animals might have been around 18-22 months old. These ages are approximate and provisional, but if correct, and if we assume that the pigs were probably born seasonally, in April, this could suggest that both age classes were killed in the winter.
In conclusion, the bones from Uamh an Ard Achaidh are unusual in several respects and would repay more detailed analysis.
Albarella, U. and Serjeantson, D. 2002. A passion for pork: meat consumption at the British Late Neolithic site of Durrington Walls. In Consuming Passions and Patterns of Consumption, eds. P. Miracle and N. Milner, pp. 33-49. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Rowley-Conwy, P. in press. Early domestic animals in Europe: imported or locally domesticated? To appear in The Widening Harvest, eds. A.J. Ammerman and P. Biagi. Boston: Archaeological Institute of America.
Figure 29. Tusks of wild boar or domesticated pig recovered from High Pasture Cave, Skye (scale=cm).
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