The Work

Specialist Report 2004 - Assessment Report on Small Finds

Posted by steven on 27/04/2005 at 07:31 PM


Dawn McLaren & Fraser Hunter - National Museums of Scotland


This assemblage of 90 items comprises a range of coarse stone, lithics, metal and worked bone and antler objects. The overall assemblage is characterised in table 1, with further details of each category given below.

(See Table 1: Summary of Assemblage - below)

Coarse stone

A total of 101 coarse stone items was initially submitted. Of these 22 were worked and a further seven are possibly worked, while 19 were heat-affected; the majority (53) were natural unworked water-worn cobbles.

This assemblage displays a wide range of uses including grinders, pounders, hammerstones, polishers, smoothing stones, whetstones, palettes, rubbing stones, saddle querns, a possible strike-a-light, a fragment of a rotary quern and haematite nodules ground down for use as pigment. All are domestic, functional items with the exception of a small oval perforated stone pendant; cobble tools dominate, as is typical. Most of the cobble tools appear to be multi-functional items, often with signs of significant use. The assemblage would benefit from geological identification of the materials as a wide range of stone types have been utilised.

Rotary quern fragment (HPC0119) from roundhouse wall core

Pebble grinder (HPC0140)

Pebble grinder (HPC0132)


A total of 8 lithics were identified within the assemblage. Seven are flint (one burnt) and one is quartz. None are retouched.


There are four copper alloy fragments, of which three decorated sheet fragments are probably from the same object. Two iron artefacts have been found so far: a knife blade and a socketed adze with remnants of the wooden handle remaining. The adze is an unusual find; sockets rather than shaft-holes are commoner in the earlier periods of the Iron Age, which suits the single radiocarbon date obtained so far.

Iron adze recovered from disturbed deposits in Bone Passage

Bone and antler

Twenty-one bone or antler objects were found, of which sixteen are artefactual (the remaining five fragments require further study). The assemblage includes simple bone points and perforated antler mounts held with antler pegs; these have good Iron Age parallels. There is also a rough antler beam segment socketed for use as a tool handle, while two points have indents around their tips arising from use; they were perhaps used in the manufacture or winding of thread.

Much of the other antler recovered from the cave is manufacturing debris. 26 pieces of antler-working debris have been recovered so far, along with a number of unidentifiable fragments. All stages of preparation are represented from rough-outs, off-cuts and waste material to two fragments which were in the final stages of preparation. Distinct knife cuts are visible on most of the worked pieces, and it seems the knife was the favoured working implement. Where the burr remains, the majority were shed but three were deliberately removed from the skull. The range of sizes indicates that a range of antlers from mature adults to immature animals was utilised; both red and roe deer are represented, with the former favoured.

Antler objects from Trench 1, Bone Passage


Three small bags of charcoal require specialist examination for further identification. Three fragments of an unidentified fibrous material require specialist examination.


The variety of objects within this assemblage is typical for Atlantic Iron Age assemblages. It is particularly valuable in a local context, as old excavations on Skye are poorly published while more recent ones (with the notable exception of Dun Ardtreck) are generally unpublished, known only in interim form or artefactually poor.

The material is not chronologically diagnostic within the Iron Age, although the socket of the adze supports a first millennium BC date, as does the use of knives rather than saws to work the antler. There is nothing so far to indicate any pre-Iron Age component to the assemblage bar the few pieces of struck lithic; these require further examination. The overall character of the assemblage is domestic; despite its unusual location in a cave, it appears to be typical domestic debris.


1 The material requires full cataloguing and comparative study for publication.
2 The stone objects require geological identification.
3 The metal items require conservation.
4 XRF analysis of the copper alloy fragments is required.
5 Illustration will be required for some of the stone, the worked bone/antler and metal items.

NMS will undertake tasks 1, 2 and 4 as their contribution to the project, and will deal with all further small finds. If HS are part-funding the work, then task 3 may fall within the scope of their conservation call-off contract with AOC. Marion O’Neil has already drawn some of the items; she will be able to provide a costing for further work.

Category Number Notes
Coarse Stone 22+7? Mainly cobble tools, also rotary and saddle querns, utilised haematite
Struck lithics 8 Debitage
Copper alloy 4 3 from one decorated object
Iron 2 Socketed Adze
Bone/Antler 21 objects & 26 pieces of debris Mounts, handles, ?thread-winders, & a wide range of manufacturing debris
Other Charcoal & Fibrous material -
Table 1 - Summary of Assemblage.

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