Comann Eachdraidh Ionadail Phortrigh

 

Portree Local History Society

Chair: I. G. MacDonald

Secretary: Marilyn Clarke
Treasurer: Rita Campbell

Our New Season
2008 - 2009
at Tigh na Sgire, Portree
7.30 p.m.

Programme of Meetings: 2008 - 2009

  • October 14, 2008
    High Pasture Cave and developments at Fiskavaig
    Stephen Birch

  • November 11, 2008
    MacLean family of Raasay.
    Iona MacDonald
  • December 9, 2008
    NB VENUE: Dunvegan Castle
    - The Castle, The Clan, The Homecoming
  • January 13, 2009
    All Creatures Great and Small- 50 Years as a Vet on Skye.
    D.J. Maclennan
  • February 10, 2009
    UHI History Department.
    Dr Jim Hunter
  • March 10, 2009
    St Maolrubha & St Columba.
    Norman Newton
  • April 14, 2009
    Col. Jock Collection and Museum of Isles Collection.
    Maggie MacDonald

Previous Meetings: 2007 - 2008

October 9 - Ian Suddaby - The Excavation at Home Farm
November 13 - Dr Jeff Stone - St Kilda: Two Decades of Digging and Scraping
(in association with Aberdeen University Centre for Lifelong Learning )
December 11 - Dr Martin MacGregor - The Lordship of the Isles
January 8 - Seonachan MacLeod - Deserted Villages of Skye
February 12 - Professor Brian Sykes - Vikings in the Blood?
March 11 - Murray MacDonald - Mobile Banking by Land and Sea in the Highlands and Islands
April 8 - AGM, with guest speaker - Ronnie Armstrong - Para Handy and the Clyde Puffers

Programme of Meetings: 2006 - 2007

October 10 - Bill Cowie - Kirk Cave, Rona
November 14 - Alister Ross – Education – PHS100
December 12 - Norman Newton - Skye and Raasay
(in association with Aberdeen University Centre for Lifelong Learning )
January 9 - Pat Myhill - Telford’s Stein
February 13 - Fiona MacKenzie – Màiri Mhòr nan Orain -
A song-lecture
March 13 - Ian McCrorie - The MacBrayne Story
April 10 - AGM, with guest speaker - Roger Hutchinson - “Calum’s Road”

All meetings are held at Tigh na Sgire, Portree,
at 7. 30 p.m.,
on the second Tuesday of each month.


Contact us:

 

Archaeology at The Edge

Developments at High Pasture Cave and the Cave of the Speckled Horse

Steven Birch

14 October 2008

The Society is hugely grateful to Steven Birch for stepping in, almost at the last minute, to replace our arranged speaker and, even more so, for presenting such a fascinating and compelling account of Skye’s two most important archaeological sites.

High Pasture Cave - Uamh an Àrd-Achaidh

Work here is now (2008) in its fifth season, and the excavation is expected to finish in 2009 and be followed by several years of evaluation before publication.

Apart from the detailed examination of the finds in and around the Cave itself, work has also been done to place the site in its wider context, by looking at the surrounding settlement pattern which seems to include roundhouses from the Iron Age, agricultural patterns and even other Caves, one of which seems to be directly related to a roundhouse.

High Pasture Cave represents a sizeable site, with 80 to 100 metres accessible, opening from a natural hollow on the surface, and it shows signs of having been visited for 7 – 8000 years. Apart from vast numbers of animal bones, finds range from early stone tools to pottery to worked metal. Major activity on the site seems to have been focused around 2500 years ago, in the early Iron Age.

Recent discoveries have included a quern, spindle whorls, possible tuning pegs for a lyre, an iron axe, an adze and a sword pommel, as well as a paved walkway outside the Cave proper. Some of these finds indicate that they were placed deliberately, rather than thrown away or lost, which leads to the possible conclusions that the Cave is a sacred site and some of the finds were votive in nature.

Recent detailed archaeology has been focusing on the layers of sediment just outside the Cave, much of which is ash, which suggests, along with the presence of hearths and fire-cracked stone, that the site was used for burning over a considerable period, albeit with some spells of hiatus. Finds in the ash have included jet, soapstone, copper alloys, whorls and bone pins. Again there are clear suggestions that some of these finds were deliberately placed.

The vast numbers of animal bones – pigs, cattle, deer included - not only confirm the sort of activity that was taking place at the Cave but also, by their nature, suggest that the butchery was primary – some of the animals were almost certainly slaughtered at the site.

Other explorations have uncovered wall structures and a staircase which shows signs of having a domed, corbelled roof.

From his detailed description of the work, Steven pointed out some of the possible, but as yet tentative, conclusions. The Cave exists in the context of other settlement and, most importantly, water. The Cave’s function is intriguing. There are clear signs of fire, feasting, butchery, metal-working and what can be described best as “everyday life” - the trenches have revealed objects associated with normal everyday life - domestic-type objects that may have taken on a new meaning due to their deposition at the site, possibly at the end of their use. The possibilities are tantalising.

Now excavations are reaching their final stages, work is being done to record the site with the help of very precise (and costly) laser equipment. As interpretation continues, the web site – www.high-pasture-cave.org – will provide an ongoing account of progress.

The Cave of the Speckled Horse – Uamh an Eich-Bhric

Steven then turned our attention to this new, exciting development at Fiskavaig, or rather, at a spot on the shore below 300 ft cliffs, constantly at risk of storm and sea erosion and rock fall.

The site is unique, reached by an hour and a half walk across the moor and down the cliff or, more precariously and not always successfully, by boat.

The two trenches dug so far have produced, again, large amounts of animal bone, shellfish remains, stones and ash. A quernstone has been found, along with slab-built hearths, fire-cracked pebbles and copper alloy, with other signs of metal working.

The animal bones seem to represent complete carcasses - cattle, sheep/goat, pig, red deer, some seal and whale (although the latter may be left by people scavenging along the shore, finding a beached whale and removing some of the bone - which make useful tools etc.).

The excavations are in the early stages but are already throwing up all sorts of fascinating questions – not least, how did the animals, the fuel, the raw materials for metal working, the people get to such a site that would have been just as inaccessible 2000+ years ago?

We will wait with bated breath for further details of the finds at the Cave, and keep our collective fingers crossed that this coming Winter’s storms do not do too much damage to the site.

Steve Clarke

October 2008
(My sincere thanks to Steven for checking this for inaccuracies or lack of clarity - far more detail will be found at the High Pasture web site and in the PLHS transcription of Steven's talk)

 

Previous Meetings: 2006 - 2007

October 10 - Bill Cowie - Kirk Cave, Rona
November 14 - Alister Ross – Education – PHS100
December 12 - Norman Newton - Skye and Raasay
(in association with Aberdeen University Centre for Lifelong Learning )
January 9 - Pat Myhill - Telford’s Stein
February 13 - Fiona MacKenzie – Màiri Mhòr nan Orain -
A song-lecture
March 13 - Ian McCrorie - The MacBrayne Story
April 10 - AGM, with guest speaker - Roger Hutchinson - “Calum’s Road”

All meetings are held at Tigh na Sgire, Portree,
at 7. 30 p.m.,
on the second Tuesday of each month.


Contact us:

 

 

Published by Stephen Clarke, on behalf of Portree Local History Society - © October 2008.
Photographs, unless otherwise stated © Dualchas 2006
The publisher and the Society publish this information in good faith, but cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions.
Meeting dates and topics are subject to change.