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Date 16 May 2009 - 31 October 2009

Event ID 607319

Category Recording

Type Excavation


NC 2680 1702 In 2008 (DES 2008, 98) most of the skeleton of a brown bear was removed from the Portobello Promenade passage (NC 2688 1690) and an ulna was recovered from Legless Highway (NC 2688 1695). Further visits were made to both of these sites 16 May–31 October 2009.

A detailed examination of the first site unearthed some small rib fragments and a metacarpal, while a vertebra and rib fragments were found lying exposed near the second. The main finds were the result of a caver spotting a reindeer antler protruding from sediments in what is now named Antler Chamber (NC 2682 1700). This chamber lies directly under the Bone Caves, though any connecting passage has been choked, possibly for many thousands of years. While assessing the work several more finds were made including a bear humerus lying on the surface, a wild horse lower mandible, and more reindeer antler fragments and a rib

protruding from the floor sediments. The prize find was a superb, almost completely undamaged, brown bear skull, hidden behind a slab next to the chamber wall. Permission was sought and granted by Historic Scotland and all finds were collected and taken to NMS for conservation.

The bear skeleton recovered in 2008 has been radiocarbon dated at 23,650 ± 110 BP, making this the first Scottish Pleistocene brown bear. A month later the isolated bear ulna was found to be much older at 45,000 ± 1000 BP, Three finds from Antler Chamber were dated: a reindeer antler at 12,110 ± 40 BP; a bear humerus at 11,625 ± 40 BP; and a wild horse mandible at 11,595 ± 40 BP. These dates will help to refine the chronology of the Late Devensian ice sheet in Assynt, as brown bear would not be present during full glacial conditions and the cave entrances would not have been accessible. We gratefully acknowledge Scottish Natural Heritage’s assistance in funding the radiocarbon dates for this project.

Archive: Sealladh Alainn, 4 Upper Breakish, Isle of Skye, Invernessshire, IV42 8PY – Data Structure Report: Highland Council SMR, Historic Scotland, RCAHMS and SNH (intended)

Funder: Grampian Speleological Group, NMS and SNH

Steven Birch and Ivan Young – Grampian Speleological Group, Edinburgh

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