Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Culzean Coves, Main Cavern System

Cave(S) (Period Unassigned), Wall (Period Unknown)

Site Name Culzean Coves, Main Cavern System

Classification Cave(S) (Period Unassigned), Wall (Period Unknown)

Alternative Name(s) Culzean Coves, West Caves; Culzean Castle Policies; Culzean Country Park

Canmore ID 214842

Site Number NS21SW 1.05

NGR NS 2328 1029

NGR Description Centred NS 2328 1029

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2022.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Administrative Areas

  • Council South Ayrshire
  • Parish Kirkoswald
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Kyle And Carrick
  • Former County Ayrshire

Archaeology Notes

NS21SW 1.05 centred 2328 1029

Scheduled with NS21SW 1.06 (centred NS 2337 1033) as Culzean Coves, caves.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 4 March 2002.

NS 2328 1029 As part of the Channel 4 series Extreme Archaeology, five trenches were excavated within the castle caves (NS21SW 1.05; see DES 2003, 122).

Trench A measured 1m N-S by 0.3m and was excavated at the inside end of the main entrance passage on the southern side. This revealed that the floor of the original entrance was 0.55-0.6m below the current ground surface. The lower fill within the passage consisted of medium-sized boulders, while the silty clay above contained numerous artefacts including the base of an 18th-century wine bottle.

Trench B measured 1.3m NE-SW by 0.6m and was located over a previous trench that had been excavated in the 1960s by the Glasgow Speleological Society. This revealed a stone-built culvert immediately beneath the floor of the cave running approximately N-S, adjacent to the E wall of the main chamber (chamber A). The culvert had a stone base which appeared to be bedrock and had irregular angular blocks forming the sides and the capstones. The void was c 0.5m wide by 0.4m deep. A number of animal bones and human bones were recovered from within the fill of the culvert. The human bones include a cervical vertebra, a thoracic vertebra, a lumbar vertebra and a single tooth.

Trench C also examined the remains of the culvert, 5.5m to the SE of Trench B, further into the cave. This trench revealed that the top of the capstones of the culvert were buried below 0.2-0.3m of silt. Once again, the culvert was quite roughly built of angular blocks, although in this case the capstone was a substantial sandstone block. The void was slightly smaller, being 0.4-0.5m wide by 0.3-0.35m deep. Excavation also recovered a number of human bones, both adult and immature, including a thoracic vertebra which was sitting on the surface of the cave floor. A radiocarbon date (Wk14017) for this bone gave a range of AD 770-990. This trench also established the relationship between the culvert and roughly built wall which partly blocks off a small side chamber on the E side of the main chamber. The wall appears to have been constructed before the culvert.

Trench D was excavated at the base of the southern side of the innermost pillar in the upper chamber (chamber B). The trench measured 2m NW-SE by 1.2m, and was positioned across the backfilled 1960s excavation trench which had measured c 6.5 x 0.5m. The backfill of the previous excavation trench was found to contain large quantities of animal bone and a single human bone, a juvenile vertebra. It was clear that the pillar, which tradition states was built by Robert Adam to support the roof of the cave in the 1770s, had very little foundation and sat in a shallow cut, 0.14m deep. This cut truncated a number of shallow ashy and coal layers which sat above a stone and clay surface that had clearly been heat-affected. This feature appears to be the remains of a hearth.

Below this hearth were a series of mixed deposits containing fragments of bone and pieces of angular stone. This layer overlay a range of burnt deposits and midden material, including charcoal and shell, which filled the spaces between the boulders. The lowest deposit was a medium brown silt that filled some of the gaps between stones. When this was removed, voids could be seen between the stones, indicating that much of these upper layers are sitting upon rubble, possibly roof collapse. Other artefacts from this trench include shards of 18th-century wine bottles and some 18th- and 19th-century pottery sherds. Three sherds of green-glazed post-medieval pottery were also found, as was a flint flake. Some of these deposits appear to have been mixed by burrowing rats which had tunnelled in through the side of the 1960s trench and left a void below the hearth feature, full of nest material that included some recent sweet wrappers.

Trench E was a small test pit, 0.5 x 0.5m, excavated 2.5m E of Trench D. A sherd of green-glazed pottery was found on the surface of the test pit.

A ground penetrating radar survey carried out within the main chamber (chamber A) managed to locate the culvert but did not find any other major voids. Further laser scanning survey work was carried out in the innermost chamber (chamber C) which adds to the work carried out last year in chambers A and B. It appears that human bones found in chambers A and B have been redeposited; later activity, such as the construction of the culvert, may have disturbed earlier burials within the cave.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsors: Channel 4 Extreme Archaeology, Mentorn TV, NTS.

D Alexander 2004


Laser Scanning (2003)

NS 2328 1029 In order to get a better understanding and record of the cave system below the main castle at Culzean, a laser scanning survey was undertaken of the interior. Work was carried out using a Cyrax Laser Scanner and took four days. The exterior and interior of the two main caverns were recorded and a point cloud of the data produced.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsors: Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire, NTS.

D Alexander, J Arthur 2003

Trial Trench (3 June 2017 - 8 June 2017)

NS 2328 1029 and NS 2337 1033 Excavation work was conducted, 3–8 June 2017, in the Culzean Caves as part of a National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp. The proposal had been to excavate four trenches within the Castle Caves (NS21SW1.05) and two within the Stables Caves (NS21SW1.06).

Trench 1 was excavated at the mouth of the Castles Cave and revealed the foundation of the stone wall that crosses the entrance. Trench 2 was not excavated. Trench 3 examined a small dry area on the S side of the lower chamber but bedrock was discovered only a few centimetres down. Trench 4 re-excavated the 1960s trench in the upper chamber and a detailed plan of the chamber was drawn.

Of the two trenches proposed for the Stables Cave only Trench 5 was excavated at the main NW-facing entrance. This revealed that there had been a walled entrance in this location. A section of wall 0.95m wide was found and it had a check for a door and a draw-bar hole. The wall survives to a depth of c1m and stands 8 courses high. A detailed plan of the interior of the Stables Cave was undertaken.

Archive: NTS, WoSAS and NRHE (intended)

Funder: National Trust for Scotland

Derek Alexander – National Trust for Scotland

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Trial Trench (18 August 2018 - 25 August 2018)

NS 2328 1029 and NS 2337 1033 Excavation work was

conducted, 18–25 August 2018, in the Culzean Caves as

part of a National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp. The

proposal had been to excavate four trenches within the Castle

Caves (NS21SW 1.05) and two within the Stables Caves

(NS21SW 1.06).

Trenches 1 and 4, in the Castle Caves were excavated last

year. In 2018 Trench 2 was excavated at the foot of the wall

below the latrine chute outside the cave wall. A small trench

0.5 x 0.5m was excavated down to a depth of 0.4m but only

modern material, including glass and plastic was recovered.

Of the two trenches proposed for the Stables Cave, only

Trench 5 was excavated in 2017 at the main NW-facing

entrance. This revealed that there had been a walled entrance

in this location. This trench was widened in 2018 to reveal

the full width of the doorway. This uncovered the southern

side of the doorway with a similar door check and drawbar

hole to the N side. The width of the entrance passage was

1.1m wide and it had several large irregular flagstones as a

floor. Artefacts recovered included pottery, glass and animal

bone. Within the interior of the Stables Cave Trench 6 was

positioned close to the back and measured 1.5 x 1.5m. Apart

from some modern material in the upper layers, the majority

of the 0.5m deep material removed from this trench was inwashed

beach sands and pebbles overlying basalt blocks of

collapsed roof.

Further detailed planning of the interior of the Stables Cave

and the base of the cliff was undertaken.

Archive: NTS and NRHE (intended)

Funder: National Trust for Scotland

Derek Alexander – The National Trust for Scotland

(Source: DES, Volume 19)


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions