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Ulva, A' Chrannag

Cave (Period Unassigned), Animal Remains

Site Name Ulva, A' Chrannag

Classification Cave (Period Unassigned), Animal Remains

Alternative Name(s) Ulva Cave

Canmore ID 22022

Site Number NM43NW 22

NGR NM 4314 3843

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/22022

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilninian And Kilmore
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NM43NW 22 4314 3843

Pleistocene funeral remains and possible food processing area.

J C Bonsall 1987.

Two periods of fieldwork totalling 7 weeks were undertaken in 1989 using teams of undergraduate students from Edinburgh University, the first in March-April, and the second in July. Two areas within the cave were investigated.

Area B

In the north-west part of the cave interior removal of the thin surface layer of animal dung exposed an area of stone pavement constructed of densely packed, angular fragments of basalt. This overlies clayey sediments of (?)Late Pleistocene age, and in one area was found to seal a pit containing burnt fragments of bone, shells and charcoal.

Mammalian bones and flint artifacts were also found occasionally at the boundary between the dung layer and the clay. A detailed plan of the stone pavement and the associated features was made.

Entrance (Area C)

The deposits of the entrance area of the cave were investigated by a 10 x 1 metre sondage. This provided a section through the "wall" of basalt stones and boulders constructed across the cave entrance and through the midden deposit on the inner side of the "wall".

The midden had a maximum thickness (in the excavated section) of 0.35 metres. It is composed largely of shells of limpets (Patella vulgata) and periwinkles (Littorina littorea), but contains bones of mammals and fish, fragments of crabs' claws, and flint artifacts (cores, flakes, bladelets).

The midden and the rubble "wall" are underlain by a series of very stony sediments from which flint artefacts and faunal material were also recovered.

Samples of limpet shells from the base and top of the midden were submitted for radiocarbon dating. When adjusted for the apparent age of sea water, the dates indicate that the midden was deposited between ca 7650 and 5680 BP.

The date for the base of the midden establishes that the history of occupation of Ulva Cave extends back to at least the Mesolithic. The radiocarbon dating programme is being extended to date the deposits underlying the midden, and to establish the chronological relationships between the deposits of the entrance area and those in the cave interior.

The fieldwork on Ulva received support from the Department of Archaeology Fieldwork and Research Fund, the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, the Munroe Fund, the Royal Archaeological Institute, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The British Academy provided a grant towards the cost of post-excavation work and radiocarbon dating.

C Bonsall 1989.

A total of six weeks fieldwork was undertaken in 1990 during the Easter and Summer vacations.

Further work was undertaken in the entrance zone (Area C) and the cave interior (Areas A, B). The Mesolithic shell midden (Feature 3) was exposed over an area of 16 square metres in the SW part of the entrance zone, in preparation for systematic excavation in 1991. The overlying talus deposits proved to be quite complex stratigraphically; those directly overlying the midden produced a number of flint artifacts and several sherds of Early Neolithic Unstan Ware (identified by Ian Armit). Area B was extended to expose the stone pavement (Feature 34) over the entire NE part of the cave interior; much time was devoted to making a detailed plan and photographic record of this feature. Area A was extended horizontally as far as the SW wall of the cave. The major feature uncovered in this area was an extensive deposit of ash (Feature 26) up to 25cm thick, overlying a 'floor' of large basalt stones. As yet, this feature is undated but its stratigraphic position suggests that it post-dates the Mesolithic occupation of the cave,

Four radiocarbon dates were received from the SURRC Radiocarbon Laboratory at East Kilbride, bringing the total so far to six. Two dates are of particular significance: 7800 +/- 160 BP (GU-2704) for an organic-ring layer in Area A, and 4990 +/- 60 BP (GU-2707) for charcoal from a pit in Area B containing burnt bone, shell, and carbonized cereal grains. GU-2704 dates the earliest remains of Postglacial occupation in the cave interior and is indistinguishable at the 1 sigma level from the date of 7660 +/- 60 BP (GU-2600) for the base of the midden. GU-2707 demonstrates Early Neolithic use of the cave, and accords with the presence of Unstan Ware in post-midden contexts in the entrance zone.

C Bonsall 1990.

The 1991 fieldwork season was conducted over a 4-week period in March/April 1991.

Excavation: (a) Area C: Midden (Contexts 3, 80): Excavation was begun of an area c.3.5 x 4.0m between the 1989 sondage and the north-west wall of the cave. The excavation was based on a 50cm-grid, and the deposits removed in approximate 5cm "spits". Three-dimensional recording was employed for major finds - artifacts, fragments of mammalian bone, concentration of fish bones, rounded/burnt stones and rarer species of shell; all excavated material was transported to Edinburgh for processing and analysis. Only the upper part of the midden was removed in 1991, the number of excavated spits varying from one at the north-east end of the trench to eight at the south-west end. Artifacts recovered from these upper levels include pottery, artifacts of flint and pitchstone (including two pieces with bifacial retouch), and a bevelled bone implement ("limpet scoop"). The latter is the first artifact of "Obanian" type to be recovered from the site. The presence of pottery and bifacial implements in spits 1-7 suggests that these upper levels of the midden contain material which relates to early Neolithic use of the cave.

(b) Area B: Excavation and recording of the stone pavement (context 34) were completed and investigation of the complex set of deposits around the Neolithic pit (Context 8) was begun. These deposits were overlain by the stone pavement and, in turn, overlie till-like sediments of presumed Late Devensian age. Finds to date include pockets of marine shells (mainly Littorina sp. and Patella sp.) often associated with irregular lenses of black soil, occasional animal bones and teeth, charcoal fragments and a single fragment of Neolithic pottery.

This cave continues to yield results of importance. It is now certain that the midden in the entrance zone accumulated over a very long period of time, from at least c.7800 BP. It is the clearest example so far recovered from Britain of a midden deposit relating to both Mesolithic and Neolithic activity in a single site. Early Neolithic use of the cave is also indicated by the pit in Area B, which has provided one of the earliest radiocarbon dates for the Neolithic in western Scotland (Bonsall et al, 1991), and the earliest evidence for cultivation of oats.

Grants to support the fieldwork were provided by The British Academy, The Carnegie Trust, The Department of Archaeology Fieldwork and Research Fund, The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and the University of Edinburgh. The British Academy also provided funds for post-excavation work.

C Bonsall, N J Russell and G M Coles 1991.

Antler bevel-ended tool dated by radiocarbon to 3800 +/- 70bc (OxA-3738), 3940-3660 cal BC.

NMRS MS/735/1.

Site recorded during survey for the Scottish Agricultural College, under the Historic Scotland Ancient Monument Survey Grant Scheme.

NM 4314 3843 Cave; Pleistocene remains

Sponsors: Historic Scotland, Scottish Agricultural College.

T Rees 1998.

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