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Rosemarkie, Learnie

Cave(S) (Period Unassigned), Inhumation (Medieval), Metal Working Site (Period Unassigned), Occupation Site (11th Century), Occupation Site (7th Century), Occupation Site (19th Century) - (20th Century)

Site Name Rosemarkie, Learnie

Classification Cave(S) (Period Unassigned), Inhumation (Medieval), Metal Working Site (Period Unassigned), Occupation Site (11th Century), Occupation Site (7th Century), Occupation Site (19th Century) - (20th Century)

Canmore ID 293466

Site Number NH76SE 32

NGR NH 7566 6075

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/293466

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

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Rosemarkie
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Ross And Cromarty
  • Former County Ross And Cromarty

Archaeology Notes

NH76SE 32 7566 6075

NH 7566 6075 10 amateur and professional archaeologists worked together in September 2006 to carry out a preliminary excavation of a cave at Learnie, near Rosemarkie on the Black Isle. The project objective is to identify and record any evidence of past occupation within the group of caves, and to offer an opportunity for local people to participate actively in archaeological fieldwork.

The cave is at about 4m above the present high water mark, and faces SE (towards the open sea). It is mostly dry. It was chosen because it had the remains of two stone walls across the entrance, suggesting it may have been lived in or used in some way at some time in the past.

The cave had been used for sheltering cattle and the floor was covered with a layer of trampled cattle dung. Below this were thin floor levels. Finds were all post-medieval, mostly 19th- and 20th-century pottery and fragments of shoe leather including off-cuts. Only one complete shoe was found, that of a small girl. Among many metal objects were two farthings of uncertain date, and a 1916 halfpenny. There was plenty of 20th-century debris including wire, parts of tin cans, and a sickle.

The substantial outside wall overlay a shell midden, apparently also post-medieval in date although this is not yet fully clear. The bones were nearly all from mammals, including cow, sheep and possibly seal, with very few fish bones.

It was clear that only limited investigation was possible in a long weekend, even with the huge enthusiasm of those who took part. Further seasons are planned for this cave and others to discover more of their archaeology. A small display about the project and its results was mounted in Groam House Museum, Rosemarkie, during Highland Archaeology Fortnight.

Report to be lodged with Highland SMR and Library Service, and NMRS; archive will be deposited with RCAHMS.

Sponsor: Cromarty Archaeology Field Group; Highland Archaeology Services Ltd.

John Wood, 2006.

Activities

Excavation (September 2006)

NH 7566 6075 10 amateur and professional archaeologists worked together in September 2006 to carry out a preliminary excavation of a cave at Learnie, near Rosemarkie on the Black Isle. The project objective is to identify and record any evidence of past occupation within the group of caves, and to offer an opportunity for local people to participate actively in archaeological fieldwork.

The cave is at about 4m above the present high water mark, and faces SE (towards the open sea). It is mostly dry. It was chosen because it had the remains of two stone walls across the entrance, suggesting it may have been lived in or used in some way at some time in the past.

The cave had been used for sheltering cattle and the floor was covered with a layer of trampled cattle dung. Below this were thin floor levels. Finds were all post-medieval, mostly 19th- and 20th-century pottery and fragments of shoe leather including off-cuts. Only one complete shoe was found, that of a small girl. Among many metal objects were two farthings of uncertain date, and a 1916 halfpenny. There was plenty of 20th-century debris including wire, parts of tin cans, and a sickle.

The substantial outside wall overlay a shell midden, apparently also post-medieval in date although this is not yet fully clear. The bones were nearly all from mammals, including cow, sheep and possibly seal, with very few fish bones.

It was clear that only limited investigation was possible in a long weekend, even with the huge enthusiasm of those who took part. Further seasons are planned for this cave and others to discover more of their archaeology. A small display about the project and its results was mounted in Groam House Museum, Rosemarkie, during Highland Archaeology Fortnight.

Report to be lodged with Highland SMR and Library Service, and NMRS; archive will be deposited with RCAHMS.

Sponsor: Cromarty Archaeology Field Group; Highland Archaeology Services Ltd.

J Wood 2006

Excavation (16 June 2013 - 13 October 2013)

NH 756 608 (vicinity of) The Rosemarkie Caves Project (RCP) is currently investigating the archaeology of 19 caves on the S shore of the Black Isle. These caves have been high and dry for at least 6000 years and Cairds’ Cave (DES 2011, 114–5) was found to have been in use since the Iron Age.

Following a survey of the 19 caves (2011–2012) and test pits dug in Ivy Cave in 2012, the RCP group dug further pits in 4 caves (Learnie 1B, 2B, 3B and 3C) on the coast below Learnie Farm (NH 755 610), from 16 June – 13 October 2013. This work aimed to recover the earliest dating material and pits were dug in the cave entrances, where it was hoped that old hearths might be located. Typically, the pits attained a depth of at least 1.5m before beach sand and bedrock was reached.

The presence of talus at the entrance to Learnie 3C prevented the excavation of a pit in the entrance to the cave. The floor inside this cave was composed of a 0.5–0.6m deposit of fine, silty sand. Underlying this was a stony layer, which contained bone and charcoal. The cave is linked by a tight passage with Learnie 3B, and this passage may have acted as a chimney for any fires lit within the cave.

This year’s work has provided the RCP with good samples of bone and charcoal, which are being sent for C14 dating, as well as three pieces of medieval pottery from Learnie 2B. This last cave has the remains of a mortared wall at the entrance, 0.9m deep, which suggests more permanent habitation or use as an animal shelter.

Website: http://www.spanglefish.com/RosemarkieCavesProject/

Funder: Highland Council, The Cromarty Trust, North of Scotland Archaeological Society (in kind)

Simon Gunn and Eric Grant, Rosemarkie Caves Project (NOSAS approved project), 2013

(Source: DES)

Test Pit Survey (6 October 2013 - 10 October 2013)

Test pits were dug in five caves, 6–10 October 2013, primarily to look for charcoal and bone for radiocarbon dating. These caves were on the S shore of the Black Isle near Inverness. Caves investigated were: NH 751 601 Ivy Cave; NH 756 607 Learnie 1B; NH 757 608 Learnie 2B; NH 757 609 Learnie 3B; NH 759 608 Learnie 3C. No suitable samples for dating were

found in Ivy Cave, but the other caves revealed use of the caves from AD 200–1200. The detailed results can be seen in the radiocarbon section of this volume of DES.

Funder: Highland Council and The Cromarty Trust

Simon Gunn – Rosemarkie Caves Project, affiliated to NOSAS

(Source: DES)

Archaeological Evaluation (April 2015 - June 2015)

NH 756 608 (centred on) During April – June 2015, five test pits were excavated in three caves: one in Broad Cave, one in Three Peaks Cave, and three in Through and Through Cave. The results showed that there is good survival of archaeological deposits in the caves evaluated, with well stratified layers containing environmental material and animal bone. Radiocarbon dating results of mammal bone and birch/elm/hazel charcoal from Broad Cave and

Through and Through Cave indicate there was a sequence of occupation of the caves from the 10th–16th centuries. While in Three Peaks Cave, a well-built stone setting was uncovered in the evaluation trench. Hazel roundwood charcoal from behind the stonework provided a middle Iron Age date. The project results continue to show the excellent and intriguing archaeological potential of the caves.

Archive: Rosemarkie Caves Project (currently) and National

Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) intended

Funder: Highland Council, Cromarty Estate

Mary Peteranna and Simon Gunn – AOC Archaeology Group

(Source: DES, Volume 16)

Excavation (2016)

NH 756 608 (centred on) The Rosemarkie Caves Project has been investigating the archaeology of 19 caves on the SE side of the Black Isle, since 2006. The project is run by a team of voluntary professional and amateur archaeologists, and is linked to the North of Scotland Archaeology Society (NOSAS).

Between 2011 and 2015 a programme of survey and test pitting provided baseline data of the sites’ archaeological potential. The project team conducted test pitting in eight of the caves, four of which were located in the Learnie group (1B, 2B, 3B and 3C). Stratified samples of animal bone and charcoal from archaeological layers in the test pits established 7th – 9th-century AD occupation in the Learnie cave group, with 2nd – 4th-century AD and 11th – 12th-century AD dates also derived from material in Learnie 3C. Significant evidence for 19th – 20th-century traveller occupation was found across the caves, particularly in the Learnie group and Ivy Cave, with frequent evidence for leather shoe making or repair, and the recycling of other types of materials. Learnie 2B was highlighted as a particularly intriguing cave given >1m depth of archaeological material and the presence of two buried mortared and stone-built entrance walls.

In 2016, open area excavations within Learnie 2B aimed to clarify the function and dates of occupation of the cave, and its importance in interpreting early medieval and post-medieval culture in the area. The most recent activity in the cave produced substantial evidence for late 19th- to early 20th-century occupation, including cobbled floors, a hearth and midden deposits containing a wide range of artefacts. The main occupation area was defined by a poorly constructed, breached, boulder wall. However, a more substantial wall blocked the entrance of the cave and was constructed during the late medieval period. It had been designed to hold a door, as revealed by the door checks and 1.3m wide entrance, and the walls, now 1m high, had probably stood at least 1.5m in height. There was also some evidence to suggest the presence of wattle screens with applied clay, which would have enclosed the cave more effectively, making the interior a darker space.

The archaeological deposits relating to the construction of the wall were found to be relatively sterile and failed to produce any evidence regarding site function. But it is clear that such a monumental feature was built for a specific purpose. Certainly it was intended to close-off the internal space of the cave from the outside world. It is possible that it may have been used for storage, for shelter or for gatherings, such as religious worship. The wall had been built over the top of earlier midden deposits, which produced several sherds of medieval redware ceramics, iron fittings and concretions, and butchered animal bone. The earliest deposits excavated within the cave, relating to the early medieval horizon, produced diagnostic features and materials to enable site function to be determined. Thin occupation floors interspersed by layers of relatively sterile sand suggest intermittent use of the cave at this time. These layers of material produced animal bone and shellfish, and also contained good evidence for metalworking.

The area of the metalworking activity was defined in the interior of the cave by post and stake-holes that most likely formed a wooden screen, closing off the back of the cave. Other elements of the metalworking infrastructure included a pit that most likely housed the furnace; a circular cobbled area adjacent to this that may have provided a stance for the operation of the bellows; a small hearth kerbed on two sides using small beach cobbles; and a pit containing large lumps of charcoal – possibly a charcoal store. The sandy floor layer forming the metalworking horizon produced slag deposits, plano-convex hearth base fragments and vitrified residues including one large clay fragment forming a part of the tuyère – the hole through which the bellows injected air into the hearth or furnace. Processing of the sediment samples taken in this area produced hammer scale and preliminary analysis of this material by Gemma Cruickshanks at NMS, suggests that bloom refining and smithing was potentially taking place in the cave.

The evidence for small-scale metalworking prompted the extension of the main trench into the dark alcove to the N. This involved the removal of the post-medieval cobbled floor and a sequence of midden deposits. Remarkably, the trench extension produced no metalworking residues, suggesting that the wooden screen (represented by the post and stakeholes) contained this spread of material. The amount of butchered animal bone increased dramatically in this area on reaching the early medieval horizon, some of which appeared to be cattle and formed distinct groups. However, cleaning back this material further revealed something completely unexpected: well-preserved human remains.

Excavation in the alcove revealed the outline of a large beach cobble, along with two articulated upper and lower leg bones. Other stones also started to appear in the area overlying the inhumation and revealed that these, like the larger beach cobble, had probably been used to pin down the body. Analysis of the distinct caches of butchered animal bone located above the cranium of the inhumation showed that these represented the main meat-bearing bones from eight adult cattle, while two bones from a horse were also included in the deposits. The bone groups may relate to a feasting deposit placed with the burial.

It was clear from the stratigraphic relationships that the individual dated at least to the early medieval period, but there was no diagnostic evidence such as grave goods to provide any further clues. However, evidence relating to the individual’s demise soon presented itself after revealing the skull. The roughly circular exit wound at the right temple area suggested that this was probably no accident! While informing the police and procurator fiscal regarding our discoveries, so that we could proceed with the recovery of the individual, we were also contacted by Sue Black, of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee. Due to details revealed by some of our images, which had been submitted to her department by the procurator fiscal, Sue and her team kindly offered a full forensic analysis of the remains, along with a digital reconstruction of the individual’s face.

The individual was male, between 25–35 years of age, was Caucasian and stood between 5ft 6" and 5ft 9" high. Although some slight pathology was identified on his vertebrae to suggest possible mild osteoarthritis and some back pain, this was a robust and healthy individual in the prime of his life.

He had been well nourished and his teeth were excellent with no caries. He had very strong muscle attachments on his lower arms, capable of producing a strong grasp, which may be indicative of his work. There was no sign of systemic pathology, previous healed trauma, or disease. The only trauma that he had sustained was to his head. The first blow was to the right side of his mouth and it fractured teeth in the upper and lower mandible and displaced one tooth back into the bone due to the force inflicted. A tooth found during excavation in the thorax is a clear indication that he was still alive at this time as it is likely that he either inhaled or swallowed the fractured incisor. The second blow came to the left side of his jaw with some force. It severely fractured the left side of his chin and caused fractures on both sides of the jaw focused on the condylar process. The force of the blow also set off a radial fracture internally along the base of the skull. Next was a contact injury – probably caused by the individual falling backwards and striking his head on a hard surface – most likely as a result of impact numbers 1 and 2, which probably followed swiftly. While the individual was lying on the ground, a rounded implement was then pole-driven through the side of his head from left to right, just in front of the temple region. This set off fracturing around the face and skull and was most likely the cause of death. The final blow to the top of his head used tremendous force, creating a large penetrative wound which set up massive fracturing of the skull. This final blow would have been carried out while the man was prone and suggests significant ‘overkill’.

We have secured a total of six radiocarbon dates from the excavations at Learnie 2B and the date on the human rib overlaps with the dates from the main occupation/ metalworking horizon – although statistically the human remains appear to sit slightly earlier. Therefore, it appears that the body was placed in the cave immediately prior to, or contemporary with the start of the occupation/metalworking horizon. The date on the human rib bone provided a calibrated result of cal AD 430–631 at 2 sigma level of confidence (SUERC-70721).

Excavations conducted at the four caves in 2017 focused on finalising work in Learnie 2B and starting new open area trenches in Learnie 1A, 1B and 2C. Excavations in Learnie 2C were concluded and the results indicate that this long, dry fissure-type cave had been used only for post-medieval occupation. Excavations in Learnie 1A and 1B will be finalised in 2018, but the results so far indicate their use during the post-medieval, medieval and early medieval periods. Of particular interest are the rich occupation deposits revealed in Learnie 1B, dating to the early medieval period. This is the largest of the Rosemarkie Caves and we hope that evidence relating to site function will be revealed in 2018. The excavations bringing to a close our work in Learnie 2B included a trench investigating the relatively flat apron of ground just outside the cave entrance, and the removal of the final deposits in the back of the cave, adjacent to where we had recovered the human remains in 2016. Unfortunately, the excavations outside the cave failed to find any significant archaeological features or deposits. The deep sequence of deposits comprised residues redeposited outside the cave interspersed with large boulders (rock-fall from the cliff above the cave entrance) and wind-blown sand/sediments. The deposits did produce some metalworking residues, mixed midden material, and a number of artefacts of post-medieval date. However, the excavations in the back of the cave produced a final perplexing discovery.

Within the small excavation area, we uncovered two superimposed post-medieval hearths – the upper of which displayed the remains of a stone kerb on the NW arc. Removal of the ash deposits and kerb defined a rectangular stone setting, below which was revealed the almost complete articulated remains of a red deer… minus one half of the lower mandible and cranium. There were no obvious signs of butchery, while the stone setting did not contain the animal’s remains, but had been built over it. Removal of the rib cage revealed the complete leather sole of a shoe, while post medieval ceramics and glass sherds also accompanied the burial, proving its age in the overall sequence. The substantial quantities of leather shoe remains and leather off-cuts suggest this group of caves may have been used as temporary workshops, with a number of craft activities including basket-making potentially servicing this area of the Black Isle.

Archive: Rosemarkie Caves Project (currently) and NRHE (intended)

Funder: Highland Council, Cromarty Estate, CARD Fund, and Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust

Steven Birch, Mary Peteranna and Simon Gunn – Rosemarkie Caves Project and NOSAS

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Excavation (1 June 2018 - 31 July 2018)

NH 756 608 (centred on) The Rosemarkie Caves Project has been investigating the archaeology of 19 caves on the SE side of the Black Isle, since 2006. The project is run by a team of voluntary professional and amateur archaeologists, and is linked to the North of Scotland Archaeology Society.

Between 2011 and 2015 a programme of survey and test pitting provided baseline data of the sites’ archaeological potential. The project team conducted test pitting in eight of the caves, four of which were located in the Learnie group (1B, 2B, 3B and 3C). Stratified samples of animal bone and charcoal from archaeological layers in the test pits established 7th – 9th-century AD occupation in the Learnie cave group, with 2nd – 4th-century AD and 11th – 12th-century AD dates also derived from material in Learnie 3C. Significant evidence for 19th – 20th-century traveller occupation was found across the caves, particularly in the Learnie group and Ivy Cave, with frequent evidence for leather shoe making or repair, and the recycling of other types of materials. Learnie 2B was highlighted as a particularly intriguing cave, given >1m depth of archaeological material and the presence of two buried mortared and stone-built entrance walls.

In 2016, open area excavations within Learnie 2B aimed to clarify the function and dates of occupation of the cave, and its importance in interpreting early medieval and post-medieval culture in the area. The most recent activity in the cave produced substantial evidence for late 19th- to early 20th-century occupation, including cobbled floors, a hearth and midden deposits containing a wide range of artefacts.

The early medieval occupation of the cave included good evidence for metalworking (smithing) and the division of the internal space using wooden screens, which was pre-dated by the deposition of human remains within a side alcove of the cave. The individual (Rosemarkie Man) had been brutally killed and was accompanied by feasting deposits comprising the bones from at least eight cattle (primarily from meat-bearing joints) and two bones from a horse. The nature of the killing of the individual including evidence for ‘overkill’ and placement in the cave with the residues from feasting, may indicate a sacrificial or punishment-style killing.

The 1 June – 31 July 2018 saw a strong team carry out a third consecutive season of excavation in a group of coastal caves between Rosemarkie and Eathie. The fieldwork took place in two of the Learnie Caves, continuing the excavations to investigate cave function in Learnie 1A and Learnie 1B caves. The caves are located in the same headland below Learnie Farm, which also houses Learnie 2C and Learnie 2B; the latter where the Rosemarkie Man discovery was made in 2016.

As in previous excavations, some of the best evidence for the use and function of the caves to emerge this year related to the 19th to early 20th century, including the usual leather shoe soles and leather off-cuts, snips of metal, sherds of window glass and worked bone/horn. The excellent preservation found in many of these caves also produced other organic remains including worked wood in Learnie 1B. Some of the more recognisable wood elements comprised fragments of roundwood around 6 – 8mm in diameter, some of which had trimmed ends. Further analysis of these finds is required, but it is possible that some of this material derives from the manufacture of baskets or fish traps. Other artefact associated with this period of use included ceramics, bottle glass, a metal spoon, knife blades and handles, the remains of a small penknife including a part of the finely decorated bone handle, iron fittings, bone and mother of pearl buttons, several potential stone tools, and the ubiquitous clay pipe fragments. Several objects manufactured from copper alloy were also recovered including studs, pins, three low-denomination coins and fragments from an oil or paraffin lamp. In the upper levels of Learnie 1A, we recovered a large number of old shotgun cartridges, which may have been used to shoot rabbits and birds (the recent analysis of the animal bones from previous years’ excavations has indicated high numbers of rabbit bones in the faunal assemblage from this period).

Both caves have produced good economic evidence relating to their use during the post-medieval period. One particularly interesting discovery this season was in Learnie 1B, where we uncovered a substantial deposit of fairly large fish scales. The big question surrounding the fish scale deposit is where are the bones from the fish? Although we have recovered some fish bones from the midden layers, especially from the more extensive shell midden excavated in Learnie 1A, their numbers appear to relate to the consumption of a small number of fish by the inhabitants. The deposit of fish scales appears to relate to a larger-scale activity, perhaps associated with de-scaling fish prior to smoking or brining.

The previous excavations in Learnie 1B and Learnie 2B had produced a significant number of hearths and spot-fires relating to their use during the post-medieval period, ephemeral stone dividing walls, cobbled surfaces and possible sleeping areas – the latter indicated by layers of decayed bracken and small branch wood. This year, we recovered additional evidence of structures within both caves. In Learnie 1B, the removal of a domed pile of small stone shatter located against the S wall revealed an underlying dry-stone built structure. Comprising two walls running at right angles to the cave wall (extending c2m into the cave), up to three courses high and c1m wide. The height of the low walls became less as they extended into the cave and, from our excavations, it would appear that it formed a structure that provided some division of space, possible deflecting the wind and creating a small sheltered area within an otherwise open space. A second and slightly earlier dividing wall was uncovered just 0.5m farther in to the cave, also abutting the S wall. This comprised a single skin feature, up to four courses high adjacent to the cave wall.

However, a much more impressive suite of walls was uncovered in Learnie 1A, also relating to the latest phase of activity during the post-medieval period. Within this cave, which is roughly aligned E/W another pile of small stone shatter was found extending from the N wall. Removal of this revealed a well-constructed double-skin wall with rubble core, up to three courses high, which extended S into the cave for c1.6m, turned at an angle to the SE for 1.8m, then turned back to the NE for another 1.1m where it terminated. The wall guided access into the inner cave and chamber, blocked off the light entering the chamber, and deflected the wind. A second, smaller linear wall c1.5m long blocked off a small recess in the W wall of the inner cave chamber. The wall, up to three courses high, was also hidden by a pile of small stone shatter and it appears likely that both of the walls in Learnie 1A revetted and supported the stone piles, creating a dark chamber within. At least two hearths, comprising roughly circular mounds of wood ash, were identified within the inner chamber.

Below the post-medieval deposits in these two caves, the sequence was found to be quite different. In Learnie 1A, it would seem that intermittent occupation was fairly continuous, extending back through the medieval and early medieval periods. Much of the evidence for the medieval activity comprises dumps of midden, which general takes place around the periphery of the cave walls and is demarcated by ephemeral rubble walls, and a series of well-laminated lenses through the centre of the cave indicating trampling and access by the passage of feet. This had resulted in quite compacted deposits running roughly through the centre of the cave into the inner chamber, with midden deposited to each side; that lying against the N wall in particular comprising loose marine shells and containing animal and fish bone. The lower part of the shell midden also produced several sherds of medieval ceramic including green-glazed redware (13 – 15th centuries AD) and more importantly, Scottish white gritty ware (potentially 11 – 12th centuries AD). Several hearths were associated with these periods of use, creating a complex sequence of ash lenses.

At the base of the sequence in Learnie 1A, a substantial circular pile of wood ash and charcoal appears to represent a hearth relating to the early medieval use of the cave, along with associated shell midden deposits. These deposits overlay the natural sand in the base of the cave, outcrops of bedrock and some larger stone clasts, while large slabs of rock above derive from a major failure of the cave roof just inside the entrance. Our final major discovery was associated with the earliest use of the cave, most likely during the early medieval period. Within a hollow formed by bedrock and large stone clasts, a black, charcoal-rich, oval-shaped deposit was revealed and a closer inspection revealed small fragments of hammer-scale. We decided to run a section through the deposit and these soon revealed vitrified fragments of a smithing hearth and further hammer-scale. Careful excavation revealed a heavily burnt stone slab, to which was attached a well-preserved section of a smithing hearth, complete with vitrified ceramic wall and underlying hearth base. Damage noticed on one of the larger stones, or bedrock outcrops flanking the hearth, suggests is may have been used as an anvil. Such well-preserved smithing hearths from the early medieval period are incredibly rare and will add to a growing corpus of information relating to metalworking in caves.

The sequence of deposits in Learnie 1B was quite different. Here, the layers representing the post-medieval activity lay directly on top of a deep spread of stone comprising shattered fragments from the cave walls and roof, and beach cobbles of differing size. During the 2017 excavations, this deposit of stone (which contains many air-filled voids and little sediment matrix) produced the largest assemblage of faunal remains from the cave sequence. This included some larger bone elements and an articulated fragment from the lower spine/tail of a fairly large ungulate. The excavations this year produced yet more well-preserved animal bone including articulated vertebrae, scapula, mandibles and mandible fragments. However, the most impressive remains included the complete skull of a horse, complete with articulated vertebral column. No ribs or limbs were attached to these elements, although we did recover individual ribs and limb bones that may have derived from it. Upon lifting the skull of the horse, the cause of death soon became apparent; a circular hole around 20 – 25mm diameter was noted in the top of the skull, just back from the eye sockets. The horse had been poleaxed.

Removal of the stones forming the base of this deposit revealed the early medieval occupation horizon, although it is possible that the upper part of this complex, a shallow sequence of layers, may relate to medieval activity. The floor deposits consisted of lenses of wood ash, charcoal-rich deposits, midden, deposits with high organic content (potential bedding), and slabs of stone burnt a vivid red. The deposits forming this kaleidoscope of differing colours and textures derived from a sequence of hearths and fire-spots within the cave, some of which were domestic cooking hearths (as evidenced by the recovery of burnt and heavily calcined animal bone and some fire-cracked stone) and hearths with a potentially more industrious function. And, while no in situ smithing hearth was revealed, we did recover all of the components that would support this activity, including slag, fragments of vitrified hearth wall, hearth base fragments and hammer-scale.

The main area of the cave consisted of quite level, trampled deposits, although low overhangs and areas with alcoves and rock projections formed the main focus of midden deposition – especially shellfish – which is also paralleled in Learnie 1A. Some fish bone and animal bone was also recovered from these deposits, although on a small scale when compared to the extensive stone deposits mentioned above. Artefacts, as with most of the Rosemarkie Caves holding early medieval deposits, are indeed rare finds! With the exception of a knife sharpening stone, two possible coarse cobble tools (hammers/pounders) and a couple of iron objects, the only other small find was a small, conical-shaped piece of antler which may be a small stopper or gaming piece.

Removal of the early medieval occupation deposits in Learnie 1B revealed some wonderfully-preserved evidence for the division and use of space. A roughly circular hearth towards the back of the cave produced burnt animal bone and most likely formed a domestic cooking area. A sequence of post and stakeholes, and post-settings, formed a roughly rectangular area – the long sides roughly mirroring the undulating cave walls; while the connecting back screen also appears to block off the rear, darker area of the cave. It is possible that a similar arrangement of posts also formed a screen closing off the front of the structure and the outside world, although this could not be confirmed due to the deep overburden forming a talus at the cave entrance. It is possible that the interior of this structure formed a major activity area in the cave, while the alcoves formed between the cave walls and the structure could have been utilised for other activities including sleeping and metalworking. A trampled walkway overlying the natural sand leads from the back of the screen structure at an angle into the back of the cave, where further evidence of burning was recovered. It is indeed remarkable to find such division of space within natural caves, although we did recover similar evidence in Learnie 2B in 2016.

Results from the excavations in Learnie 2B, 1B and 1A have indicated that the caves contain a wealth of material from the post-medieval periods of activity. The activity represented by these periods of use has, in particular, provided an interesting glimpse into the 19th- and early 20th-century lives of the occupants of the Learnie caves. The artefacts and ecofacts represent everyday activities and debris left behind by potentially itinerant inhabitants – who may have been using the caves on an almost permanent basis. This period seems to be associated with small scale industry represented by the shoe and leather finds, worked horn, iron scraps, other small finds such as the knives and cobble and bone tools; and of course, the large dumps of fish scales representing the processing of fish. Further specialist analysis will assist in building this storey. Further documentary research may also enhance our storey for this period of use, as revealed by some initial results on archival material which has found references from a man living at a cave at Learnie regarding the burial of his wife (R Jones pers comm 2017).

The evidence we have recovered for the earlier periods of activity, in particular the medieval period, are more difficult to define. A lack of artefacts suggests that people either carried the tools and other equipment away with them from the caves for use elsewhere, or that cave function was based around very basic subsistence activities, storage, or as fugitive hideaways! Whilst the lack of artefactual material continues into the early medieval period, we have at least found good evidence for metalworking on a small scale in three of the four caves investigated at Learnie; and although we still await radiocarbon dates to confirm the date of metalworking activity in Learnie 1B and Learnie 1A, the metalworking was the first major activity to take place in the caves, after which intermittent occupation continued – although it is difficult to tie-down function to anything other than general subsistence.

Archive: Rosemarkie Caves Project (currently) and NRHE (intended)

Funder: Highland Council, Cromarty Estate, CARD Fund, Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust, and Cromarty Firth Port Authority

Steven Birch, Mary Peteranna and Simon Gunn – Rosemarkie Caves Project

(Source: DES Volume 19)

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