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East Wemyss Caves

Midden (Period Unassigned)

Site Name East Wemyss Caves

Classification Midden (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Wemyss Caves

Canmore ID 53965

Site Number NT39NW 31.07

NGR NT 34444 97110

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


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Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Wemyss
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District Kirkcaldy
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NT39NW 31.07 348 974.

NT 345 972 (centre) A programme of archaeological evaluation was undertaken for Channel 4's Time Team in June 2004.

Wemyss Caves are well known for their Pictish carvings, which occur in five of the nine recorded caves. Five trenches were excavated within the interior of three of these caves (Jonathan's Cave, Well Cave and Sliding Cave), with a further two trenches sited outside the entrance of Well Cave. Furthermore, a section of the eroding coastline was cut back and cleaned up and recorded.

The main aim of this project was to gain a better understanding of the precise nature and range of the archaeological deposits, both within the caves and outside them. It also aimed to establish when the caves were in use, how long they remained in use, and the nature of activities undertaken within them.

The evaluation revealed significant new evidence for prehistoric, Middle Iron Age and Pictish activity on the site. The prehistoric evidence takes the form of a possible cup mark from Trench 1 (Jonathan's Cave), ard marks from Trench 7 (outside Well Cave) and a standing stone revealed in the eroding coastal section (Trench 9). All of these may date to the Late Neolithic or Bronze Age. The ard marks were identified in the lower levels of a deep stratigraphic sequence, sealed by a rock fall; dating them scientifically is a priority.

The excavations also recovered evidence for Middle Iron Age and Pictish activity within the caves. The former took the form of an occupation layer sealing a stone pavement in Trench 8 (within Sliding Cave). Material recovered from this occupation deposit includes charred grains of barley, which were radiocarbon dated to AD 240-400. This trench also revealed the presence of a new Pictish carving, in the form of a pair of sinuous lines (possibly serpents). There was no evidence from this trench for a corresponding Pictish occupation layer.

Some limited evidence for medieval activity in the caves was confined to the trenches in Well Cave. In both trenches, small quantities of medieval pottery were recovered, although none was directly associated with the 'well' itself. No traces could be found of a putative passageway linking this cave and the medieval remains of McDuff Castle.

The post-medieval features and deposits excavated included the fills of the 'well' in Well Cave and layers of post-medieval metalworking from within Jonathan's Cave archaeologically confirming the presence of Jonathan himself and his occupation as a nail maker.

The project was also able to determine that in many cases these caves have been subject to systematic clean-outs (resulting in disturbed and truncated stratigraphy) certainly after Pictish times. In some instances, the sea itself may have scoured the inside of the caves, during particularly high tides and/or floods. This work suggests that well-preserved and undisturbed sequences of cave deposits are most likely to survive in the less accessible caves, where intact sediments may even date back to prehistoric periods.

Sponsor: Videotext Communications Ltd.

C Gibson 2004


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