Issue: The Caves of Mid Argyll

Subtitle an archaeology of human use
Publication Type
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20_2001_TOLAN-SMITH_Mid_Argyll.pdf (42 MB): Download
Author Christopher Tolan-Smith
Editor Alexandra N Shepherd
Issue Editor Anna Ritchie
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Other Person/Org Lindsay Allason-Jones (Author contributing)
Ewan Campbell (Author contributing)
Gordon T Cook (Author contributing)
Louisa J Gidney (Author contributing)
Christopher J Young (Author contributing)
Year of Publication 2001
Volume 20
Number of Pages: 184
ISBN 0903903202
Source ADS Archive
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Abstract
1 - 24
A brief account of previous work is presented. Although more than 400 sites have been identified in Scotland, investigation has been limited. The volumes produced by the RCAHMS identified 77 caves and rock shelters in south-west Scotland, the most well-known being the Oban Caves. An introduction to this project which ran from 1985 to 1988 is followed by a summary of criteria and classification, then a gazetteer of 81 sites.
25 - 72
A brief account of traditions associated with the cave is presented. The presence of early Christian gravestones in the vicinity is mainly responsible for antiquarian and archaeological interest over the past 150 years. A detailed description of the cave which appears in the RCAHMS volume is reproduced here. This is followed by accounts of various excavations between 1959 and 1976 and a summary of the stratigraphy. This includes raised beach deposits, midden deposits and hearths which represent prehistoric to early Christian domestic and religious use of the site, burials representing later medieval religious use, followed by casual use by fishermen and an 1891 clearance episode by antiquarians. There are specialist reports on a variety of artefacts and ecofacts which comprise utilised and unutilised pebbles and stones, struck flint, struck quartz, ceramics (pottery, crucibles, clay moulds, fired clay), slag, furnace debris and tar, glass, clay tobacco pipes, metalwork, coins, a shale box fragment, shell artefacts, worked bone and antler, faunal remains and human remains. It is concluded that the cave saw various periods of use through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Iron Age, early Christian, early and later medieval periods through to the 19th century.
73 - 148
The site is 1.3 km away from St Columba's cave and was briefly investigated by test pitting in 1961. The author undertook four seasons of excavation from 1987 to 1991. Five main types of context were identified: occupational surfaces; occupational deposits; midden deposits; features and the deposits filling them. Six phases of activity have been defined: a - early prehistoric occupation with formal blocking of the west entrance; b - later prehistoric occupation and iron working; c (i) - later medieval midden; c (ii) - earlier post-medieval midden; d - later post-medieval occupation; and e - 1961 test pitting. There are specialist reports on artefacts and ecofacts which comprise utilised stones, ceramics, slag, glass, clay pipes, metalwork, flint, pitchstone, quartz, bone, antler, horn, marine molluscs, fish remains and animal bone. The chapter concludes with a phased discussion of the human use of the cave and a brief description of the excavation at Ellary rockshelter.
149 - 164
The Tinkler's Cave lies outside the formal limits of the study area but it was necessary to carry out salvage excavation. Deposits were very disturbed and conclusions are therefore tentative though the earliest use of the cave was at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. The other main period of use was in the post-medieval period. There are specialist reports on utilised stone, pottery, clay pipes, metalwork, flint, quartz, bone, antler, marine molluscs, fish bones, animal and bird bones.
165 - 170
A change in use from economic to ritual activity is a phenomenon frequently encountered in caves and rock shelters world wide and Argyll is no exception to this pattern, numerous cases being reported of burials being inserted into midden deposits. A reversal of this trajectory is also noted in a few cases. If the role of natural shelters in the past is to be fully understood they must be seen as part of wider economic, social and ideological systems.
171 - 173
174 - 175
176 - 182
183 - 184
Study of the caves and rock shelters of the Mid Argyll region, reporting on the results of a survey carried out between 1985 and 1988 and also on more detailed archaeological investigations at St Columba's Cave, Ellary; at Ellary Boulder Cave and rock shelter; and at The Tinkler's Cave, Lochgilphead. Occupation of the caves in general extends from the Neolithic period up to the nineteenth century AD. Intensive survey of the region has added considerably to the number of caves and rock shelters known in the area, the total now amounting to some eighty-three, of which forty-four contain archaeological evidence of human occupation. Two forms of occupation are indicated: economic or domestic use, with food and domestic debris being found; and use for ritual purposes, indicated by funerary deposits and rock engravings of cup marks and crosses. Study of these caves and rock shelters suggests that in the region of Mid Argyll such sites were not used before the Neolithic period, at which time the author suggests that groups of hunter-gatherer-pastoralists arrived from the east and the north-east, rather than from the isles to the west where there is evidence of earlier settlement. Includes French, German and Spanish summaries. Separately authored contributions include