Issue: An Corran, Staffin, Skye: a rockshelter with Mesolithic and later occupation

Publication Type
Abstract The An Corran rockshelter, on the north-east coast of the Trotternish peninsula, Skye, contained a series of shell midden and other deposits with evidence for human occupation from Mesolithic and later periods. A rescue investigation of the site in the winter of 1993-94, immediately prior to anticipated total destruction by rock-blasting for roadworks, included the excavation of a trench dug down to bedrock. A total of 41 separate contexts were identi-fied. Of these, 31 were recent or later prehistoric, the upper levels containing a series of hearths of recent date and an Iron Age copper-alloy pin. The lowest 10 layers were identified initially as Mesolithic on the basis of bone tool and lithic typology, but a series of 18 radiocarbon dates indicates they contain the residues of subsequent prehistoric activity as well. These layers consisted of several distinct areas of midden, below which there were two, possibly three, horizons which probably, based on the presence of broad blade microliths, represent Early Mesolithic activity. The midden layers also contained some human bones radiocarbon-dated to the Neolithic period. The rockshelter was located below an outcrop of baked mudstone and near a source of chalcedonic silica. Both these lithic raw materials were widely used during the Mesolithic as far away as the island of Rum.
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Author Alan Saville
Karen Hardy
Roger F Miket
Torben Bjarke Ballin
Issue Editor Helen Bleck
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Historic Scotland
Council for British Archaeology
Year of Publication 2012
Volume 51
ISBN 978-1-908332-99-8
Source DigitalBorn
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Abstract
1
The An Corran rockshelter, on the north-east coast of the Trotternish peninsula, Skye, contained a series of shell midden and other deposits with evidence for human occupation from Mesolithic and later periods. A rescue investigation of the site in the winter of 1993-94, immediately prior to anticipated total destruction by rock-blasting for roadworks, included the excavation of a trench dug down to bedrock. A total of 41 separate contexts were identi-fied. Of these, 31 were recent or later prehistoric, the upper levels containing a series of hearths of recent date and an Iron Age copper-alloy pin. The lowest 10 layers were identified initially as Mesolithic on the basis of bone tool and lithic typology, but a series of 18 radiocarbon dates indicates they contain the residues of subsequent prehistoric activity as well. These layers consisted of several distinct areas of midden, below which there were two, possibly three, horizons which probably, based on the presence of broad blade microliths, represent Early Mesolithic activity. The midden layers also contained some human bones radiocarbon-dated to the Neolithic period. The rockshelter was located below an outcrop of baked mudstone and near a source of chalcedonic silica. Both these lithic raw materials were widely used during the Mesolithic as far away as the island of Rum.
Roger F Miket
Karen Hardy
Alan Saville
2 - 16
The introduction covers the circumstances of discovery, excavation planning and strategy with an account of the excavation itself. This is followed by a detailed description of all the excavated contexts.
Karen Hardy
Alan Saville
Roger F Miket
Torben Bjarke Ballin
17 - 18
An introduction to the specialist analyses emphasises the emergency nature of the excavation and the protracted nature of the analyses. It is likely that some material has been lost and the results are therefore not wholly representative.
Karen Hardy
Alan Saville
Torben Bjarke Ballin
19 - 34
An assemblage of 5184 artefacts were derived almost entirely from the lower horizons. The raw material was mainly baked mudstones and chalcedonic silica. Tools included microliths, scrapers, piercers and microburins.
Alan Saville
Ywonne Hallen
László Bartosiewicz
35 - 41
Two pieces of antler and 114 pieces of bone were identified as modified for, or by use, and mainly belong to the category of bevel-ended tools. The remainder are bone points or miscellaneous pieces.
42 - 43
A copper-alloy pin with curved neck has no immediate Scottish parallels. It can, however, be compared to a small number of pins from elsewhere in Britain and Ireland belonging to a wider family of so-called swan's neck and ring-headed pins of mainly early Iron Age date.
Margaret F Bruce
N W Kerr
44 - 46
A total of thirty nine bones and seven teeth representing a minimum of five individuals were recovered. A single rib was reclassified as pig after the original analysis.
László Bartosiewicz
47 - 61
Animal remains were recovered from seven stratigraphically related major contexts of the midden. These included eel, fish, birds, wild cat, otter, brown bear, pig and roe deer. Most can be directly related to human activity.
Catriona Pickard
Clive Bonsall
62 - 69
Limpets, periwinkles and other shellfish representing at least fourteen species of shellfish were present. Most of the shellfish represented in the deposits were probably collected for human consumption but some (especially limpets) may have been used as bait for fishing.
Timothy G Holden
Stephen P Carter
Jennifer J Miller
70 - 72
Eleven different taxa of snail shells represent a group that would be typical of moist rubble habitats on generally acid soils very similar to what would be expected from modern fauna at the site. Charcoal data places the site places the site within or close to areas of birch, hazel and willow scrub. The environment would not be very different to that found in wooded valleys and sheltered areas of the coast below 200 m today.
Alan Saville
Karen Hardy
72 - 76
A total of eighteen dates were obtained and there are problems with the results. Two dates from burnt bone can be discounted as unreliable, however, the remaining sixteen show a significant lack of cohesion even within individual contexts. Possible reasons for this are considered.
Nicky Milner
Oliver E Craig
77 - 79
A total of seventeen samples were taken from human bones in the hope that they would be Mesolithic in date, however, they proved to be Neolithic. Seven animal bones were also sampled. Although the extent of consumption of marine versus other food is difficult to assess, the stable isotope data suggest that some marine foods were consumed by the humans buried there well into the fourth millennium.
Alan Saville
Karen Hardy
80 - 81
There seems to be a strong possibility that part of the assemblage represents the earliest Mesolithic type of lithic finds from Scotland. On the basis of the radiocarbon dates it is assumed that most of the human remains are Neolithic. There is also limited evidence for Bronze Age and Iron Age activity.
Alan Saville
Karen Hardy
82
The results indicate the enormous potential that rock shelters have for studying Mesolithic economy and technology, and particularly in this case for examining the little understood early Mesolithic phase of Scottish prehistory.
83
84 - 89
Roger F Miket
Karen Hardy
Alan Saville
90 - 94
Alan Saville
95 - 101