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Isle of Skye


Tide turns on Iron Age midden treasure trove

AN ANCIENT rubbish tip – inhabited nearly 2,000 years ago – is disappearing into the sea, archeologists have warned.

The Iron Age midden on Skye's west coast has so far yielded bone fragments, stone tools, a button manufactured from horn and the top of a human skull.

But experts are battling the elements in a race to save the 1,900-year-old treasure trove from the elements.

The manmade tools and fragments are already under attack from lashing waves and strong winds, with significant amounts of material already lost to the sea. A report published by Highland Council's Historic Environment Record said that at the current rate of erosion, the site will not last beyond 2010.

The settlement is thought to have been inhabited from 80AD, about the time the Colosseum was built in Rome.

It was discovered by local archeologists Martin Wildgoose and Steven Birch in 2005.

Excavations last year and this year have uncovered a number of fascinating objects. Among the tools and animal bones, archeologists found the remains of a human skull with a small hole drilled into the top.

Experts have speculated that the hole could have been made while the victim was still alive as a primitive form of surgery. Known as trepanation, the procedure was a common remedy in many cultures thought to cure seizures and mental ailments.

The rock shelter and midden, known as Uamh an Eich Bhric, or Cave of the Speckled Horse, is about 3km south-west of the village of Fiskavaig.

It is extremely difficult to get to the site by land, with excavators having to negotiate a steep 100 metre descent of high grass and heather to the shore below.

Access by sea is only possible in calm conditions, due to the hazardous landing on a boulder and pebble beach.

The site was uncovered when a huge talus, or pile of broken rock, that had protected the cave from the sea was partially breached during the winter storms of 2005.

Since then, the tides have exposed the site and continue to wash out new material on a regular basis.

When it became clear that time was against the archeologists, Historic Scotland sponsored the excavations to recover as many artefacts as possible before the site was destroyed. A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said: "From the evidence gathered it was clear that an important and unusual site was at severe risk from continuing erosion.

"A campaign of excavation was quickly organised, with funding from Historic Scotland and others.

"The excavations have revealed that during the Iron Age, people used this location as a temporary home."

Details of those who lived in the cave were yet to emerge, she said, adding that from ongoing analysis there was strong evidence of metal-working.

She said it was hoped the discoveries would allow archaeologists to further explore the history of the inhabitants, with important implications for the understanding of Scotland's west coast during the Iron Age.

She added: "Although the site will continue to be eroded by the sea, the archaeologists have rescued an enormous amount of data and the gains in knowledge are likely to be very significant."

Skye, known for its abundant historical finds, has had several important discoveries in the past few months.

Last Thursday, 47-year-old Graeme Mackenzie discovered a Viking anchor while digging near his home in Sleat.

The find was hailed as further evidence that Norse raiders never returned to their native land, choosing instead to settle on Skye and many other places along Scotland's north-western seaboard.

And in November, house builders near Armadale pier uncovered six richly decorated prehistoric graves, one of the most significant archaeological finds yet made in the Highlands.

More information and the subsequent later archaeological excavations are here, with lots of interesting photos...
moss Posted by moss
11th December 2009ce
Edited 11th December 2009ce

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