High Pasture Cave

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Site of High Pasture Cave

High Pasture Cave (Gaelic: Uamh An Ard-Achaidh) is an excavation site near the settlement of Torrin on the island of Skye in Scotland. The cave system extends to about 320 metres (1,050 ft) of accessible passages.


The cave is located about one kilometer southeast of the village of Torrin, near Kilbride. The entrance of the cave lies in a narrow valley on the northern slopes of the mountain of Beinn Dùbhaich east of the Red Cuillin hills and is formed from the erosion of Durness limestone.

The cave is entered via a natural shaft some 6 metres (20 ft) deep that lead into the main cave, both of which appear to have been in use between 1200 BC and 200 BC (mid-Bronze Age to late Iron Age).[1]


The cave system was originally excavated in 1972 by students at the University of London Speleological Society. A full-year of excavation then took place in 2003, mainly supported by Historic Scotland, and continuing project work was under the supervision of Steven Birch and Martin Wildgoose.[2][3]


A wide variety of artefacts have been recovered from the cave and environs including stone, bone, antler and residues of metalworking along with well-preserved animal and fish bones.[2]

In 2012 a piece of carved wood, thought to be the bridge of a lyre was found there. The small burnt and broken piece has been dated to approximately 300 BC and is the earliest find of a stringed instrument in western Europe.[4] The notches where the strings would have been placed can be easily distinguished and according to Graeme Lawson of Cambridge Music Archaeological Research the find "pushes the history of complex music [in Britain] back more than a thousand years".[5] If dating and attribution are confirmed, this object may indicate contacts between local Celtic people and Mediterranean cultures.[6] [nb 1]


  1. ^ It is not unreasonable to connect this finding to the extended contacts that Celtic peoples, at their greatest expansion in the 4th century BC, had with southeastern Europe, where lyres and similar instruments were very diffuse (recall that Orpheus, the archetypal lyre-player in Greek mythology, was a native of Thrace); or to the migration of Celtic tribes (Galatians) to Anatolia of 278 BC, as harps and lyres were very diffuse among ancient peoples of the Middle East.


  1. ^ Birch, Steven A. (Spring 2004). "High Pasture Cave: A Window on Prehistory of Strath, Skye" (pdf). Teachd an Tir: 6–7. Retrieved 21 February 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "High Pasture Cave" Highland Council. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  3. ^ "Uamh An Ard Achadh". High Pasture Cave Project. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Skye cave find western Europe's 'earliest string instrument'". BBC. 28 March 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "Delight at find of ancient lyre". (5 April 2012) Inverness. Highland News.
  6. ^ "Barbarians on the Greek periphery? Origin of Celtic Art". Retrieved 29 March 2016. 

Coordinates: 57°12′40″N 6°00′58″W / 57.211°N 6.016°W / 57.211; -6.016

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