High Pasture Cave

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High Pasture Cave
Uamh An Ard-Achaidh
High Pasture Cave near to Kilbride2.jpg
High Pasture Cave
High Pasture Cave in Scotland
High Pasture Cave in Scotland
Location in Scotland
High Pasture Cave in Scotland
High Pasture Cave in Scotland
Location in Scotland
Location Kilbride, island of Skye
Region Scotland
Coordinates 57°12′50″N 6°0′40″W / 57.21389°N 6.01111°W / 57.21389; -6.01111Coordinates: 57°12′50″N 6°0′40″W / 57.21389°N 6.01111°W / 57.21389; -6.01111
Type limestone
Part of Red Cuillin
Length 320 m (1,050 ft)
Periods Mesolithic, Iron Age
Associated with Paleo Humans
Site notes
Excavation dates 1972, 2003
Archaeologists Steven Birch

High Pasture Cave (Gaelic: Uamh An Ard-Achaidh) is an archaeological site on the island of Skye, Scotland. Human presence is documented since the Mesolithic. The cave system extends to about 320 metres (1,050 ft) of accessible passages.


The cave is located about 1 km (0.62 mi) 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 by erosion of Durness limestone.

The interior is accessed via a natural shaft some 6 m (20 ft) deep that leads into the main cave, which appears to have been in use between 1,200 BC and 200 BC (mid-Bronze Age to late Iron Age). After about 80 meters there is a fork, where you will find on the right a rocky dry passage. In 2002 the cave explorer Steven Birch discovered broken crockery and bones. Previous visitors to the cave had thrown this material aside in the attempts to find new ways. Birch recognized the value of the find as well as the importance of this place.[1][2]


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.[3][4]


Arrowheads left behind by nomadic hunters suggest occupation during the Mesolithic period (about 6,000 to 7,000 years ago). Only occasionally occupied during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age until about 800 BC, when the site became more frequented and a large fire place was set up in front of its entrance. The entrance area also seems to have been used for ceremonies or storage of personal items.[5]

A wide variety of artifacts has been recovered from the cave and its surroundings including stone items, bone, antler and residue of metalworkings along with well-preserved faunal remains.[3]

During the following 1000 years, activities and ash deposits of the fire site threatened to block the entrance of the cave. A staircase of about 4 m (13.12 ft) in length was built in order to be able to enter the cave. Hundreds of finds (bronze, bone and antler needles, glass and ivory beads) around the fire pit and the cave floor point to a place of intense activity. This lasted until about 40 BC. Then the stairs were completely filled with boulders and earth. The skeleton of a woman along with a 4 to 5 month old fetus and a 9 to 10 month-old child were placed on top of the filling.[5]

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.[6] 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".[7] If dating and attribution are confirmed, this object may indicate contacts between local Celtic people and Mediterranean cultures.[8] [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. ^ "Geomorphology and evolution of High Pasture Cave (Uamh an Ard Achadh) (PDF Download Available)". researchgate. Retrieved December 25, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "High Pasture Cave" Highland Council. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Uamh An Ard Achadh". High Pasture Cave Project. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  5. ^ a b "The Preliminary Assessment and Analysis of Late Prehistoric Cultural deposits from a limestone cave" (PDF). Her highland gov uk. Retrieved December 25, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Skye cave find western Europe's 'earliest string instrument'". BBC. 28 March 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  7. ^ "Delight at find of ancient lyre". (5 April 2012) Inverness. Highland News.
  8. ^ "Barbarians on the Greek periphery? Origin of Celtic Art". Retrieved 29 March 2016. 

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