MHG63088 - Learnie 3a, 3b, 3c caves - Learnie, Rosemarkie


An archaeological survey and test pitting was undertaken between 2011 and 2015 by the Rosemarkie Caves Project.

Type and Period (2)

  • OCCUPATION SITE (Early Iron Age to Medieval - 550 BC? to 1559 AD?)
  • CAVE (Occupied, Early Iron Age to Medieval - 550 BC? to 1559 AD?)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

From the results of our 2011-2015 programme of survey and test pitting, we had gathered substantial evidence for lengthy use of the Rosemarkie Caves over the past 2000 years. A number of the caves, in particular the Learnie group, had been visited or occupied sometime during the 7th-9th centuries AD.

Learnie 3B is situated behind hazel trees and at the foot of a cliff at 9 metres OD. This cave is one of a group of three, Learnie 3A, B and C. The floor is T-shaped in plan and the northern part has a tight passage dropping down to the adjoining cave, Learnie 3C. The floor is composed of sandy rubble and slopes up to a talus rampart outside the entrance. One test pit was excavated near the entrance to the cave.

Adjacent to Learnie 3B and linked to it by a tight passage, Learnie 3C is situated at 8m OD. The floor, in contrast to the other Learnie caves, comprised smooth, sandy silt with small holes in the surface. The cave entrance is nearly blocked by a high rampart of sand covered talus, but the interior has a high rock ceiling. One test pit (Test Pit 2) was excavated inside the cave.

Test Pit 1
The test pit revealed a well-stratified sequence of archaeological layers in the lower half of the pit, separated by a clean sand horizon. A setting of heat-affected slabs, interpreted as a hearth [6] overlay a shell midden deposit [7]. The basal layers also contained shell and evidence for burning. A fragment of animal bone from context 7 and a sample of ash charcoal from context 10 were selected for radiocarbon dating.

Animal bone from a deposit underlying hearth C106 in 3B was dated to 1046‐1185 AD calibrated 1-sigma (68.2%) and 1038‐1210 AD calibrated 2-sigma (95.4%).
Charcoal from 100cm deep in context was dated to 139-242 AD calibrated 1-sigma (68.2%) and 126-325 AD calibrated 2-sigma (95.4%).
A piece of animal bone was dated to 143‐318 AD Calibrated 1‐ sigma (68.2%) and 132‐328 AD Calibrated 2‐sigma (95.4%). <1>

A list of caves, with grid references, is available on the Rosemarkie Caves Project website. <2>

Note: Site not visible on aerial photographs so location based on grid coordinates. (T. Blackie 15/01/24)

Sources/Archives (6)



Grid reference Centred NH 7575 6089 (16m by 16m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH76SE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (3)

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