MHG29333 - Wetweather Cave, Geodha Smoo

Summary

A small cave in the Geodha Smoo, Durness, to the northeast of the main Smoo Cave. Midden deposits were investigated in 1995.

Type and Period (4)

  • CAVE (Unknown date)
  • OCCUPATION SITE (Occupied in late Neolithic, Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2401 BC)
  • OCCUPATION SITE (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1559 AD (occasionally))
  • MIDDEN (Neolithic to Norse - 4000 BC to 1300 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

During spring 1995 GUARD were commissioned by Historic Scotland to carry out rescue excavation of the coastal midden deposits identified in 1992 to the northwest of Smoo Cave (see MHG11597, MHG29332 & MHG29334). The deposits were located across the mouths of two small adjoining caves which were situated in the western wall of the narrow, canyon-like inlet through which Alt Smoo flows. The caves were named by excavators as a means of preventing confusion with the larger cavern - Glassknapper's so-called because of finds of bottle glass which at first sight looked as though they had been knapped (they had not) and Antler Cave after unmodified red deer antler was found in the deposits. A problem encountered during the project was caused by water, at various times either rain or melted snow dripped from the roofs of the caves which made working very difficult. As a result during wet weather it was decided to carry out a smaller scale investigation in a further cave (not included in the original brief) situated to the north-east of the mouth of the largest cave, Smoo Cave. Prior to this project the presence of this cave was unknown and it was identified during the general survey of the area. The deposits were nowhere near as deep as those in the other caves and its roof was relatively water-proof and it was given the name the Wetweather Cave.

This site is situated on higher ground on the opposite side of the inlet to the other two caves, in close proximity to the eastern side of mouth of Smoo Cave. For the most part this site is characterised by a shallow overhang at the foot of the cliff, although deeper recesses and chambers do exist toward the rear. Neither of these chambers was examined during this assessment. This work resulted in the discovery of a small shell midden, from which butchered animal bone was recovered, and of a number of small pits cut into the chalk-like soil which represented the floor of the cave, which was was originally thought to be archaeologically sterile. However, cleaning back in spits revealed animal bones and in several locations sherds of impressed ware pottery indicating the use of the cave at least during the late Neolithic. In addition the find of a fine bronze pin with an incised globular head may have been Norse or even medieval indicating continued use of the cave over a longer period of time. <1>

The full published report for the 1995 excavations presents detailed analysis of the environmental samples recovered from the cave deposits. The sherd of impressed ware was unlike any other comparable vessel recorded in northern Scotland although the decoration was reminiscent of an impressed ware vessel from Allt Christal on Barra. The copper alloy pin was recovered from a shell midden deposit and was similar to two pins recovered during excavations at Freswick Links in Caithness. It was considered that although the pin could be Norse it was equally possible that it dated from anywhere between the C14-C18. The fish remains from the cave were mainly vertebrae from very small and small specimens of saithe and pollock, shore rockling and bib although rocker, grey gurnard and eel were also present. The assemblage indicated inshore fishing probably carried out in the Autumn. The animal bones recovered from the cave were covered with limy deposits which in some cases obscured any diagnostic features which could have aided identification. Animals represented included cattle, red deer, sheep/goat, pig and dog/wolf. Marine shells were also recovered during the investigation. These included common limpet, which was the most common, common mussel, edible periwinkle and common cockle. The cave also produced the largest amount of edible crab from any of the sites in the Geodha Smoo along with possible Norway lobster. Large amounts of whelk (Nucella lapillus) were also recovered. This is not an edible species, used in ancient times for the production of purple dye. The way in which the shells had been opened would suggest that they were removed for the extraction of the ink. This appears to be the first known archaeological evidence of purple dye extraction from this species in Scotland. <2>

The cave was visited during a rapid coastal zone assessment of a stretch of the north Sutherland coastline by GUARD in 1997. The assessment had been commissioned by Historic Scotland. The survey noted that the edges of the pastic sheeting put down to protect the remaining deposits in 1995 were now visible, being held down only by a thin covering of soil and they were now in danger of erosion. See report for full detail. <3>

Sources/Archives (3)

Map

Location

Grid reference Centred NC 41928 67149 (12m by 13m) (Buffered by site type)
Map sheet NC46NW
Geographical Area SUTHERLAND
Civil Parish DURNESS

Finds (2)

  • SHERD (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2401 BC)
  • PIN (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD? to 1559 AD?)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Investigations/Events (2)

External Links (2)

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