24 November 2013
Test Pits at Learnie Caves

Test Pits

Following excavations at Learnie 2B in 2006 and Cairds' Cave in 2010, the Rosemarkie Caves Project members have surveyed the 19 caves in a 2 mile stretch of coastline NE from Cairds. In autumn 2012, a program of test pitting in selected caves was started. This was to find out which caves might merit further investigation in future and to ascertain the ealiest use of the caves by carbon-dating deep samples ~ usually charcoal or bone.

Ivy Cave was investigated in October 2011. The floor in the cave was found to be shallow and pieces of shoe leather together with bits of glass and clay pipes were found. These all pointed to use in 19th and early 20th centuries.

In June 2013, 3 test pits were dug in Learnie 1B, the largest of the group. The deepest of these was at the entrance, Trench 1, which was 1.4 metres before the baserock was found. Above the baserock was beachsand, above this was a layer of ash and charcoal, some of which was removed for carbon-dating. On top of this was a thick layer of rocky rubble which was capped by the present fibrous floor.

During the autumn, more pits were dug in further caves: Learnie 2B, 3B and 3C. In most of these we were able to dig down to the baserock of the caves at the entrances and found samples of bone and charcoal, which have been sent away for carbon dating. 3 pieces of medieval pottery found in 2B have been dated to 1400-1500 AD.

Jan 2014 ~ charcoal and butchered bone samples were sent from 4 test pits for dating. In 3 pits, the results came out at 600-700 AD, while Learnie 3C gave us an earlier date of 200 AD. This would seem to indicate that the Rosemarkie caves were used extensively in the times of the Picts, before the arrival of the Vikings. The earliest date found in the caves so far is 300 BC from Cairds' Cave. about the time of Alexander the Great (though he was operating elsewhere).


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