GSG Newsletter 124
28 October 2005
Skeleton Found in Iron Age Entrance at High Pasture Cave
One of the main objectives of the surface dig above High Pasture Cave
has been to unearth the old Iron Age entrance into Bone Passage. By late
August many items of archaeological interest had been found including
quern stones, hearths, bone pins, pottery, and sets of hammer stones.
Some steps had been found leading away from the excavation. Though a
depth of about 3m was reached and the trench extended once, the
pre-historic entrance didn't appear.
The trench was extended again and on 1st September, after uncovering
yet more Iron Age material, human bones started to be revealed. The
skull and upper arm bones were first to appear, with the skull smashed
by a large pointed boulder. Eventually almost the complete skeleton was
uncovered. The discovery of an Iron Age burial is very rare and this is
the first one found on Skye. At first the bones appeared to lie in a
grave setting, but after careful excavation the supposed sides of the
grave were revealed as the walls of a steep staircase down into Bone
Passage. The walls on either side are less than completely stable after
2000+ years and shoring is needed as excavation continues. Digging is
almost over for the season and it'll be spring 2006 before it resumes
and the old entrance is revealed.
The skeleton has been sent for analysis to Laura Sinfield at the
University of Edinburgh Medical School. First results show it was of a
woman aged between 32 and 35 years, of around 5' 2" in height. She had
suffered from at least two bouts of serious illness during childhood and
when she died had a large open tooth infection in her lower jaw, a
possible cause of death in an age with no known antibiotics.
Laura is now going over the skeletal material in more detail to
investigate possible causes of death and other trauma in the bone of the
woman. Of particular note is the fact that little post-depositional
attrition was found on the bone related to scavenging by animals, with
only a few signs of gnawing by smaller rodents such as voles and rats
(we found bones relating to the remains of rats and voles in the fill of
the grave). This suggests that the woman was either buried quickly, or
was in some way covered and protected from scavengers. It is possible
that the remains of collapsed corbelling identified above the entrance
passage, in which the woman was placed, was still standing at this time
forming an enclosure over the burial.
However, it was the next series of updates from Laura on the skeletal
material recovered from the burial that came as a complete shock to the
project team. She confirmed that the woman was carrying a foetus between
4 and 6 months of age, which was represented by a few tiny fragments of
bone. There was more to come. Laura also identified the remains of an
infant of 9 to 12 months in age, which had been placed in the grave
between the woman's legs. This news resulted in a myriad of questions
including what was the relationship between the three individuals in the
grave; how had they died; was the cause of death some form of disease or
accident, or was there a more sinister side to the story? Laura will be
looking at the remains in more detail to see if she can shed more light
on these questions.
With these discoveries generating more questions than answers there
is still much for the site to reveal and it appears that funding for at
least another three seasons of work has been promised. Other recent
developments are installing lighting and CCTV in Bone Passage and a week
of Open Days in early October attended by a total of over three hundred
Most of the above has been copied from the web site at:-
. Point your browser at it to read much more.
- ** Latest News - In mid-October, after the Open Days, Steve and Martin
continued work at the old entrance. They sloped the top of the
excavation back to make it more stable and continued excavating the
steps. As they did so they found more bones. These appear to be from one
or possibly two human foetuses and a foetal pig! They are incredibly
delicate and will soon be on their way south for Laura to analyse. There
are still several metres to excavate before Bone Passage is reached. Yet
more surprises could await the project team next year.
High Pasture Electrified!
In late September Ivan installed lights and CCTV in Bone Passage. He
was assisted most ably by Peter Ireson for the three days it took to
complete the work. Power comes from a 240 Vac petrol generator on the
surface. This also supplies lighting and power sockets in the two sheds.
During the recent Open Days visitors could view what was happening in
Bone Passage on a monitor in the larger shed and switch between the two
underground colour cameras. The lights in the shed helped illuminate the
story of the excavation displayed on boards around the shed walls. Some
of the finds were displayed on the table and stacked around the floor.
The cables for Bone Passage have been run in two 25mm blue MDPE water
pipes through the existing entrance and along the streamway: one for
power and one for video cables. Just before the Black Gate (a thin
volcanic dyke intersecting the passage) they take a short cut through a
low opening into Bone Passage.
Every attempt has been made to minimize damage to the cave. Where
possible the pipes, cables and fittings have been attached with cable
ties to existing holes and protrusions and routed along ledges. It was
necessary to drill some 8mm holes - less than 20 - and one short
stalactite was sacrificed to keep the pipes well out of the way of
passing cavers. All fixings are either plastic or stainless steel so
there shouldn't be any rust streaks down the flowstone.
All the light bulbs are low power fluorescent and individually
switched. Both should help minimize plant growth in their vicinity. The
light fittings are held in position by clamps that allow them to be
easily removed if the area around them shows signs of algal or plant
growth and needs cleaned. The installation will be there for the life of
the excavation and it'll be interesting to see just what effect it has
on the passage. It can then be removed, hopefully leaving only a few 8mm
- Rana Hole - There have been a few trips here over the summer. On the
30th of July a large team including new recruits Ian Midgley and Preston
White hauled out the pile of bags waiting at the foot of the first pitch
as others dug at the bottom. After about 5 hours 281 loads had been
removed setting a new one day record. Derek and Martin stayed on in
Assynt for a Monday session filing more bags at the bottom. Peter Ireson
had a solo SRT descent a few days later and rescued two frogs. At the
end of August the trio of Julian, Bob and Ivan concentrated on filling
bags and left a large stack of them and a pile of boulders at the foot
of the first pitch (see page 8). Most of these were hauled out at the
beginning of October after the SCRO exercise.
- ANUSC - Shona Warwick (9 years) escorted dad Chris Warwick on Friday 8
July to the main sites in the cave including all of the Farr Series. She
reported that the siphon in 2nd Stream Chamber was not working. Last
report was that it was working again so I believe Julian has fixed it.
- Uamh an Claonaite - Chris took daughter Shona, this time in a dry
suit, almost everywhere above sump three including Viaduct Series and
Infinite Improbability Inlet
- Cnoc nan Uamh - In early August reporter Joanna Rae and her tape
recorder were taken on a short caving trip by Peter Dowswell with Bob
and Rosemary Jones, and special guests from Munich Thomas and Anya
Matthalm. A rapid walk up the valley attempting to outpace the midges
was followed by a trip to Landslip Chamber and back with Thomas and Anya
continuing on through the Wet Way and down the Waterslide. Joanna's
report was broadcast on Radio Scotland's Out of Doors show early the
next Saturday morning.
David Morrison and Richard Simpson have continued pushing existing
caves and finding new holes in Skye. One discovery is possibly going to
be named High Pasture Pot III which should tell you where it is. It is
described as a slither through a low entrance and down a couple of drops
into a 3.5m high passage that narrows to impassability, even for David
and Richard, after a total of about 6m.
They also report that the sump in Pool Cave was a lot deeper than the
0.6m in Caves of Skye. Richard was in up to his neck and could feel
News has been sent by GSG member Bob Batty of a promising dig in a
distant land. The cave's name and other details will be revealed when
the time is right. All I can divulge at present is that the entrance is
called Heaven's Door and it is a joint GSG /??? dig by Bob and an
un-named accomplice in another club. They are being very tight with
information because poachers are prevalent in the area.
THE TIME OF THE ANCIENT CAVERNER
On 29th November, Goon will attain the official status of a state
crumbly, complete with bus pass and Petzl zimmer. To celebrate, he
proposes two good old fashioned ladder trips down Ireby Fell Cavern (his
favourite pot) and Tatham Wife Hole on Sat and Sun. 3/4th December
respectively (weather permitting). On Saturday evening, by way of
further celebration, he proposes to buy everyone attending a free drink
(one!) in the pub of their choice (suggest you all pick the same pub!).
Since this is intended as a replica of the hundreds of pre-SRT trips he
carried out with the club, he doesn't want to see any SRT hardware at
all; just do it like we used to.
Early this year, while on a trip into the East Block, GSG members
Peter Dennis and Nathan Critchlow-Watton found the way liberally
sprinkled with pieces of orange tape. This continued all the way to
Infinite Improbability Inlet. There was no indication of who had left
the tape or why. They removed all the tape they found.
Forthcoming Meets and Events
See the events page for details.
Please send your requests and suggestions for other meets to me.
Fiona Ware - GSG Caving Secretary
Have you ever wondered what could lie behind the next boulder down
Rana? Or even worse, have you ever become disillusioned about cave
digging, hauling bag after bag of debris out of that same dig? 'The
Cave' answers these questions and more, and will rekindle your interest
in this exciting field of speleology. After a dig site that looks
remarkably similar to Rana, our intrepid explorers (including some men
this time, although the women still seem to be wearing some surprisingly
skimpy yet durable caving clothing) enter a vast cave, mostly
unexplored, with no-one in the outside world knowing where they are.
Could something nasty be lurking in the cave....? This film involves
SRT, cave diving and surveying, tales of self-rescue, ice caves and
caves with flames.... Something for all the family. Perhaps not as
amusing as 'The Descent', but worth seeing all the same. And remember,
next time you visit Rana - you never know what could lie behind the next
Final Comment:- Andrew Brooks and I went to see it with another
friend who proclaimed as the credits rolled 'Well that is two hours of
my life that I will never get back....'
Alison Jones - GSG film critic
The Ice Axe - an Essential Caving Aid
There has been comment that the ice axes wielded by the lassies
portrayed in The Descent were far removed from normal everyday caving
gear. This is quite wrong as demonstrated by the recent exploration of
Storm Cave. Not because it was infested by Morlock-like creatures intent
on supplementing their diet at your expense, but because an ice axe
proved to be the one piece of equipment best suited to negotiating the
steep muddy slopes above the lower streamway. Cutting steps works just
as well in mud as it does in ice. And if the Morlocks do arrive you are
The SCRO were called out in August to help with the search for
missing Livingston schoolboy Rory Blackhall. Over the weekend of the
search twelve members were involved for a total of about 200 hours
searching mines, culverts, storm drains and any other underground
cavities the surface teams didn't want to enter. The search ended when
Rory's body was found by a dog handler. We did find some items of
clothing unconnected with our search, but possibly relevant to other
investigations. Best discovery was made by Jim Salvona. Nips were only
L1.00 each in the police social club!
The annual SCRO/AMRT joint exercise was held in ANUSC on 8th October.
This year we had half a dozen professional casualties and Suzie Peggie
organised a series of mini-exercises for small teams to tackle
sequentially. This gave everybody the chance to use all the equipment.
This was unanimously thought to be a great success and much better than
taking a stretcher for a walk.
Elphin Caving Centre
The winter season of theme meals splashed off with Peter's
Celebration of the Sea at the beginning of October. The hut was full and
we had a record 27 folk for the meal split between the conservatory and
the main room. The next meal was going to be on November 19th, but
master chef Peter is attending a rescue seminar and the sous chefs
(Carol, Rosemary) will be abroad. If anyone wants to volunteer please do
so, otherwise it'll be everyone catering for themselves in November. The
next theme meal is the Xmas party on the 10th December. Remember it's
never too soon to reserve your bunk space with Peter.
Both shower rooms have now been fitted with 2kW fan heaters. These
raise the temperature very quickly so please don't leave them on for
long. As an excellent example of one step forward and several back, one
shower is now out of use due to a knackered shower tray. The plastic
surface was cracking up and I partly removed it to measure up for a
replacement. A new more solid tray is now waiting to be installed. I
expect to do this in mid-November.
Thanks to David Warren for staying on for an extra couple of days
after the SCRO exercise in early October. He finished painting the walls
and ceiling in phase 1 and slapped more paint on the floor. The floor in
the shower/toilet area badly needs painting and that is next on the list
once we find the bottle of acid to pre-etch the concrete. Does anyone
know where it is?
Scottish Smoking Ban
The Scottish Executive replied in September to my questions about how
their smoking ban will apply to the hut. They tell me that the
legislation will not apply to Taigh nam Famh because it is self-catering
accommodation. They also tell me that a private residence is also exempt
if used for holding meetings or parties, or if used as the occupier's
place of work.
The delay in replying to my questions was because they had to seek
advice from their solicitors. I've since had another read of the
information on their web site and still can't find any mention of
self-catering accommodation, but I'm not going to argue.
Drying Room notes
There are two reasons why the drying room might not dry that you may
not be aware of. The first is that the overflow pipe from the water tank
is led out through the wall and in very cold weather the water running
through it can freeze. After a while that results in the water level in
the tank rising enough to turn the dehumidifier off. To cure that pull
the hose into the drying room, put the end in a bucket, and let it
The second reason is that there is an air filter. When it becomes
clogged the flow of air decreases, temperatures rise and again the
dehumidifier stops dehumidifying. To clean the filter move the
dehumidifier away from the wall, slide the air filter out, wash it out,
dry and refit it. The photo on the right shows the air filter partly
The flow of new members into north-western Europe's best caving club
Mark Campbell - is a member of AMRT and has been a regular at the joint
AMRT/SCRO cave rescue exercises. He has caved extensively in Scotland,
mostly with Chris Warwick, and thinks he is close to having done all the
limestone caves in Scotland except some b*****s keep finding more!
Alison Jones - has now joined her parents as a member of the GSG and
SCRO. She's been in many Sutherland caves and been the casualty in one
SCRO exercise. She is a welcome addition to the number of medically
qualified members and is the self-selected GSG film critic.
Preston White and Ian Midgley - caved extensively together in Yorkshire
in the 1960's and 70's. Now living only a couple of hundred yards apart
in Evanton their interest in caving has reawakened and they have visited
several Skye caves, been on a Gaping Gill winch meet exiting via Bar
Pot, and assisted us in Rana Hole.
Julian & Carol Walford.
Chris Chapman mobile,
Deidre Nagle email,
Dick Grindley email,
Martin Hayes mobile,
Dave Hodgson email,
Alan Jeffreys mobile,
Malcolm McConville mobile and email.
Deidre Nagle reports that she and Jonathan are now living in North
Island New Zealand and visitors would be very welcome. They are in New
Plymouth, in the Taranaki region, where there are lots of volcanoes with
skiing and caving further north. At the time she wrote they hadn't
managed to find any local cavers, so if anyone can help just email
The GSG site maintained by Andrew Brooks is at:-
Quinag - Yet another Sutherland mountain has changed ownership. This
time it is Quinag, the triple Corbett (peaks over 2500 feet) just a few
miles north of the Inch. It has been bought by the John Muir Trust for
L600,000 with the assistance of an unnamed donor.
Balnakiel Beach Balls - After some summer gales the beach at
Balnakiel was covered by hundreds of spherical objects. They appear to
be compact assemblages of stalks, twigs, bits of seaweed and other
fibrous materials including plastic. One was left by the finder at the
Altnacealgach Bar and as you can see from the photograph it is about 10
cm in diameter. Some were a bit smaller and some larger, and when pulled
apart are of uniform construction throughout.
The question is - what are they? How were they formed? If you know
the answer please tell us.
The GSG expedition to Staffa has been reported in Descent, and there
will be articles in later editions of the GSG Bulletin. The team
surveyed and photographed a dozen caves including Fingal's Cave. A few
sites were left uncharted because of the weather and insufficient
equipment. The dates in August had been chosen to coincide with the
lowest low tides for the year. What hadn't been fully appreciated was
that that inevitably meant the highest high tides as well! A second
objective of measuring basalt column details was partially completed.
There is little cross-section data on basalt columns, and none
previously from Staffa. They are not, contrary to what many believe,
uniformly regular (or even irregular) hexagons!
Towards the end of the visit the weather was predicted, correctly, to
get far worse, so the team left one day earlier than planned. A return
visit next year is definitely on the cards to complete recording the
caves and to gather more data on the columns. Organiser Bob Mehew
thanks the BCRA for helping with the hire of electronic survey
equipment, Chris Howes for loaning photographic gear and the National
Trust for Scotland for allowing the team to camp on the island.
Towards the end of 2006 the Royal Mail is planning to move to postal
rates set by a combination of weight and size. The proposal is for a
second class A4 sized package to cost 35p while up to A5 size will cost
the present 21p. This could affect both the GSG Newsletter and Bulletin
which are A4. However the weight limits will also change from 60g to
100g, and above that there are fewer wider bands. In fact at second
glance the change might even be to our advantage if the proposal
R E M I N D E R S
1) Tell Peter Dowswell if you plan to stay at the hut, and tidy up and
lock up all the doors when you leave. Empty the fridges as well!
2) Remember to tell us of any changes to your address, telephone numbers
or email addresses.
3) Send news items to Ivan for the Newsletter and articles for the
Bulletin to Goon.