Lecture

High Pasture Cave - Steve Birch

20 June 2024
19:30

Ritual, memory and Identity in the Iron Age of Skye

From the first steps taken into the darkness of High Pasture Cave, it was clear that this complex site would challenge current thinking on cave use and function in prehistory, and wider understanding of Iron Age cultural practice and beliefs. Situated in a dramatic location under the slopes of the Cuillin Mountains on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, this cave and its monumentalised environs were a focus for specific and special activities throughout the Iron Age - a venue for spectacular and extensive ceremonies featuring feasts, fire, crafts, and the symbolic deposition of a plethora of artefacts and environmental materials, as well as human remains.

Recent research has led to a resurgence of interest in caves, in particular the place of these enigmatic sites in the worldviews of later prehistoric communities. Their investigation in the past has generally attributed a domestic function, comprising temporary homes and shelter for hunter-gatherers, farmers, and pastoralists, and as workshops and places of refuge. However, it is now proposed that many caves, including High Pasture, were used for rituals involving the preparation and display of human remains, the deposition of material culture and other types of organic materials. These were clearly performative acts and the recurrent use of caves as the arenas for such performances, tells us much about their role in the cosmology of later prehistoric communities

Steven Birch is a freelance archaeologist working in the Highlands of Scotland and is co-director of the High Pasture Cave Project. Graduating in 2005 from the University of Aberdeen, his broad research interests include Scottish prehistory, with a particular focus on the use and function of cave and rockshelter sites.

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