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Constantine's Cave,Fife Ness

A Scheduled Monument in East Neuk and Landward, Fife

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Latitude: 56.282 / 56°16'55"N

Longitude: -2.5948 / 2°35'41"W

OS Eastings: 363272

OS Northings: 710109

OS Grid: NO632101

Mapcode National: GBR 2Z.84ZN

Mapcode Global: WH8TM.3CNG

Entry Name: Constantine's Cave,Fife Ness

Scheduled Date: 29 April 1996

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM6393

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: sculptured stone (not ascribed to a more specific type); Ecclesiastical:

Location: Crail

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: East Neuk and Landward

Traditional County: Fife


The monument is named Constantine's Cave. This is a natural cave in the N face of a rocky crag on the shore of Fife Ness, about 200m N of Craighead farmhouse.

It contains occupation deposits dating to the Roman Iron Age, probably the 2nd century AD, and was re-used in the Early Christian period perhaps as a chapel or hermitage. Its walls are carved with a series of incised crosses and two crude representations of four-legged animals, all dating to about AD 800-1000.

The interior of the cave measures c. 6.5m (minimum) to 8m (maximum) in depth and is c. 5m high. The cave is c. 3.5m wide at its mouth; its maximum width is c. 4.5m. The name traditionally attached to the cave is that of Constantine II, King of Alba (AD 903-943).

The cave was partly excavated by A G B Wace and Professor Jehu over five days in June 1914. Traces of a mortar-built wall were found running across the mouth of the cave and there is some evidence to show that the whole front of the cave was at one time walled and roofed in where the natural rocky roof fails, presumably so that it could be used for habitation or as a chapel.

One large boulder and a row of slabs within the mortar-built wall seem to have formed the front wall of the cave during its early occupation. The main occupation layer was found about 30cm below the, then, ground surface and covered the entire floor of the cave. It comprised black soil varying in thickness from c. 75cm near the entrance to only some 15 cm in the centre of the cave.

Finds from this layer included animal bones (red deer, ox, sheep, horse, rabbit and whale), some of which had been fashioned into implements such as borers and chisels; crustacea and marine molluscs (crab, limpet, periwinkle and mussel); part of a Roman glass bottle; three sherds of fine red-surfaced Romano-British pottery; many fragments of Roman amphorae from the Mediterranean or Africa which, when complete, must have stood about 80-90cm high and were about 50cm in diameter; a whetstone and an iron nail.

Part of a hearth for smelting ironstone was found in situ and iron slag was common. The excavators suggested that the first habitation of the cave and the ironworking dates to the Roman period, probably 2nd century AD, on the basis of the diagnostic finds. A later period of use was marked by the insertion of the mortar-built wall at the cave entrance, the numerous incised crosses on the cave walls and the two 'Celtic' animals cut in the rock.

The excavators suggested that this period dates to c. AD 800-1000 when the cave may have been used as a chapel or hermitage. The carvings are now worn and obscured by the green-coloured deposits which cover much of the cave walls, especially the lower portions. Some more recent carvings and graffiti are also present. The floor is uneven and rubbish-strewn, but traces of the occupation layer can be discerned.

The area to be scheduled is a circle 25m in diameter on plan. This includes the whole interior of the cave (walls, roof and floor) and an area some 10m across by 5m extending out from the mouth of the cave in which associated deposits may be expected to survive. The land surface above the cave is also included. The area to be scheduled is shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance as a natural cave occupied during at least the Roman Iron Age and, again, in the Early Christian period. In it are preserved Roman Iron Age archaeological deposits, rich in artefactual and ecofactual remains, and numerous Early Christian carvings. The archaeological deposits have only been partly excavated. It derives additional importance as a member of a group of caves along the East Neuk of Fife coastline used in the Roman and Early Christian periods.

Together, the archaeological deposits and carvings in these caves offer the potential for increased understanding of the nature, date and activities both of native Iron Age cave-dwellers and their interaction with the Roman army, and of the arrival and spread of Christianity along the east coast. The carvings have their own intrinsic value as part of the corpus of Early Christian carvings from Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Boece, H. Book X, Chapter XVII.

Johannis de Fordun: Chronica Gentis Scotorum, Book IV, Chapter XXIII.

Mackinlay, J. (1857-60) 'An account of 'The Danes Dyke', an ancient camp at Fife-Ness', Proc Soc Antiq Scot III, 209-211.

RCAHMS (1933) Inventory for Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, 65 (No. 129).

Wace, A. J. B. and Prof. Jehu (1914-15) 'Cave excavation in East Fife', Proc Soc Antiq Scot XLIX 233-55.

Wyntoun, A. The Oryginale Cronykle, Book VI, Chapter VIII.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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