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Keil Cave, 95m ESE of Seapoint

A Scheduled Monument in South Kintyre, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 55.3084 / 55°18'30"N

Longitude: -5.6706 / 5°40'14"W

OS Eastings: 167146

OS Northings: 607730

OS Grid: NR671077

Mapcode National: IRL XG.N0JL

Mapcode Global: GBR DGCP.C9X

Entry Name: Keil Cave, 95m ESE of Seapoint

Scheduled Date: 10 November 1973

Last Amended: 14 June 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3747

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: cave

Location: Southend

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: South Kintyre

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument is a coastal cave which was used intermittently from at least the 3rd century AD until the early medieval period and has produced a rich assemblage of artefacts. The cave measures 4.6m in width at the entrance, approximately 21.5m in length, and between 5.5m and 9m in height. The cave is located on Keil Point at about 10m OD on the N side of the B842 public road, overlooking the Irish Sea at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula. The monument was first scheduled in 1975, but the documentation did not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The scheduled area is rectangular on plan, measuring 60m N-S by 45m W-E. The scheduling includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The entrance to Keil Cave is visible as a rough archway at the base of a 50m high sandstone cliff. The cave was partly excavated in 1933 and 1935 by Mr J Harrison Maxwell, who recorded three main layers of accumulated sediment overlying bedrock. The basal layer comprised a natural accumulation of sea gravel up to 1.2m deep, and the uppermost layer was a 1m depth of archaeologically sterile deposits of earth and stones. In between these, however, was an occupation level approximately 1m thick, which was rich in artefacts. The finds included flint and stone implements, considerable quantities of iron slag, two fragments of rotary quern, bone and antler tools, bronze and iron pins, a bronze penannular brooch and glass beads. Fine bone-working is demonstrated by several combs and other objects, some of them decorated. There was no evidence of structures, hearths or burials, but some scattered areas of paving and patches of charcoal were encountered, together with accumulations of shell-midden refuse, which included animal and fish bones. The presence of flint artefacts might imply visits to the cave during earlier prehistoric times, but the date of its initial use is generally ascribed to the later Iron Age. This is based on a number of dateable finds, including a 4th-century AD rim fragment of an imitation Roman samian pottery vessel, a double-sided comb also of the 4th century AD, and a Roman or Romano-British weaving-tablet of 3rd-century date. Other finds suggest that the cave continued in use until at least the early medieval period. The abundance of iron slag suggests that Keil cave may have been used for iron working at some time.

Today, considerable accumulations of trodden earth and dung cover the floor of the cave. The records suggest that Maxwell dug several trenches, but his excavations were incomplete, particularly towards the rear of the cave, and it is likely that the remaining buried sediments retain significant archaeological potential. It is expected that further investigation of this site using modern archaeological techniques would reveal new evidence about the various uses of Keil Cave over a lengthy period, the date of its original and later uses, and its relationship with other caves and archaeological sites in the area.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is the largest of a series of nine caves situated close to the shore at Keil Point and is sometimes referred to as the Big Cave. The cliffs and caves at Keil Point formed probably some time around the last Ice Age and they are now raised from sea-level due to the isostatic uplift of land that has taken place across Argyll since the ice sheets retreated.

In mid Argyll, there are over 79 recorded examples of caves and rock shelters that show signs of human presence, most of them found in relict cliffs. These include St Ciaran's Cave, situated 17km to the north of Keil Cave on the E side of the Mull of Kintyre. In the majority of coastal caves in Argyll, the first consistent evidence of human use of dates from around the 3rd millennium BC. However, the rare and exotic suite of artefacts recovered from Keil Cave demonstrate that its original and probably main period of use was in the late Iron Age and early medieval period, which adds to the interest and importance of this cave. It is possible that further investigations using modern archaeological techniques might help to determine whether the use of Keil Cave commenced earlier than indicated by the 1930s investigations.

When compared with other Argyll caves and rock shelters and other prehistoric monuments on the S tip of the Kintyre peninsula, the cave at Keil Point has considerable potential to inform us about the date and manner in which late Iron Age and early medieval peoples settled the Atlantic seaboard and about trading contacts across the Irish Sea.

Associative characteristics

The cave continued in use into relatively recent times: census returns for 1881 record that Keil Cave was home for a time to two families of travelling people.

Photographic and documentary archive material relating to Maxwell's excavations has been lodged with RCAHMS. The penannular brooch is in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance as a natural cave occupied intermittently from at least the late Iron Age through to the early medieval period. It is particularly notable for its rich assemblage of late Iron Age exotic artefacts, which demonstrates unequivocally that it was a significant site considerably later than most occupied cave sites in Argyll. It has an inherent potential to add to our understanding of the past, particularly the nature, date and activities of late Iron Age and later cave-dwellers in this region of Scotland. It can also add to our wider understanding of prehistoric society and of early settlement of the Atlantic seaboard. It derives additional importance as one of many coastal caves across Argyll with evidence of human activity and occupation.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as NR60NE 3. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is 2893.


PSAS 1975, 'Donations to and purchases for the Museum and Library', PSAS, vol. 105, p. 325.

RCAHMS 1971, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the ancient monuments, vol 1: Kintyre, p. 96, no.243. Edinburgh.

Ritchie, G 2002, 'Excavation archives: preservation and chance', in Ballin Smith B, and Banks, I In the shadow of the brochs: the Iron Age in Scotland. A celebration of the work of Dr Euan MacKie on the Iron Age of Scotland, p. 206-8. Stroud.

Ritchie G 1997, 'Early settlement in Argyll', in Ritchie, G The archaeology of Argyll. Edinburgh.

Ritchie J N G 1968, 'Keil Cave, Southend, Argyll: a late Iron Age cave occupation in Kintyre', PSAS, vol. 99, p. 104-10.

Tollan-Smith C 2001, The Caves of mid Argyll: an archaeology of human use, p. 5. Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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