Ancient Monuments

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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


R S Ingram, 1898. 3-storey Renaissance school building; 3-bay symmetrical entrance front. Red Ballochmyle sandstone. 5-stage tower to S elevation, with tripartite windows to all elevations at 5th stage, crowned by balustrade. Base course; string course and band course at 1st and 2nd floors; 2 strip pilasters at ends of elevations; clock in gablehead of W (main) elevation with Burgh Arms carved above; gabled dormers to all windows at 2nd floor.

W (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: single bay, gabled central projection: central projecting entrance porch composed of strip pilasters and blocking course; round-arched doorway crowned with pediment above; panelled entrance door; fanlight; single windows to returns; quadripartite windows above at 1st and 2nd floors; clock in gablehead; door to left return with single lights above; single lights to right return. Identical single bays flank central projection: tripartite windows at each floor; 2nd floor windows gabled.

N ELEVATION: projecting 3-bay range to left; 3-bay range to right. Left range: central bipartite windows at ground and 1st floors; tripartite window at 2nd floor; single windows to all floors in left and right bays; 'Girls' entrance to right return. Right range: 2-storey deep recess to left; single window above; tripartite window in centre of 2nd floor; 2 single windows below at 1st and ground floors; single window in right bay of 2nd floor; blind elevation below.

S (REAR) ELEVATION: symmetrical 5-bay elevation: single windows in end bays at ground and 1st floors; tripartite windows above at 2nd floor; bipartite windows at ground and 1st floor in 2nd and 4th bays; 3 tripartite windows above at 2nd floor; tripartite window in central bay at ground; pair of bipartite windows above at 1st floor; tripartite window above at 2nd floor.

E ELEVATION: 6-bay elevation: recessed 3 bays to left; projecting 3 bays with tower to right. Left range: blind elevation in 1st bay at ground and 1st floors; single window above; tripartite window in central bay at 2nd floor with 2 single windows below at 1st and ground floors; 2-storey deep recess at 3rd bay with single window above at 2nd floor. Right range: 5-stage tower to left: single windows at ground, 1st and 2nd stages, blind 4th stage; tripartite window at 5th stage; balustrade at crown; 'Boys' entrance to left return; blind 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th stages; tripartite window at 5th stage. Bipartite windows in central bay at ground and 1st floors; tripartite window at 2nd floor; single windows at ground, 1st and 2nd floors.

Modern replacement sash and case windows: single pane to lower sash and 9-pane upper sash; all bipartite and tripartite windows have stone mullions and transoms. Slate roof; straight skews to gables; chimney shaft on N elevation; crowned ventilators along ridges.

INTERIOR: not seen 2001.


Single storey and attic, 3-bay janitor's house; projecting left bay. Red Ballochmyle sandstone to main elevation; red brick to side elevations; quoins. NW (ENTRANCE) ELEVATION: central, recessed door; tripartite window with stone mullions and transoms to left and right; gabled dormer to right; single window in gablehead to left. Blind elevation to SW.

Modern replacement glazing. Slate roof; straight skews and block skewputts; brick, coped stacks at gableheads.

INTERIOR: not seen 2001.

BOUNDARY WALLS, GATEPIERS, RAILINGS AND GATES: squared and snecked rubble walls; low wall with railings and piers at intervals to W, N and S; brick wall to E; cast-iron railings and gates with spearhead finials; rubble plinth to gatepiers, plain shafts, inverted cushion caps.

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



3rd Edition OS Map, 1910; Dean of Guild Drawings 400-500/419, 500-600/510 ; 900-1000; 2000-2100/2069; R Close ARRAN AND AYRSHIRE, 1992, p110.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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