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Raschoille, cave 40m ENE of, Oban

A Scheduled Monument in Oban South and the Isles, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.4035 / 56°24'12"N

Longitude: -5.4783 / 5°28'41"W

OS Eastings: 185474

OS Northings: 728900

OS Grid: NM854289

Mapcode National: GBR DCVS.PFL

Mapcode Global: WH0GK.T9GV

Entry Name: Raschoille, cave 40m ENE of, Oban

Scheduled Date: 9 December 1992

Last Amended: 16 July 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM5494

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: cave; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: burial(s) (not under barr

Location: Kilmore and Kilbride

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban South and the Isles

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument is a natural cave which has been used by some of Scotland's earliest inhabitants in Mesolithic and Neolithic times, at least in the 7th and 4th millennia BC. The cave is 4.25m wide at the entrance and 4m deep, but narrows to 0.2m wide at its back. The cave was discovered during clearance work at the foot of the cliff in 1984. Limited rescue excavation revealed the remains of at least 20 human individuals, together with abundant fish bones and shells. The cave is located on Glenshellach Road, Oban, at the foot of a S-facing cliff overlooking Gleann Sheileach at about 14m OD. The monument was first scheduled in 1992, but the documentation did not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The scheduled area is square on plan, measuring 15m SE-NW by 15m SW-NE. The scheduling includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's 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:

Limited rescue excavation in 1984 recovered the remains of at least 20 individuals, including some children and infants, comprising mostly skulls and long bones. A very large quantity of fish bones was also recovered, together with bird bones and the bones of small mammals, particularly rodents. The deposits also contained abundant marine shells, over 50% of which were edible periwinkle, with smaller amounts of limpet, cockle, scallop, mussel and oyster. The human bones were very jumbled and intermixed with stones, some quite large, and with the fishbone and other waste material. There was no sign of articulation of the human bones, though some appeared to have been deposited in groups. Other parts of the skeleton were much less well represented, with the absence of hand and foot bones especially notable; mandibles and teeth were also rare. The state of preservation of the bone was good due to the alkaline conditions in the cave, which suggests that the partial nature of the skeletons was not due to disturbance or erosion. It is likely that selected human skeletal material was deposited in the cave after excarnation of the bodies at some other place. The quantity of bone (at least 2,000 individually identifiable pieces and very many smaller fragments) and the mixed nature of the deposits suggest the cave was used for the deposition of human remains over a long period of time. The only diagnostic artefact recovered was a small flint arrowhead of probable Bronze Age date.

A series of 27 radiocarbon dates was obtained from Raschoille some time after the excavation, as part of a wider project examining caves containing archaeological remains around Oban. The dates fall into two distinct dating horizons. Red deer and lynx animal bones and charred hazelnut shells produced dates between about 6500 and 6000 BC (Mesolithic period), while the human bones all dated to between about 4000 and 3000 BC (Neolithic period). Before the radiocarbon dates were available, the excavators suggested that the fish, mammal and shell waste may represent the remains of funerary feasts or ritual deposits, rather than habitation waste. However, the dates clearly indicate that the function of the cave changed significantly between the 7th and the 4th millennium BC. One suggestion is that the cave may have been used primarily for processing fish and meat in the earlier period, including smoking and curing, with the shell middens representing the residue of shellfish collecting and processing for bait, as well as for consumption. In the 4th millennium BC, the cave seems to have been re-used primarily as a specialised place of burial. By then sea levels were falling in the Oban area and the cave probably no longer had a waterfront aspect.

The 1984 work was limited in scale and has not been fully published, which, together with advances in archaeological techniques in recent years, means that the monument retains very high potential for the preservation of important evidence. In particular, the unusual nature of the deposits in the cave could enhance our understanding of the early (Mesolithic) use of this and other caves and of the nature and activities of the early human presence in this area; and of the practices, rituals and significance of burial and commemoration of the dead in the Neolithic period. As well as the potential for the survival of additional human remains, there is potential for the survival of undisturbed archaeological layers which could elucidate when, how and for how long the cave was used.

Contextual characteristics

Across mid Argyll, there are almost 80 recorded examples of caves and rock shelters that show signs of human presence, most of them found in relict cliff lines that lie at the head of the main rock platform. Some sites, such as Ulva Cave and Druimvargie rock shelter, have yielded evidence for human activity from the end of the 8th millennium BC, broadly contemporary with the initial use of Raschoille cave. In many cases, however, the first consistent evidence of human use of the caves dates from the 3rd millennium BC. The evidence for domestic use usually comprises food debris and, in some later examples, features such as hearths and storage pits. Human burials have also been found in other caves and, where a sequence can be established, the burials usually take place after the cave has been abandoned as a habitation site.

Some of the best known archaeological caves in Scotland are in the Oban area, but Raschoille is unusual as it lies more inland than most other Oban sites, as well as for the nature of its deposits and the quantity of human remains. It faces S across Gleann Sheileach, a low-lying tidal basin that would have been a tidal inlet during the high sea levels of the main postglacial transgression. This is one of the few caves of the so-called 'Oban Group' that was not destroyed by quarrying following investigations in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Raschoille cave therefore has considerable potential to add to our understanding of the various uses of caves at different times in prehistory, as well as burial practices and rituals in prehistory. It may also contribute to our understanding of the date and manner in which early humans settled the Atlantic seaboard.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has the inherent potential to add to our understanding of the past, in particular, the nature of cave use by some of Scotland's earliest inhabitants and how that changed over time, as well as burial practices and rituals and the significance of death and commemoration in prehistoric societies. The cave contains rare and important evidence both for Mesolithic activities and unusual Neolithic burials. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our ability to understand the nature of early human settlement of the Atlantic seaboard, the use of caves and how that changed over several thousand years, and the place and nature of burial practices and rituals in prehistory.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as NM82NE 47. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is 1114

References

Connock, K D 1984a, 'Oban, Glenshellach (Kilmore & Kilbride p) ossuary cave', Discovery Excav Scot, p. 24.

Connock, K D 1985, 'Rescue Excavations of an ossuary cave at Oban', Scot Archaeol Gazette, vol.8, p. 4-6.

Pollard, A 1990, 'Down through the ages: a review of the Oban cave deposits', Scot Archaeol Rev, vol.7, p. 58-74.

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

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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