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13 December 2009
Iron Age dump on Skye threatened by erosion

An ancient rubbish tip - inhabited nearly 2,000 years ago - is disappearing into the Scottish sea, archeologists have warned. The Iron Age midden on Skye's west coast has so far yielded bone fragments, stone tools, a button manufactured from horn and the top of a human skull. But experts are battling the elements in a race to save the 1,900-year-old treasure trove from the elements.
     The manmade tools and fragments are already under attack from lashing waves and strong winds, with significant amounts of material already lost to the sea. A report published by Highland Council's Historic Environment Record said that at the current rate of erosion, the site will not last beyond 2010. The settlement is thought to have been inhabited from 80 CE. It was discovered by local archeologists Martin Wildgoose and Steven Birch in 2005.
     Excavations last year and this year have uncovered a number of fascinating objects. Among the tools and animal bones, archeologists found the remains of a human skull with a small hole drilled into the top. Experts have speculated that the hole could have been made while the victim was still alive as a primitive form of surgery.
     The rock shelter and midden, known as Uamh an Eich Bhric, or Cave of the Speckled Horse, is about 3km south-west of the village of Fiskavaig. It is extremely difficult to get to the site by land, with excavators having to negotiate a steep 100 metre descent of high grass and heather to the shore below. Access by sea is only possible in calm conditions, due to the hazardous landing on a boulder and pebble beach.
     The site was uncovered when a huge talus, or pile of broken rock, that had protected the cave from the sea was partially breached during the winter storms of 2005. Since then, the tides have exposed the site and continue to wash out new material on a regular basis.  When it became clear that time was against the archeologists, Historic Scotland sponsored the excavations to recover as many artefacts as possible before the site was destroyed. A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said: "From the evidence gathered it was clear that an important and unusual site was at severe risk from continuing erosion. A campaign of excavation was quickly organised, with funding from Historic Scotland and others. The excavations have revealed that during the Iron Age, people used this location as a temporary home." Details of those who lived in the cave were yet to emerge, she said, adding that from ongoing analysis there was strong evidence of metal-working.

Sources: BBC News (10 December 2009), The Scotsman (11 December 2009)

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