15 January 2007
Secret of ancient cave revealed in TV series
A Morayshire (Scotland) cave was a place where, in order to show their grief, parents built the most macabre of memorials. The heads of their offspring, perished before their time, were severed and placed on poles at the entrance to the cave, which was a temple to the dead children. The secrets of the ancient cave will be revealed in a BBC Scotland television series. It suggests that around 3000 years ago, people from across the north of Scotland, the islands, and possibly even Ireland, brought their dead children to Sculptor's Cave, near Lossiemouth.
Ian Shepherd, an archaeologist, has carried out numerous excavations in the remote cave. Uncovering skeletal parts from six children, his work brought to light skull parts in the cave's entrance, which from the way they lay, indicated there had at one time been fleshy heads on poles. "From what we can tell, these were simply people mourning their dead children," Mr Shepherd said. Prior to his discovery of the skull parts in 1979, a previous excavation 50 years before by classical archaeologist Sylvia Benton found thousands of bone parts - largely from juveniles.
Called the Sculptor's Cave because of ancient inscriptions at the entrance, the location of the cave has been known since Victorian times, but it is very remote. It can only be accessed from the land at low tide along a mile of shingle beach or by scaling the cliff face. Three thousand years ago, it might even have been an island, which would have reinforced its spiritual status.
Using computer graphics, the series, Art & Soul, will bring the cave back to life, showing the indicators of its religious significance and delving into its dark interior, a sacred pool strewn with Bronze Age treasures. Richard Holloway, presenter of the programme, said: Getting into the cave from the sea was exhilarating if a little scary, but it underpinned the amazing sense of this place. It's a story that both thrills and appals. Yet it seems to demonstrate an early fascination with what came after death. Three thousand years ago, our ancestors came to this dark, foreboding cave to consecrate their child-dead." He added: "In the depths of the cave, there's the first glimpse of the trapped pool of water - this was the bridge to another world, the high altar of a Bronze Age basilica. "The standing stones at Callanish are older but they suggest a multitude of interpretations, and for me the picture about spirituality and ancient Scottish religious art becomes clearer in this cave.
Sources: BBC News (12 January 2007), The Herald (13 January 2007)