2004:0013 - OWEYBERNE CAVE, BALLYGILL SOUTH, RATHLIN ISLAND, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: OWEYBERNE CAVE, BALLYGILL SOUTH, RATHLIN ISLAND

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: AE/04/96

Author: Peter Moore, Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, School of Archaeology & Palaeoecology, Queen's University, Belfast and Wes Forsythe, Centre for Mari

Site type: Cave

ITM: E 710998m, N 950870m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 55.292377, -6.252357

A series of test excavations were carried out on Rathlin Island from 24 May to 18 June 2004 by the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (QUB) in conjunction with the Centre for Maritime Archaeology (UUC). The sites were those which previous coastal survey work had had difficulty addressing.

A series of four natural caves at Oweyberne punctuate the base of a small limestone promontory jutting out between a small river valley to the west and basalt cliffs to the east. The grass-covered ground outside the caves slopes towards the shore before steeply dropping 3-4m. Excavation was focused on the largest cave within the complex, measuring c. 14.98m in length. The main entrance to the cave is 5.7m wide and c. 8m in height. A stone wall 0.65m high (three courses maximum) and 0.46m wide has been built across the entrance with a small gap broken through it. Approximately 10m back from the main entrance is a smaller back chamber.

A single trench measuring 6m by 1m was opened within the main cave chamber. The upper archaeological deposits were recorded as being badly disturbed, containing several clay-pipe stems together with aluminium cans and other modern rubbish. Directly beneath the disturbed strata was a hearth situated towards the mouth of the cave. Deposits of ash and charcoal were associated with this feature, together with a fragment of lignite bracelet that was roughly D-shaped in section. A yellowish gritty clay layer (C111) was recorded beneath the hearth and produced flint fragments, although there were no tools. A second hearth and a pit were recorded within this layer together with two concentric arcs of stake- and post-holes. These features represent some form of structure within the cave, and could be the remains of additional shelter erected within the cave chamber.

A loose gritty sand that contained three small finds, a flint scraper and two sherds of coarse Bronze Age pottery, was situated beneath C111. One sherd featured decoration in the form of a raised ridge and diamond-shaped criss-cross incisions. These finds were found in conjunction with numerous flint fragments and debitage. The basal layers produced ten small finds. These constituted Early to Middle Bronze Age pottery fragments, one of which also displayed incised criss-cross decoration. A flint point with fine pressure flaking was also recovered. The subsoil layer comprised a sandy deposit with medium rounded stones, probably representing an old beach level within the chamber when it was a sea cave.