NMI Burial Excavation Records


Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: AE/04/93

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

Site type: Cave

ITM: E 714427m, N 948420m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 55.269598, -6.199390

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.

Oweydoo is a large natural cave situated in the side of a steep scarp. A scree slope has accumulated below the cave on the outside and some soil and scree slippage also lies in the sloping entrance which descends into the main cavern. The entrance is wide and low, measuring 7m wide and at least 1.6m high (at its lowest). The main cavern measures 22.2m in length, 7.3m in width and c. 4m in height. Approximately 3.2m inside the entrance, and across part of the passage, are two portions of wall or revetment formed by vertically set boulders.

A 1m by 4m trench was opened in the interior of the cave towards the entrance, orientated northeast/south-west. The north-east end of the trench extended over the linear formation of boulders. The upper layers were stony and loose and contained some evidence of very recent burning. The material became steadily more plastic, due to the damp conditions, until a darker layer was reached. This featured charcoal and shells (predominantly limpet). At least one burning incident was associated with this context, although nail finds towards the base would indicate that the layer was modern. The boulders continued down at the north-east end of the trench and then spread south-west at their base; this was recorded, together with further evidence of burning. The base of the boulder wall appeared to be bedded in a sticky brown clayey layer that also produced a fragment of denuded wood, bone and charcoal. The basal deposits produced more evidence of periodic – probably seasonal – burning activity. The lowest context reached (at a depth of 1.23m) was a stony compact layer containing limpet shell.

The excavation at Oweydoo revealed successive burning episodes that are probably associated with the 18th- and 19th-century kelp production that flourished around the island shorelines. There may be evidence of earlier occupation still to be found in Oweydoo, but it was beyond the scope of this field season.