Grampian Speleological Group Newsletter
Number 124, October 2005

Newsletter @ g-s-g.demon.co.uk


Skeleton Found in Iron Age Entrance at High Pasture Cave

One of the main objectives of the surface dig above High Pasture Cave has been to unearth the old Iron Age entrance into Bone Passage. By late August many items of archaeological interest had been found including quern stones, hearths, bone pins, pottery, and sets of hammer stones. Some steps had been found leading away from the excavation. Though a depth of about 3m was reached and the trench extended once, the pre-historic entrance didn't appear.

The trench was extended again and on 1st September, after uncovering yet more Iron Age material, human bones started to be revealed. The skull and upper arm bones were first to appear, with the skull smashed by a large pointed boulder. Eventually almost the complete skeleton was uncovered. The discovery of an Iron Age burial is very rare and this is the first one found on Skye. At first the bones appeared to lie in a grave setting, but after careful excavation the supposed sides of the grave were revealed as the walls of a steep staircase down into Bone Passage. The walls on either side are less than completely stable after 2000+ years and shoring is needed as excavation continues. Digging is almost over for the season and it'll be spring 2006 before it resumes and the old entrance is revealed.

The skeleton has been sent for analysis to Laura Sinfield at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. First results show it was of a woman aged between 32 and 35 years, of around 5' 2" in height. She had suffered from at least two bouts of serious illness during childhood and when she died had a large open tooth infection in her lower jaw, a possible cause of death in an age with no known antibiotics.

Laura is now going over the skeletal material in more detail to investigate possible causes of death and other trauma in the bone of the woman. Of particular note is the fact that little post-depositional attrition was found on the bone related to scavenging by animals, with only a few signs of gnawing by smaller rodents such as voles and rats (we found bones relating to the remains of rats and voles in the fill of the grave). This suggests that the woman was either buried quickly, or was in some way covered and protected from scavengers. It is possible that the remains of collapsed corbelling identified above the entrance passage, in which the woman was placed, was still standing at this time forming an enclosure over the burial.

However, it was the next series of updates from Laura on the skeletal material recovered from the burial that came as a complete shock to the project team. She confirmed that the woman was carrying a foetus between 4 and 6 months of age, which was represented by a few tiny fragments of bone. There was more to come. Laura also identified the remains of an infant of 9 to 12 months in age, which had been placed in the grave between the woman's legs. This news resulted in a myriad of questions including what was the relationship between the three individuals in the grave; how had they died; was the cause of death some form of disease or accident, or was there a more sinister side to the story? Laura will be looking at the remains in more detail to see if she can shed more light on these questions.

With these discoveries generating more questions than answers there is still much for the site to reveal and it appears that funding for at least another three seasons of work has been promised. Other recent developments are installing lighting and CCTV in Bone Passage and a week of Open Days in early October attended by a total of over three hundred people.

Most of the above has been copied from the web site at:- http://www.high-pasture-cave.org/ . Point your browser at it to read much more.


High Pasture Electrified!

In late September Ivan installed lights and CCTV in Bone Passage. He was assisted most ably by Peter Ireson for the three days it took to complete the work. Power comes from a 240 Vac petrol generator on the surface. This also supplies lighting and power sockets in the two sheds. During the recent Open Days visitors could view what was happening in Bone Passage on a monitor in the larger shed and switch between the two underground colour cameras. The lights in the shed helped illuminate the story of the excavation displayed on boards around the shed walls. Some of the finds were displayed on the table and stacked around the floor.

The cables for Bone Passage have been run in two 25mm blue MDPE water pipes through the existing entrance and along the streamway: one for power and one for video cables. Just before the Black Gate (a thin volcanic dyke intersecting the passage) they take a short cut through a low opening into Bone Passage.

Every attempt has been made to minimize damage to the cave. Where possible the pipes, cables and fittings have been attached with cable ties to existing holes and protrusions and routed along ledges. It was necessary to drill some 8mm holes - less than 20 - and one short stalactite was sacrificed to keep the pipes well out of the way of passing cavers. All fixings are either plastic or stainless steel so there shouldn't be any rust streaks down the flowstone.

All the light bulbs are low power fluorescent and individually switched. Both should help minimize plant growth in their vicinity. The light fittings are held in position by clamps that allow them to be easily removed if the area around them shows signs of algal or plant growth and needs cleaned. The installation will be there for the life of the excavation and it'll be interesting to see just what effect it has on the passage. It can then be removed, hopefully leaving only a few 8mm holes behind.


Caving News

ASSYNT

SKYE

David Morrison and Richard Simpson have continued pushing existing caves and finding new holes in Skye. One discovery is possibly going to be named High Pasture Pot III which should tell you where it is. It is described as a slither through a low entrance and down a couple of drops into a 3.5m high passage that narrows to impassability, even for David and Richard, after a total of about 6m.

They also report that the sump in Pool Cave was a lot deeper than the 0.6m in Caves of Skye. Richard was in up to his neck and could feel passage continuing.

SOMEWHERE ELSE

News has been sent by GSG member Bob Batty of a promising dig in a distant land. The cave's name and other details will be revealed when the time is right. All I can divulge at present is that the entrance is called Heaven's Door and it is a joint GSG /??? dig by Bob and an un-named accomplice in another club. They are being very tight with information because poachers are prevalent in the area.


THE TIME OF THE ANCIENT CAVERNER

On 29th November, Goon will attain the official status of a state crumbly, complete with bus pass and Petzl zimmer. To celebrate, he proposes two good old fashioned ladder trips down Ireby Fell Cavern (his favourite pot) and Tatham Wife Hole on Sat and Sun. 3/4th December respectively (weather permitting). On Saturday evening, by way of further celebration, he proposes to buy everyone attending a free drink (one!) in the pub of their choice (suggest you all pick the same pub!). Since this is intended as a replica of the hundreds of pre-SRT trips he carried out with the club, he doesn't want to see any SRT hardware at all; just do it like we used to.

Goon

Claonaite Taped

Early this year, while on a trip into the East Block, GSG members Peter Dennis and Nathan Critchlow-Watton found the way liberally sprinkled with pieces of orange tape. This continued all the way to Infinite Improbability Inlet. There was no indication of who had left the tape or why. They removed all the tape they found.


Forthcoming Meets and Events

See the events page for details.

Please send your requests and suggestions for other meets to me.

Fiona Ware - GSG Caving Secretary


The Cave

www.sonypictures.com/movies/thecave

Have you ever wondered what could lie behind the next boulder down Rana? Or even worse, have you ever become disillusioned about cave digging, hauling bag after bag of debris out of that same dig? 'The Cave' answers these questions and more, and will rekindle your interest in this exciting field of speleology. After a dig site that looks remarkably similar to Rana, our intrepid explorers (including some men this time, although the women still seem to be wearing some surprisingly skimpy yet durable caving clothing) enter a vast cave, mostly unexplored, with no-one in the outside world knowing where they are. Could something nasty be lurking in the cave....? This film involves SRT, cave diving and surveying, tales of self-rescue, ice caves and caves with flames.... Something for all the family. Perhaps not as amusing as 'The Descent', but worth seeing all the same. And remember, next time you visit Rana - you never know what could lie behind the next boulder......

Final Comment:- Andrew Brooks and I went to see it with another friend who proclaimed as the credits rolled 'Well that is two hours of my life that I will never get back....'

Alison Jones - GSG film critic


The Ice Axe - an Essential Caving Aid

There has been comment that the ice axes wielded by the lassies portrayed in The Descent were far removed from normal everyday caving gear. This is quite wrong as demonstrated by the recent exploration of Storm Cave. Not because it was infested by Morlock-like creatures intent on supplementing their diet at your expense, but because an ice axe proved to be the one piece of equipment best suited to negotiating the steep muddy slopes above the lower streamway. Cutting steps works just as well in mud as it does in ice. And if the Morlocks do arrive you are prepared.


SCRO Notes

The SCRO were called out in August to help with the search for missing Livingston schoolboy Rory Blackhall. Over the weekend of the search twelve members were involved for a total of about 200 hours searching mines, culverts, storm drains and any other underground cavities the surface teams didn't want to enter. The search ended when Rory's body was found by a dog handler. We did find some items of clothing unconnected with our search, but possibly relevant to other investigations. Best discovery was made by Jim Salvona. Nips were only L1.00 each in the police social club!

October Exercise

The annual SCRO/AMRT joint exercise was held in ANUSC on 8th October. This year we had half a dozen professional casualties and Suzie Peggie organised a series of mini-exercises for small teams to tackle sequentially. This gave everybody the chance to use all the equipment. This was unanimously thought to be a great success and much better than taking a stretcher for a walk.


Elphin Caving Centre

The winter season of theme meals splashed off with Peter's Celebration of the Sea at the beginning of October. The hut was full and we had a record 27 folk for the meal split between the conservatory and the main room. The next meal was going to be on November 19th, but master chef Peter is attending a rescue seminar and the sous chefs (Carol, Rosemary) will be abroad. If anyone wants to volunteer please do so, otherwise it'll be everyone catering for themselves in November. The next theme meal is the Xmas party on the 10th December. Remember it's never too soon to reserve your bunk space with Peter.

Hut-building

Both shower rooms have now been fitted with 2kW fan heaters. These raise the temperature very quickly so please don't leave them on for long. As an excellent example of one step forward and several back, one shower is now out of use due to a knackered shower tray. The plastic surface was cracking up and I partly removed it to measure up for a replacement. A new more solid tray is now waiting to be installed. I expect to do this in mid-November.

Thanks to David Warren for staying on for an extra couple of days after the SCRO exercise in early October. He finished painting the walls and ceiling in phase 1 and slapped more paint on the floor. The floor in the shower/toilet area badly needs painting and that is next on the list once we find the bottle of acid to pre-etch the concrete. Does anyone know where it is?


Scottish Smoking Ban

The Scottish Executive replied in September to my questions about how their smoking ban will apply to the hut. They tell me that the legislation will not apply to Taigh nam Famh because it is self-catering accommodation. They also tell me that a private residence is also exempt if used for holding meetings or parties, or if used as the occupier's place of work.

The delay in replying to my questions was because they had to seek advice from their solicitors. I've since had another read of the information on their web site and still can't find any mention of self-catering accommodation, but I'm not going to argue.

Ivan


Drying Room notes

There are two reasons why the drying room might not dry that you may not be aware of. The first is that the overflow pipe from the water tank is led out through the wall and in very cold weather the water running through it can freeze. After a while that results in the water level in the tank rising enough to turn the dehumidifier off. To cure that pull the hose into the drying room, put the end in a bucket, and let it unfreeze.

The second reason is that there is an air filter. When it becomes clogged the flow of air decreases, temperatures rise and again the dehumidifier stops dehumidifying. To clean the filter move the dehumidifier away from the wall, slide the air filter out, wash it out, dry and refit it. The photo on the right shows the air filter partly removed.


Membership News

The flow of new members into north-western Europe's best caving club continues:- Mark Campbell - is a member of AMRT and has been a regular at the joint AMRT/SCRO cave rescue exercises. He has caved extensively in Scotland, mostly with Chris Warwick, and thinks he is close to having done all the limestone caves in Scotland except some b*****s keep finding more! Alison Jones - has now joined her parents as a member of the GSG and SCRO. She's been in many Sutherland caves and been the casualty in one SCRO exercise. She is a welcome addition to the number of medically qualified members and is the self-selected GSG film critic. Preston White and Ian Midgley - caved extensively together in Yorkshire in the 1960's and 70's. Now living only a couple of hundred yards apart in Evanton their interest in caving has reawakened and they have visited several Skye caves, been on a Gaping Gill winch meet exiting via Bar Pot, and assisted us in Rana Hole.

New Members

Mark Campbell, Alison Jones, Preston White, Ian Midgley.

New Addresses

Peter Dennis, Lisa Kamphausen, Julian & Carol Walford.

Other changes

Chris Chapman mobile, Deidre Nagle email, Dick Grindley email, Martin Hayes mobile, Dave Hodgson email, Alan Jeffreys mobile, Malcolm McConville mobile and email.

Deidre Nagle reports that she and Jonathan are now living in North Island New Zealand and visitors would be very welcome. They are in New Plymouth, in the Taranaki region, where there are lots of volcanoes with skiing and caving further north. At the time she wrote they hadn't managed to find any local cavers, so if anyone can help just email Deidre


Internet Caving

The GSG site maintained by Andrew Brooks is at:- http://www.gsg.org.uk

Other Scottish caving clubs:- Aberdeen University Potholing and Caving Club, Glasgow University Potholing Association


Assynt News

Quinag - Yet another Sutherland mountain has changed ownership. This time it is Quinag, the triple Corbett (peaks over 2500 feet) just a few miles north of the Inch. It has been bought by the John Muir Trust for L600,000 with the assistance of an unnamed donor.

Balnakiel Beach Balls - After some summer gales the beach at Balnakiel was covered by hundreds of spherical objects. They appear to be compact assemblages of stalks, twigs, bits of seaweed and other fibrous materials including plastic. One was left by the finder at the Altnacealgach Bar and as you can see from the photograph it is about 10 cm in diameter. Some were a bit smaller and some larger, and when pulled apart are of uniform construction throughout.

The question is - what are they? How were they formed? If you know the answer please tell us.


Staffa Expedition

The GSG expedition to Staffa has been reported in Descent, and there will be articles in later editions of the GSG Bulletin. The team surveyed and photographed a dozen caves including Fingal's Cave. A few sites were left uncharted because of the weather and insufficient equipment. The dates in August had been chosen to coincide with the lowest low tides for the year. What hadn't been fully appreciated was that that inevitably meant the highest high tides as well! A second objective of measuring basalt column details was partially completed. There is little cross-section data on basalt columns, and none previously from Staffa. They are not, contrary to what many believe, uniformly regular (or even irregular) hexagons!

Towards the end of the visit the weather was predicted, correctly, to get far worse, so the team left one day earlier than planned. A return visit next year is definitely on the cards to complete recording the caves and to gather more data on the columns. Organiser Bob Mehew thanks the BCRA for helping with the hire of electronic survey equipment, Chris Howes for loaning photographic gear and the National Trust for Scotland for allowing the team to camp on the island.


Postal Rates

Towards the end of 2006 the Royal Mail is planning to move to postal rates set by a combination of weight and size. The proposal is for a second class A4 sized package to cost 35p while up to A5 size will cost the present 21p. This could affect both the GSG Newsletter and Bulletin which are A4. However the weight limits will also change from 60g to 100g, and above that there are fewer wider bands. In fact at second glance the change might even be to our advantage if the proposal survives unchanged.

R E M I N D E R S

1) Tell Peter Dowswell if you plan to stay at the hut, and tidy up and lock up all the doors when you leave. Empty the fridges as well!

2) Remember to tell us of any changes to your address, telephone numbers or email addresses.

3) Send news items to Ivan for the Newsletter and articles for the Bulletin to Goon.


Grampian Speleological Group home page