Doctor William Maclean and the excavation of Caird’s Cave
William Maclean, the local GP from Fortrose, and his friend Colonel William Hall, the former Assistant Adjutant General of the Royal Artillery, began the excavation of Caird’s Cave, Rosemarkie, in the cool, dry summer of 1907. The excavation was to reveal, in the words of another local antiquarian, ‘remarkable evidence of long prehistoric occupation’.
The previous year (1906) Maclean had re-excavated a cist at Callachy Hill, originally opened by Major Colin Mackenzie in 1883, with another friend William Mackenzie, the Procurator Fiscal from Dingwall. In his Report in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1908 Mackenzie described how they opened a shallow ‘track’ or trench about 14 feet long, from the edge of the cairn towards the centre. In the course of this excavation Maclean and Mackenzie discovered a fragment of the rim of a small pottery urn associated with fragments of bone and from the position of the finds it was deduced that the urn had been inverted over the bones. Mackenzie returned to Callachy Hill the following year, 1907, without Maclean, and extended the previous year’s trench and opened another, shorter, trench finding further human remains, a naturally rounded stone ball and a limpet shell.
Maclean, assisted by Hall until his death in January 1912, worked at the cave site in Rosemarkie through the summers of 1907-1912 during his holidays. Given Mackenzie’s description of the excavation at Callachy Hill, this was probably not an intensive excavation but would have consisted of occasional visits and, given the age of Hall and the concerns for Maclean’s health, the actual work would have probably been carried out by local labourers. Although no notes can be found about the excavations at the cave it is safe to assume that Maclean and Hall would have followed current, good practice.
Hall, with his Artillery background was experienced in making accurate field surveys and field sketches. Having been based at Woolwich for some years, Hall would also have been familiar with a wider range of academic archaeological practice than Maclean through his membership of the Royal Artillery Institute, with its own archaeological museum, and his successful election as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1900. Away from the Capital and living with his sister Lucy and her husband, the antiquarian vicar of Overbury near Tewkesbury, Hall would have been familiar with the work of provincial English Antiquarians and Archaeologists through his association with the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.
In practical terms good practice during the excavation at Callachy Hill meant that Maclean and Mackenzie had made notes about the length and depth of ‘the track’ and a simple section was drawn. Notes were also made about the ‘finds’ and their position in the cairn in relation to the different layers of soils and clays.
Similarly Captain Macdougall, of Dunollie, excavating a rock shelter near Oban (similar in many respects to the Rosemarkie cave) had trenches dug through the soil until solid rock was reached and then the excavated material was sieved through a ½ inch riddle. Bone and stone, foreign to the site was collected and samples of soil, ash and shells were also collected for further examination and notes taken.
Two records of the excavation at Rosemarkie exist, a report of a talk given by Maclean in February 1913 on the excavation at Rosemarkie to the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club and a collection of the finds from the cave within the larger Maclean Collection at the National Museum in Edinburgh.
Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club
Meeting, 11 February 1913
Dr Hunter in Chair
Prehistoric Implements of the Stone Age
Dr MacLean of the Seaforth Sanatorium, Dingwall, gave an address briefly summarising the study of pre-historic man, differentiating between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic.
In giving an account of the opening of a cave at Rosemarkie Dr MacLean discussed the methods adopted by Palaeolithic man in the formation of stone tools. Bone implements, needles and pins, were exhibited.
Dr MacLean was of the opinion that the people that had inhabited the cave must have been very primitive and cannibalistic. Associated with the human remains were the bones of red deer, elk and other animals. Very few fish bones or bones of smaller animals were found in the cave and it is surmised that the inhabitants lived chiefly on shellfish from the rocks on the immediate shore.
On Maclean’s death in December 1930 his widow, Louisa, donated the his collection of finds from Rosemarkie and the Black Isle to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh, now the National Museum of Scotland. No notes or notebooks have been found with the collection but given the amount of information about the provenance of the objects and artefacts in the Museum’s catalogue it may be surmised that notes or some sort of labelling system existed at the time that the donation was made.
The collection of 272 items includes flint arrowheads and scrapers, stone tools, stone axes and adzes and a number of bone objects. The finds that can be definitely assigned to the cave, 44 in all, are all of bone or antler and include awls, needles, pins, bodkins and bone handles. Of the three pins, two are functional and one, standing out from all the other material through the quality of its workmanship, is decorated with an etched pattern and amber insets.
Most of the collection is in store but some of the fragments of deer antler are on display in the Main, Themed Collection and are dated to 500 BC – AD 400. The small, hipped, bone pin with amber mounts is described by Sally Foster, in her study of the chronology of pins and combs in the later Atlantic Iron Age (1990), as a class D pin. This type of pin is later than the 7th century and the use of amber decoration places it in an 8th or early 9th century context. Stephenson, in an earlier work, described what is now known as the ‘Rosemarkie Pin’ as a ‘Roman’ Pin of post-Roman date.
The Rosemarkie pin is considered unusual in that the some of the amber insets have survived and that the bosses into which they are set resemble those of a ninth century pictish stone, also found in Rosemarkie. As Stevenson (1955) and Crummy (1983) observe pins of this type are common throughout the British Isles through the Roman period and the Dark Ages. In view of the recent Anglo-Saxon finds at Burghead (Addison 2009) it is also noteworthy that the Saxons adopted such pins, frequently enhancing them with semi-precious stone insets, a reminder that the Moray area is a part of a coherent North Sea cultural region (Pentz 2000).
The assemblage of bone material from the cave corresponds to similar collections from Foshigarry and The Broch of Burrian, with similar dates in regard to both the bone tools and fragments and the pins.
Maclean had a reputation for being well read (with access to his own extensive library) up to date, a superb diagnostician and anatomist and a keen legal mind. With these attributes in mind the address he gave to the Inverness Field Club in 1913 and the collection of cave material raises three issues with regard to his dating of the site, the problem of omission and the use of the term Palaeolithic.
Maclean at first identifies the site as being of the Palaeolithic and although he discussed stone tool making techniques with the Field Club he only exhibited bone artefacts from the cave.
Dating evidence at this time would depend on the identification and classification of the range and type of artefacts found (stone tools, pottery and metal goods) rather than a stratigraphical context and commonly Stone Age sites were identified by the types of stone tools found in situ. The Maclean Collection at the National Museum of Scotland contains a number of stone tools and worked flints from a variety of sites across the Black Isle, some of which are not identified by name. Maclean’s identification of the cave site as being Stone Age opens up the possibility that some of the unprovenanced stone tools in the collection may have come from the cave. It is also possible that he may have simply placed the finds from the cave in a 'Palaeolithic context' by virtue of the fact that he found no polished flint tools, no pottery (unlike the Flowerburn site) and no metal objects which would have placed the site in the Neolithic, Bronze or Iron Ages according to the current criteria of the time.
Maclean’s address to the to the Inverness Field Club, as reported, clearly owes much to Munro’s (1899) reporting of an earlier excavation by John Smith at Ardrossan and his conclusions about the ‘cannibalistic nature of the inhabitants’ of the site based on the evidence of the human bones found in a midden. Maclean was reported as being of the opinion that the inhabitants of the cave at Rosemarkie were, like those in Ardrossan, ‘very primitive and cannibalistic’ and he talked about ‘human remains’ as there is, however, no evidence of human bone in the Maclean Collection as it stands today. One must therefore assume that either Maclean, as a doctor and surgeon, saw and interpreted evidence of cannibalism that is now missing or he is referring to a cultural stereotype of Stone Age peoples based on the work of anthropologists and ethnographers.
It is also noteworthy that there is no evidence in the Maclean Collection of occupation, other than that of the prehistoric. Hugh Miller talks at length of visiting the ‘wild rock cave at Rosemarkie’ to listen to the gypsies, the Old and New Statistical Accounts talk of fishermen and smugglers using the caves as ‘lodgings’ and stores for contraband and census enumerators in the late nineteenth century record the use of the caves by ‘wandering spoonmakers’ and ‘travelling tinkers’. Were Maclean and Hall deliberately selective in their search for prehistoric material, omitting finds from later periods or was such material discarded at a later date as being of little or no value?
In his talk to the Field Club in 1913 Maclean identified the site as being Palaeolithic but his obituaries in late 1930 and early 1931, probably written by Maclean’s brother-in-law, Doctor Brodie, and therefore informed by Maclean himself, describe the site as being Mesolithic.
This use of the word Mesolithic is of great interest in that it is a ‘mile-marker’ in British Archaeology and demonstrates Maclean’s continued and sustained interest in archaeology and his openness to new ideas. Although the term Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) appeared in a book by the Irish Archaeologist Hodder Westropp in 1872 it was never fully accepted by the archaeological establishment who favoured Sir John Lubbock’s reworking of the Three-Age System into the Palaeolithic (Old) and Neolithic (New) Stone Ages, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
Lubbock’s chronology worked in the context of museum collections because it was related to the organisation of artefacts and their cultures. Lubbock’s scheme however could not be applied so easily in the transitional period between the Old and New Stone Ages and Westropp’s Mesolithic was gradually applied to the nomadic hunter-gatherers who moved into northern Europe at the end of the last Ice Age. The term Mesolithic was only really beginning to be used in Britain in the 1920s, and as far as is known the first specifically Scottish academic paper to use the term was Lacaille’s 1929-1930 PSAS article on stone tools in Ayrshire, making Maclean’s usage of the term significant.
Maclean was not a ‘good archaeologist’ in the modern sense in that he did not publish the results of his excavation, but he was recognised by his peers as an excellent doctor and a first-rate administrator with a keen and incisive mind. Arthur Mee, the Edwardian author and journalist, would have described Maclean as ‘an all-rounder’ and consummate professional, a sportsman, fisherman, enthusiastic naturalist, archaeologist and geologist.
Maclean and Hall were typical members of what Graham Clarke has described as the 'Loamshire Tradition' of nineteenth and early twentieth century archaeology; in which well-educated men and women, drawn from the landed gentry and rising professional classes, took an active interest in the study of the history and natural history of the world around themselves.
The 'Loamshire Tradition' can be described as a 'pre-scientific' approach to the study of the world and is typified by an emphasis on the detailed recording of material evidence and its classification and ordering into typologies. In the case of the study of the past this approach implies relative chronologies and spatial groupings with shared ethnic identities, and was strongly influenced by cultural-evolutionary ideas that would have appealed to Maclean with his known interest in Celtic philology and ethnology.
Although Maclean's activities were reported in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries by William Mackenzie of Dingwall and Mrs Maclean donated her husband's collection to the Society on his death, Maclean was neither a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland nor London (as was his friend Colonel Hall) nor was he a member of the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club, the premier local learned society. He would have been aware of the work of other local antiquarian-archaeologists of national standing, notably Odo Blundell of Fort Augustus, Robert Munro from Evanton and Duncan Mackenzie from Cromarty and he would work with both Blundell and Munro on the excavation of the Crannog at Loch Kinellan in the early years of World War 1, advising on the excavated bones.
Maclean was a sociable man and considered good company, having been an active and valued member of the Fortrose Golf Club and on moving to Maryburgh he joined the Caberfeigh Curling Club, taking part not only in the club’s winter sporting events but in the many social events it organised in the village as well. He took great pride in his library and must have relished reading of the work and continuing influence of people he had known and worked with such as Munro, and Peach, the geologist, who had lived and worked in Dingwall at the same time as Maclean himself and the ground breaking archaeological work by Childe in the Northern Highlands and Skara Brae.
Maclean’s obituary in the Lancet though speaks of a strange ‘duality’ of personality, with the highest regard and ‘fundamental sympathy towards the average man’ and his own ‘loftiest intellectual capacity’. Although having excelled at University, qualifying as a surgeon and, in the words of another surgeon, with the world at his feet, William Maclean chose to return to Ross-Shire, practising as a GP in Dingwall and Fortrose and then as his health failed taking up the appointment at Superintendent of the new Sanatorium at Maryburgh, his old home.
A constant theme throughout Maclean’s obituaries, in the local press and the Lancet is the fact that he had never published papers on his unique knowledge and insight into the language, folklore and archaeology of the area. In his own field of public medicine his Reports on the work of the Seaforth Sanatorium, published in the Scotsman, are models of their kind and in dealing with an outbreak of smallpox in Fortrose and the food poisoning at Loch Maree he made bold and decisive judgements and decisions. With regard to archaeology however Maclean refused to publish leaving this field to those others he considered more knowledgeable than himself, choosing instead to shun ‘publicity and publication’ having a horror of dilettantism, ‘caring little for his reputation and nothing at all for fame’.
Photo: The entrance to Caird's Cave, Rosemarkie