Caves can be portals to otherworlds, and Covesea Cave on Scotland’s Moray Firth is no exception. Armit and Büster’s handsomely produced volume transports us back in time to both the late Bronze Age and Roman Iron Age, revealing exciting new evidence for the treatment of the dead in both periods. Covesea, cut off at high tide and difficult to access, was the nexus for complex funerary rites – the final resting place for curated remains in the late Bronze Age and the scene of excarnation and violent decapitation in the Roman Iron Age. Bringing together the results of Sylvia Benton’s excavations in the 1920s, the Shepherd’s excavations in the 1970s, and recent archive work, dating, and analysis, this important work will illuminate the dark recesses of later prehistoric mortuary activity. A final phase of cave use in the form of Pictish-style carvings may have memorialised the dead and brought to a close the use of the cave as a place of veneration and transformation.
Darkness Visible: the Sculptor’s Cave, Covesea, from the Bronze Age to the Picts, Ian Armit and Lindsey Büster, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, £30, ISBN 978-1908332172.
Review by Gordon Noble.