Walkers who found Eigg skeleton saddened by cave discovery

Two walkers who first discovered bones from the skeleton of a teenager likely killed during a 16th Century clan massacre said they had been saddened by their find.

Tom Bailey (left) and Ben Weeks (right) on the summit of  An Sgurr on Eigg the night before they discovered the bones. PIC: Contributed.
Tom Bailey (left) and Ben Weeks (right) on the summit of An Sgurr on Eigg the night before they discovered the bones. PIC: Contributed.

Ben Weeks and Tom Bailey had been wild camping and walking on Eigg last October when they came across the bones in Massacre Cave towards the south of the island.

After calling the police to inform them of their find, they heard little more about the remains until last week when an analysis of the bones was reported on The Scotsman website.

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Tests by Historic Environment Scotland concluded the bones were from a single skeleton with the remains likely that of an adolescent aged under 16.

Initial analysis dated the remains to between 1430 and 1620, potentially placing them to the time of the 1577 massacre which wiped out almost the entire population of the island.

Mr Bailey said: “We were really intrigued to find out more about the bones and I think when we learned the bones belonged to one person, a young person, it changed the whole thing.

“I have a son of 12 and Ben has a daughter of 16 so the whole discovery was completely humanised for us.

“To think of a young frightened person in that cave is quite difficult. Its very tragic.”

Around 400 people, mostly Macdonalds, were murdered by a raiding party of Macleods from Skye.

The islanders had been hiding in the cave for three days when they were discovered.

Macleods blocked the narrow entrance to their hideout with heather and other vegetation before setting it on fire with almost all of the islanders suffocated to death.

Mr Bailey and Mr Weeks, both from the south east of England, were on an assignment for Trail magazine at the time of their Eigg trip and ventured to Massacre Cave just shortly before catching their ferry.

Mr Bailey said: “I had been before and I wasn’t that keen to go again to be honest. It is not a cheery place.

“It has a very sombre atmosphere. There is a narrow opening leading to a very big chamber, you can imagine all these poor people in there.”

Mr Bailey had been kneeling down to take photographs when he discovered a small triangle-shaped brown item on the ground.

On further inspection, more items were found poking out of the ground.

Mr Bailey added: “It was strange but when we saw what we thought might be bones, I didn’t want to photograph them. I guess it was out of a sense of respect. I didn’t want to make light of it.”

Mr Weeks took a quick snap of the triangular bone on the ground as a record of what the pair had seen before concealing it at the same spot for safety.

After returning home, they decided to contact the police and send them the image with officers later confirming the triangular bone to be a patella with ribs also found at the site.

Further tests will be carried out at Bradford University to shed more light on the diet and lifestyle of the person whose remains have been found.

It has not been possible to determine the sex of those who died in the cave.

Once all investigations have completed, it is planned to return the bones to Eigg with discussions ongoing with the community as to the most appropriate way to deal with the remains.

Mr Bailey added: “If the bones are to be buried on Eigg, I think we would both like to attend that.”