Fife caves hailed as the birthplace of Pictish art are to be excavated for the first time since Channel 4’s Time Team investigations in 2004.
Archaeologists and volunteers will dig into the history of the Wemyss Caves this week as part of a programme of events organised by the Save the Wemyss Ancient Caves Society (SWACS).
St Andrews University-based research and conservation charity the Scape Trust will co-ordinate the archaeological work and will be joined by archaeologists from Aberdeen University’s Northern Picts project.
The network of 12 caves between East Wemyss and Buckhaven contain several Pictish carvings, thought to date from the fifth century, and are protected as Scheduled Monuments.
A combination of coastal erosion, coal mining and vandalism has left them in grave danger, however, and digital mapping is under way before they are lost forever.
Scape archaeologist Joanna Hambly said: “We are so excited to be excavating in the caves and this is the right time to be doing it.
“Our understanding of the Picts is being transformed by archaeological information coming out of the Northern Picts project and the Wemyss Caves could hold important information about the origins of the Pictish symbol system.”
Scape will also look at other historical uses of the caves during the six-day dig, which starts on Thursday.
They will dig a trench to investigate the Doo Cave to find out more about the rare medieval pigeon house.
The floor of the Court Cave will also be looked at with a view to developing an accessible path to allow visitors to experience its panel of Pictish carvings.
SWACS chairman Mike Arrowsmith said the project acknowledged the huge significance of the Wemyss Caves for Pictish research.
“The new knowledge gained from it will help us interpret the caves for the growing numbers of people who visit them and ultimately help us achieve our ambition to develop the caves as an important visitor destination in Fife,” he said.
Joanna will talk about the caves’ archaeology and symbols at a free event in East Wemyss on Friday.
The talks in the Rosie and MacDuff Hall from 7pm to 9.30pm will also involve Gordon Noble, director of the Northern Picts project.
On Sunday, there is a special Dig the Picts open day with free guided tours of the excavations.
They will leave from the Wemyss Caves Museum in the Terras Hall, The Haugh, East Wemyss, at 12.30pm and 2pm.
The Terras Hall will be the centre of other fun activities on the day, including Pictish face painting and stone carving.