Monday, April 17, 2017

Bones Reveal Gruesome Fate of Scottish Clan Members Who Were Smoked to Death in a Cave

Ancient Origins

More than 400 years ago, the Macleod clan massacred about 400 of the Macdonalds on the Isle of Eigg in Scotland, when the Macleods smoked them to death in a cave in which they took refuge. Now a group of tourists have found more bones of the Macdonalds clan in that cave.

The attack on the Macdonalds wiped out most of the island’s residents after a clan feud erupted over some Macleod men possibly molesting some Macdonalds girls. As many as 400 Macdonalds islanders were slain in this outbreak of clan warfare.

Entrance to the cave on Eigg where the Macdonalds clan bones were found in October. Authorities intend to rebury the bones after researchers are done with them. ( Wikimedia Commons /Christian Jones photo)

Archaeologists have dated the 53 bones, discovered in October, to roughly the same era as the massacre, which happened in or around 1577.

The feud dated back to earlier in the 16 th century, when Macleod of Dunvegan’s son was beaten and left to die in a boat, says the BBC . The legend says the boat drifted back to Skye, his home.

Another account of the clan warfare, in the Scotsman, says three young Macleod men were kicked off Eigg and tied up in their boat after they harassed some girls on Eigg. The Macleod men made it back to Dunvegan in Skye, and the clan vowed revenge.

A fleet of Macleod warriors left Skye for Eigg, but a Macdonalds watchman spotted their boats, and the islanders fled to a cave, the entrance of which was reportedly covered by a waterfall.

The historic Isle of Eigg as seen from Knoydart, Scotland. ( Wikimedia Commons /Graeme Churchard photo)

All the Macleods found was an old woman who didn’t reveal where the clan had hidden. Searches were futile, so the Macleods destroyed the Macdonalds’ home before leaving for Skye.

However, it had started to snow when the raiders saw an Eigg islander who was sent to see if the Macleods had left. The Macdonalds made landfall again and followed the Eigg man’s footprints to the cave.

When the Macleods reached the cave, they demanded the Mcdonalds surrender. The Macdonalds refused, and the Macleods smoked the Macdonalds by setting fire to turf and ferns.

Just one family escaped.

 In October, police were notified that some tourists had found human remains in the cave on Eigg. Historic Environment Scotland was called to date the bones and found they dated to roughly the same era, 1430 to 1620.

Map showing the location of Eigg near Skye and the Small Isles ( Wikimedia Commons /Howeard photo)

About 250 years after 1577, Sir Walter Scott visited the cave and found some bones, which the authorities reinterred.

In the years after, parts of skeletons were taken by souvenir seekers. Authorities intervened at the islanders’ request and buried all the bones in the Eigg cemetery.

"Some people don't like to go into the cave because of the narrow entrance and they reflect on this as the place where so many people perished,” Ms. Dressler told BBC Radio Scotland. Ms. Dressler added she hopes the discovery of the bones will spur new research into the massacre and the history surrounding it.

 Kirstey Owen, a lead archaeologist with Historic Environment Scotland, told The Scotsman :

“This would of course tie in with the cave being used as the resting place of most of the population of Eigg following the massacre of 1577. There are likely to be more bones in the cave but we are treating it like a war grave and will not pro actively look for them.”

 Featured image: Clan warfare in Scotland (

By Mark Miller

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