Researchers from the University of Bradford have created a high-resolution digital model of Sculptor's Cave in Moray, northern Scotland, so that anyone, anywhere can explore the ancient site without stepping foot outside their house. All you need is an Internet connection.
The cave has a mysterious and grisly past – archaeologists believe it was used as a center point for complex funerary rites. Human remains, predominantly those of children, have been found at the site alongside fragments of pottery, ring money, and jewelry. The bones have been traced to the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.
"The bodies are left to decay naturally… and we've got indications that bones were cleaned, we've got evidence of cutting and polishing on some of the bones," Ian Armit, professor of archaeology at the University of Bradford, told Live Science. "So we think people went back and visited these bones."
And it gets darker. Remains dating back to AD 250 suggest that some of the bodies were killed in the cave itself, with at least six people beheaded. Armit believes this is evidence of an execution, massacre, or sacrifice.
The 3D model contains an extraordinary amount of detail, even revealing the fine carvings that mark the cave's entrance – hence the name Sculptor's Cave. Engraved on the walls, there are stars, a V shape, and even a warning ("cursed be they yt hinder") among other things.
Archeologists have dated the engravings to a time around 500 AD and believe they were the work of a group of people called The Picts. The Picts, referred to as the Picti by the Romans (Latin for "Painted People"), were a confederation of tribes that existed in Dark Age Scotland, but had vanished by the end of the first millennia.
"We suspect that [the carvings] might be to do with a sort of a commemoration of the cave, or even a sort of symbolic closure of the cave, and the fact that they're at the entrance – so they could be saying 'go back, this is a dangerous place, keep out,' or they could be trying to claim ownership of it in some way," Armit told Live Science.
Rebecca Jones, head of archaeology & world heritage at Historic Environment Scotland, said in a statement: “It’s great to see the model of Sculptors Cave at completion stage. It’s such a valuable resource as the cave can often be difficult to access."