Bones found in Massacre Cave belong to a teenager, say archaeologists

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  • Hundreds of members of the MacDonald clan were believed to have been wiped out in the Cave of Francis on the Scottish island of Eigg around 1577
  • Rival MacLeod clan attacked after bitter feud started over treatment of women
  • More than 50 bones were discovered by tourists at the cave last year
  • Scientists confirmed that they are those of a teenager no older than 16 

Sophie Inge For Mailonline

It is one of the bloodiest family feuds in British history that saw a clan of 400 people wiped out.

Now archaeologists have confirmed children were among the victims of the bitter 16th Century MacDonald-MacLeod rivalry in Scotland after the discovery of bones in a cave on the island of Eigg. 

More than 50 bones were discovered by tourists at the Cave of Francis – also known as Massacre Cave – on the Hebridean island last year.

Scientists have confirmed the remains are those of a teenager no older than 16, with the native MacDonald’s suffocated by the MacLeods of Skye in the very hideout they thought would protect them.

A MacDonald clansman pictured in a Victorian-era painting

A MacDonald clansman pictured in a Victorian-era painting

More than 50 bones were discovered by tourists at the Cave of Francis, pictured, - also known as Massacre Cave - on the Scottish island of Eigg last year

More than 50 bones were discovered by tourists at the Cave of Francis, pictured, - also known as Massacre Cave - on the Scottish island of Eigg last year

More than 50 bones were discovered by tourists at the Cave of Francis, right – also known as Massacre Cave – on the Scottish island of Eigg last year and belong to a teenager, likely from the MacDonald clan (pictured left in paintings) which was almost wiped out by their rivals the MacLeods in a bloody feud in 1577

Around 400 members of the MacDonald clan were believed to have been suffocated in the cave (pictured) in 1577 after the MacLeods lit a fire outside the small entrance, filling the cave with smoke 

Around 400 members of the MacDonald clan were believed to have been suffocated in the cave (pictured) in 1577 after the MacLeods lit a fire outside the small entrance, filling the cave with smoke 

Around 400 members of the MacDonald clan were believed to have been suffocated in the cave (pictured) in 1577 after the MacLeods lit a fire outside the small entrance, filling the cave with smoke 

The coat of arms for the MacLeod clan

The coat of arms for the MacLeod clan

The coat of arms of the MacDonald clan

The coat of arms of the MacDonald clan

The bitter feud is believed to have been sparked after MacLeod men (coat of arms pictured left) were ‘castrated’ after making unwanted advances on MacDonald (coat of arms pictured right) women, leading them on a revenge mission

According to local legend, the bitter feud started when a group of visiting MacLeods made unwanted advances on the women of Eigg in 1577 and were ‘castrated’ by angry MacDonalds.

It prompted the MacLeods to return in force, with almost the entire MacDonald clan fleeing to the cave in an attempt to escape.

At first the partially concealed cave did its job and the MacLeods made to leave the island on their boats.

But a MacDonald lookout who had emerged to watch their departure was spotted and gave away the location.

The cave had a small entrance which only allowed for a few people to enter at a time and this became the MacDonald’s downfall.

The MacLeods then piled thatch and roof timbers at the entrance to the cave before setting it alight, suffocating those inside. 

It is believed just one MacDonald family survived, either because they fled to a different cave or because they escaped the death trap.

The feud between the two clans is thought to have wiped out almost the entire population of the island. Pictured above, a drawing of feuding clans in the 1600s.

The feud between the two clans is thought to have wiped out almost the entire population of the island. Pictured above, a drawing of feuding clans in the 1600s.

The feud between the two clans is thought to have wiped out almost the entire population of the island. Pictured above, a drawing of feuding clans in the 1600s.

There are around 100 people thought to be living on the island of Eigg today

There are around 100 people thought to be living on the island of Eigg today

There are around 100 people thought to be living on the island of Eigg today

According to legend, the victims had been hiding in the cave (pictured from the inside looking out) for three days when they were discovered by raiders from the rival MacLeod clan of Skye

According to legend, the victims had been hiding in the cave (pictured from the inside looking out) for three days when they were discovered by raiders from the rival MacLeod clan of Skye

According to legend, the victims had been hiding in the cave (pictured from the inside looking out) for three days when they were discovered by raiders from the rival MacLeod clan of Skye

Using carbon testing, archaeologists at Historic Environment Scotland were able to date the remains to between 1430 and 1620, The Scotsman reported.

Scientists have now confirmed that the bones – which were all from the same skeleton – are those of a teenager no older than 16. However they were unable to determine their sex or stature. 

Kirsty Owen, senior archaeology manager at Historic Environment Scotland, said the analysis into the excavation is still ongoing

Kirsty Owen, senior archaeology manager at Historic Environment Scotland, said the analysis into the excavation is still ongoing

Kirsty Owen, senior archaeology manager at Historic Environment Scotland, said the analysis into the excavation is still ongoing

Archaeologists at Bradford University now hope to find out more about the diet and lifestyle of occupants of the island at the time of the massacre before the bones are returned.

Kirsty Owen, senior archaeology manager at Historic Environment Scotland, told the paper: ‘When post-excavation analysis has been completed we will discuss what happens next with the community of Eigg.

‘The decision will be made jointly with them.’ 

The massacre is believed to have been act of revenge by the MacLeod clan after a group of them were cast adrift by islanders for harassing local women.

Furious, a group of MacLeods landed on Eigg. But they were spotted by islanders, who fled to the Cave of Francis, a decision which proved to be their downfall. 

Over the centuries, other remains have reportedly been discovered in the cave. However many have since been removed and buried elsewhere.  

The feud between the two clans is thought to have wiped out almost the entire population of the island, where around 100 people are thought to be living today.

Archaeologists at Bradford University now hope to find out more about the diet and lifestyle of occupants of the island at the time of the massacre before the bones are returned

Archaeologists at Bradford University now hope to find out more about the diet and lifestyle of occupants of the island at the time of the massacre before the bones are returned

Archaeologists at Bradford University now hope to find out more about the diet and lifestyle of occupants of the island at the time of the massacre before the bones are returned