The burnt fragment was dug up last year during an archaeological project. It is believed to be at least 1,500 years old and pre-dates any similar item previously found on the continent.
The artefact, which resembles a bridge of an early stringed instrument, was unearthed in Skye’s High Pasture Cave – a focus of Bronze Age and Iron Age research since 1972 – and is currently being examined by experts at Historic Scotland.
Rod McCullagh, a Historic Scotland Archaeologist, said: “The cave has provided many fascinating discoveries, including a burnt fragment of a small wooden object that we have asked experts to study as it appears to be the bridge of a stringed instrument.”
Until now the oldest stringed instruments found in Europe have been lyre harps dated around 600AD, which were played by Vikings throughout Scandinavia.
However most of the artefacts discovered at the High Pasture Cave are much older, with many of the finds dating back to the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, up to 2,000 years earlier.
Until now it was believed that the only instruments made during that time were flutes, pipes and bronze instruments such as crudely fashioned trumpets. But the Skye instrument could date from around 500 AD and may have been left there by later inhabitants of the caves.
McCullagh added: “The archaeological excavations at High Pasture Cave in Skye have revealed an astounding site. The work has recorded the remains of almost a thousand years of ceremony, ritual and feasting.”
The cave is around 1km south east of the Skye village of Torrin in a shallow valley on the north side of the mountain Beinn an Dubhaich. There are around 320m of hidden passages on the site and since research began in the 1970s, a number of bronze and iron age structures have been discovered, as well as some stone-built structures of prehistoric and historic age.
In 2005, the remains of three humans were found in a blocked stairwell, which were believed to date from the Iron Age around 2,000 years ago, while a wide range of artefacts of stone, bone and antler were recovered from other areas of excavation at the site.
HIGH PASTURE CAVE
Discovered in 1972 by students from the University of London Speleological Society, Uamh An Ard Achadh (Cave of the High Field or High Pasture Cave) lies approximately 1km south east of Torrin in a shallow valley on the north side of Beinn an Dubhaich (Grid Reference NGR NG 594 197). The cave contains around 320m of accessible passages making it the second longest cave complex on Skye. The cave passages are formed in the Cambrian Durness Limestone that outcrops in the Parish of Strath, while volcanic activity from the nearby Central Red Cuillin Complex has guided the morphology of the cave