ARCHAEOLOGY HOMEPAGE
SECTION 1 : Introduction
SECTION 2 : Multi-period sites
SECTION 3 : Mesolithic
SECTION 4 : Neolithic Settlement
SECTION 5 : Megalithic tombs and Neolithic burial practices
SECTION 6 : Bronze Age Occupation Sites
SECTION 7 : Bronze Age burial practices
SECTION 8 : Iron Age
SECTION 9 : Iron Age burial practices
SECTION 10 : Royal sites
SECTION 11 : Western stone forts
SECTION 12 : Early Medieval Period - Christianity
SECTION 13 : Ringforts
SECTION 14 : Crannógs
SECTION 15 : Medieval Dublin
SECTION 16 : Late Medieval Period
SECTION 17 : Anglo-Norman Towns
SECTION 18 : Anglo-Norman Fortifications
Acknowledgements

SECTION 14 : CRANNÓGS

This term crannóg refers to man-made islands in lakes, artificially raised above the water level to provide a safe area of habitation. From excavated examples, like Newtownlow Co. Westmeath, it appears that these were constructed by driving a ring of closely set vertical wooden piles into the lake mud and within this palisade, layers of timber, peat, brushwood, etc, were laid down. Access to the sites was probably by boat or an artificial causeway. They occur mainly in areas where there are a lot of lakes, such as the midlands and South Ulster. They are thought to date chiefly to the Early Medieval period although a number of excavated examples, such as Moynagh Lough Co. Meath, have earlier evidence dating to the prehistoric period.

14.1 : Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath E337

Site location: NGR 28199/28605           SMR ME005-099---

John Bradley*

Fig. 14.1.1: Location map of Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath [OSI]

Plate 14.1.1: Aerial view of Moynagh Lough 
[Con Brogan]

This crannog lies on the southern end of an old lake bed that appears to have been originally an expanse of the River Dee (Fig. 14.1.1). The lake had been drained in the nineteenth century but, in recent years, was liable to reform briefly after winter flooding. The site was revealed in 1977 during land reclamation. Prof. George Eogan directed a short excavation there in 1980 and a series of excavations under the direction of John Bradley followed during the summers of 1981-1999.

The crannóg comprised an oval mound and was revealed as a multi-period site. The earliest activity was the Late Mesolithic levels, which consisted of activity on three platforms. Fifty six post-holes and two pits were identified on Platform 1, two post-holes were revealed on Platform 2 while a chert blade and two flakes were found on Platform 3. A radiocarbon determination of 3450 Cal. BC was returned from Platform 2. A layer of charcoal flecked mud represented occupation activity, as did an area of brushwood and a layer of deposited stones. A large number of chert and flint flakes, polished stone axeheads, spearheads, hammerstones, two polishing stones, a bone point and an elongated wooden object were recovered. This level was later naturally covered by open-water mud.

The next phase of occupation was the Early Bronze Age, represented by a layer of charcoal flecked earth, charcoal spreads and deposited pebbles. The remains of two structures were revealed. House 1 with 13 posts and a few pieces of burnt flint and grain and House 2 with 20 posts and sherds of decorated cordoned pottery, rounded scrapers, pointed bone objects and saddle quern fragments. A series of posts running in an east-west direction were 4m from the structures and may have been an enclosing palisade. Finds included a barbed-and-tanged arrowhead and a deer antler toggle and a radiocarbon date of 1580 Cal. BC was returned for the occupation layer.

Late Bronze Age activity consisted of a circular structure with a hearth. Two outdoor stone-lined hearths were also revealed with five associated wooden stakes. Finds included two quernstones, a bone spindle-whorl, sherds of pottery and a bronze ‘hair-ring’. This level was later covered with a layer of stones, mostly heat-cracked, mixed with charcoal and debris including animal bone, eight bronze pins, two tweezers, two spearheads, 32 amber beads and part of an amber ring, a glass bead, lignite and shale bracelets, beads and rings and several bone and antler artefacts and sherds of pottery.

Occupation again occurred in the Early Christian period with the construction of the crannóg. The crannóg had an internal diameter of c.40m with piles inserted into the ground outside it for at least 10m on the west side. The crannóg was made up of layers of stones, peat, gravelly earth and brushwood. At least four major occupation phases were detected, each lying on redeposited peat. The earliest (Level V) was a thick layer of charcoal flecked soil and ash and a patch of brushwood with no structures. The next phase (Level W) consisted of a pit, a hearth, a possible furnace and a spread of compact gravel. Finds included a small loop-headed plain-ringed bronze pin, some bone comb fragments and a jet bracelet, all probably suggesting a date in the late 7th to early 8th century. The next phase (Level X) consisted of a round structure, two spreads of metalworking activity, some isolated hearths, an entrance pathway and a series of cess pits. The entrance pathway was covered by a layer of ashes, which links it with both metal-working areas 1 and 2. The remains of a double-walled circular structure/house (diameter c.7.5m) were recorded between these two areas. To the east of this feature, traces of a second structure (diameter c.5.2m) were revealed but only the tips of the posts survived. Further excavation revealed a sub-rectangular, flat-bottomed cess pit. Finds included seven bone pins, two bronze pins, one bone comb, a barrel padlock key, a bone motif piece, a lump of yellow enamel and  two glass fragments, all suggesting a date c.720-748 AD. The following phase (Level Y) was represented by a large round house, an open-air hearth, a bowl furnace, traces of a second smaller house with central hearth and Palisade 2. The basal remains of a fourth phase (Level Z) consisted of Palisade 1, parts of a foundation layer of redeposited peat and a solitary charcoal spread. The dendrochronological and artefactual evidence suggests these phases occurred during the 7th and 8th centuries and at a time subsequent to AD 625.

Excavation of a section of the northern perimeter revealed two palisades, one of planks (Palisade 1) the other of posts (Palisade 2). Stratigraphically the post palisade was later than the plank palisade. The plank palisade had been inserted into a trench and the planks had been roughly finished with an adze and clear cut marks were visible. An estimated felling date of AD 748 was returned providing a terminus post quem date for this level. Outside Palisade 2 oak uprights had been driven into the ground, possibly to strengthen the crannóg verge. Sloping away from the crannóg was layers of habitation debris, particularly rich in animal bones. Excavation of the layers below the metalworking activity was also continued.

Fig. 14.1.2: Moynagh Lough. Drinking-horn terminal                                  
[John Bradley]

Parts of a 32 oak plank trackway, a rectangular hearth, a 29 post semi-oval structure and an alignment of nine posts representing a palisade or an internal fence were also excavated. Parts of nine quernstones and six unfinished examples were found elsewhere on the site, suggesting that quernstones were manufactured on site. No structural evidence from the medieval period or later was uncovered, despite four sherds of thirteenth/fourteenth century pottery recovered from bulldozer spoil.

References

Bradley, J. 1983  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath 1980-81’,  Ríocht na Midhe 7(2), 12-32.

Bradley, 1983  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 27, 219.

Bradley, J. 1984  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath 1982-83’,  Ríocht na Midhe 7(3), 86-93.

Bradley, 1984  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 28, 256-7.

Bradley, 1985  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 29, 214-5.

Bradley, 1986  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 30, 186.

Bradley, J. 1986  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath 1984’,  Ríocht na Midhe 7(4), 79-93.

Bradley, J. 1988. 39. ‘Moynagh Lough Crannóg’, Brittas. In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1987. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 22.

Bradley, J. 1989  ‘Moynagh Lough Crannóg, Brittas’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1988. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 30-31.

Bradley, 1988  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 32, 298.

Bradley, 1989  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 33, 224-5.

Bradley, 1990  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 34, 236.

Bradley, J. 1990  ‘Moynagh Lough Crannóg, Brittas’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1989. Wordwell Ltd., Wicklow, 41-42.

Bradley, J. 1991  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath 1985-87’,  Ríocht na Midhe 8(3), 21-36.

Bradley, J. 1991  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath’,  Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 121, 5-26.

Bradley, J. 1993  ‘Moynagh Lough: an Insular Workshop of the Second Quarter of the 8th Century’,  In R. N. Spearman and J. Higgitt (eds),  The Age of Migrating Ideas: early medieval art in Northern Britain and Ireland. Sutton, Gloucester, 74-81.

Bradley, J. 1995  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1994. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 72-73.

Bradley, J. 1995  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath’,  Ríocht na Midhe 9(1), 158-69.

Bradley, J. 1996  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1995. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

Bradley, J. 1997  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath 1995-96’,  Ríocht na Midhe 9(3), 50-61.

Bradley, 1997  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  Medieval Archaeology 41, 308.

Bradley, J. 1998  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1997. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 137-139.

Bradley, J. 1999  ‘Excavations at Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath 1997-98’,  Ríocht na Midhe 10, 1-17.

Bradley, J. 1999  ‘Moynagh Lough, Brittas’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1998. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 161-162.

14.2 : Newtownlow, Co. Westmeath E313

Site location: NGR 23790/23690            SMR: WM038-011

Cormac Bourke

Fig.14.2.1: Location map of Newtownlow, Co. Westmeath [OSI]

The site is situated north-east of Kilbeggan with a roadway to the north and a ringfort to the west (Fig. 14.2.1). The site consisted of a partially destroyed crannóg discovered due to land reclamation. Excavation was undertaken between1982-89 and funded on the recommendation of the National Committee for Archaeology of the Royal Irish Academy.

The crannóg consisted of a cairn of small stones 30-35m in diameter, partially retained by a palisade of heavy planks. A possible house structure was revealed towards the centre of the site. Finds included bronze stick pins, bone spindle-whorls and comb fragments, a portion of a quern and tenth century Anglo-Saxon coins, which were provisionally dated to 900-1100 AD.

Two conjoined open-air hearths were revealed beneath the disturbed level. A black organic midden layer overlay a destruction layer of red ash and embedded in ash was a complex layering of timbers and brushwood, incorporating some worked pieces, interpreted as the remains of a substantial structure destroyed by fire. Finds from this area included bone spindle-whorls, a bone toggle, an iron adze/pick and a segmented red glass bead. A D-shaped structure, 14m X 5m, represented by oak stakes may have been associated with the midden layer. These are contemporary with an enclosing palisade of oak planks that delimited an area of timber and brushwood c.20m in diameter, probably dating to c.1000 AD. Finds from outside the palisade included parts of stave-built wooden vessels, an iron ladle and a shaft-hole carpenter’s axe, bone combs and a bone toggle.

Later the palisade was mantled with a layer of stones and the centre of the site was covered with sterile clay. A sherd of green-glazed pottery from the stony layer suggests a date in the twelfth or thirteenth century for this activity.

A study of the large quantity of animal bones revealed the presence of cattle, pig, sheep, goat, horse, red deer, hare and fox.

The site was investigated to examine the superstructure of the crannóg and to establish a relationship between the finds and the structural evidence. It therefore furthers our knowledge of crannóg construction and the range of artefacts and animals they possessed.

References

Bourke, C. 1984  ‘Newtownlow’,  Medieval Archaeology 28, 258.

Bourke, C. 1985  ‘Newtownlow’,  Medieval Archaeology 29, 219.

Bourke, C. 1986  ‘Newtownlow’,  In C. Cotter (ed.),  Excavations 1985. Irish Academic Publications, Dublin, 40.

Bourke, C. 1987  ‘Newtownlow’,  In C. Cotter (ed.),  Excavations 1986. Wordwell Ltd., Dublin, 37.

Kenny, M. 1984  ‘A find of Anglo-Saxon pennies from Newtownlow, Co. Westmeath’,  Ríocht na Midhe 7(3), 37-43.

14.1 : Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath E337
14.2 : Newtownlow, Co. Westmeath E313