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 9 : IRON AGE BURIAL PRACTICES

Burial ritual is less well defined in the Iron Age than in other periods of Irish prehistory although excavation in recent years has greatly increased the volume of known sites. Few formal burial sites are known from the transitional phase and it has been suggested that burial ritual took on a less formal tradition. The dead were cremated and interred in pits or in pre-existing tumuli and it is also possible that excarnation and the dispersal of cremated remains became more common. As the period progressed several types of burial monument are known, such as ring barrows (Grannagh, Co. Galway and Haynestown II, Co. Louth), ring-ditches (Ballydavis, Co. Laois) and mounds and embanked enclosures. The practice of inhumation continued into this period although burial sites were no longer marked by large mounds. The cemetery at Dooey, Co. Donegal provides evidence for large scale inhumations and the reuse of a settlement site for this funerary purpose. It has been suggested that the decline of cremated burials and the increase of inhumations at this time can be attributed to Roman and Christian influence. The discovery of an inhumation cist burial without any associated grave goods at Ballykeel South, Co. Clare is perhaps a good example of this influence of Christianity.

9.1: Ballydavis, Co. Laois 95E111

Site location: NGR 29500/22500

Valerie J. Keeley*

Fig. 9.1.1: Location map of Ballydavis, Co. Laois [OSI]

The site at Ballydavis was situated on top of a small hill, 4km NE of Portlaoise town (Fig. 9.1.1; Plate 9.1.1). It was uncovered prior to construction of the Portlaoise Bypass and consisted of four ring-ditches, seven furnaces and a series of pits and post-holes. One season of excavation was undertaken from May to November in 1995.

Plate 9.1.1: Aerial view of excavated site, Ballydavis, Co. Laois
[V. J. Keeley/Laois Co. Co.]

The largest ring-ditch (Site 1) was 16m in diameter with a 3.2m wide entrance facing due east. The ditch was up to 0.91m deep with a maximum width of 2m. A central burial consisting of cremated human bone in a bronze box and associated artefacts including a bronze fibula, bronze wire and over 80 beads was excavated in the interior (Plate 9.1.2). Finds from the ditch included an iron blade, iron nails, part of a bronze bracelet and a pin fragment. Iron slag and crucible fragments provided evidence for metalworking. A series of well-defined phases were established. The layers containing artefacts, charcoal and cremated bone and were interspersed with sterile layers. One extensive area of burning opposite the entrance was uncovered indicating an intense fire for a significant period of time shortly after the ditch was dug.

Plate 9.1.2: Artifacts , Ballydavis, Co. Laois
[V. J. Keeley/Laois Co. Co.]

The tinned bronze box from this site consisted of a sheet of bronze riveted together along one side. The base was a circular plate of bronze held with a binding strip and the lid was similarly constructed with a central iron mount with red enamel and a central bronze rivet with a cross-hatch pattern. The bronze handle had a central mounting with three circular knops, each with three concentric circles bearing enamel. The beads of stone and glass were in blue, green and yellow.

A smaller ring-ditch (Site 2), 8m in diameter, was c.40m to the east of Site 1. It was sealed under a layer of cobble stones. The ditch was 0.7m deep with a maximum width of 1.5m and a 1m wide south-east facing entrance. Finds included four fragments of stone bracelets, part of an iron blade, a bronze fragment and some animal bone. In proximity to Site 2 were shallow pits, one with a bronze fibula.

Two smaller ring-ditches (Sites 3 and 4) were also investigated. Site 3 was 6m in diameter and lay 26m north-east of Site 1. The ditch, with a fill of charcoal and burnt bone, was 0.5m deep and a maximum width of 1.2m. There was no obvious entrance. Finds from the ring-ditch included four decorated glass beads, three decorated bone pieces, a possible bone hilt and a bead spacer of stone. Site 4 was 6m in diameter with a maximum depth of 0.6m and a width of 1m. The NW facing entrance was 2.2m wide. The fill was mixed with a significant amount of charcoal.

The furnaces excavated yielded evidence for metal smelting and associated industrial activity. This site is particularly significant due to the present lack of reliably dated burials from the Iron Age. It was also a well preserved complex with rich finds, some of which have parallels with material from Kiltierney, Co. Fermanagh and Oran Beg and Grannagh, Co. Galway, while the closest parallel for the box appears to be a chariot burial of a female at Wetwang Slack, Yorkshire. 

Reference

Keeley, V. J. 1996  ‘Ballydavis, Co. Laois’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1996. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

9.2 : Ballykeel South, Co. Clare J000122

Site location: NGR 11806/19444 SMR CL 009-09001

Mary Cahill

Fig. 9.2.1: Location map of Ballykeel South, Co. Clare [OSI]

Located in the barony of Corcomroe (Fig. 9.2.1), just west of the site of a standing stone (RMP CL009-089), and south of the enclosure of Ballykeel Fort (CL009-088), excavation at this site was prompted by the accidental disturbance of one of the grave slabs. The investigation took place over the course of two days in 1988 and exposed a long stone cist, 1.75m X 0.35-0.40m, containing the skeleton of a male. No grave goods were recovered.

The cist, oriented EW, was constructed of limestone slabs, two each at the north and south sides, one at the east end and two at the west. Both the south and north sides were formed of one long stone (maximum length 1.25m) and one short, with the long stones placed opposite each other at each side. The maximum thickness of the side stones was 0.13m. The cist was completely covered with six well-fitted lintels, with maximum dimensions of 0.75m long X 0.40m wide. The floor of the cist was not paved.

The cist contained an extended inhumation burial without accompanying artefacts. The skeleton fitted tightly into the cist and was reasonably well preserved. The body lay extended in a supine position with the head to the west and the feet to the east; the arms were extended by the sides. The human remains were examined by Barra Ó Donnabháin. The remains represented the remains of an adult male, who was aged between 25-35 years at the time of death. An unusual pattern of abrasion was noticed in the teeth, which is thought by Ó Donnabháin to be the result of a habitual activity (perhaps an industrial activity) involving passing a narrow object or band of material between the clenched anterior teeth.

A sample of bone from the cist was radiocarbon dated and yielded a date of around 400AD.

The National Museum of Ireland is currently undertaking a programme to bring to publication all burial excavations carried out by its staff over the last few decades. Over 500 burials or records of burials have been located, about half of which constitute full excavations. The grave at Ballykeel South will be fully published within this volume.  It is hoped that the monograph will be published some time in 2004. 

Reference

Cahill, M. 1989  ‘Ballykeel South’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1988. Wordwell Ltd., Wicklow. 9.

9.3 : Grannagh, Co. Galway E82

Site location: NGR 15110/21000            SMR:GA114-089

Etienne Rynne*

Fig.9.3.1: Location map of Grannagh, Co. Galway [OSI]

The earthwork at Grannagh in south eastern Galway (Fig. 9.3.1) spans an area measuring c.68m in external diameter, the flat central area measures 28m in internal diameter and rises to on average 7.5m in height above the base of the bank. A small enclosure-like feature was evident, just off centre of the rise, in the interior of the monument. The earthwork is well sited on the end of a natural esker, taking full advantage of this prominent position, the sides of this almost circular rise were scarped to form the substantial surrounding bank with shallow inner fosse. A separate ring-barrow (GA 114-088) is located to the immediate north east of the monument

Two series of excavations were undertaken at Grannagh townland. The most recent excavation was carried out by Etienne Rynne in 1969 (Fig. 9.3.2).  This excavation was of the interior of the larger monument (GA 114-089), located to the SW of a barrow (GA 114-088) and included a sub-circular feature located just off centre but within the outer bank and fosse. On excavation, this feature was a shallow fosse with internal bank forming an arc measuring 5.5m in overall diameter. Several pits and/or post-holes were recorded both inside and in the vicinity of this small enclosure, however they formed no obvious plan. The 6m wide entrance gap lay to the SE of the fosse and bank and half way up this slope a pair of large, deep pits were exposed These pits reduced the means of access to a stony gangway 0.50m wide pathway.

Fig.9.3.2: Site plan, Grannagh, Co. Galway
[Etienne Rynne]

Two concentrations of cremated bone and one shallow cremation burial were also discovered in the course of the excavation and indicated an Iron Age date for the construction of the internal semi-circular bank and fosse feature. Finds included a bronze pin, iron knives, iron ring-pin, bone spindle whorl, blue glass beads, a yellow glass bead, jet armlet fragment, crucible fragment, hone-cum-pin-sharpener, the butt of a polished stone axehead and a leaf-shaped arrowhead (Fig. 9.3.3).

Fig. 9.3.3: Bone trial pieces, Grannagh, Co. Galway
[Etienne Rynne]

The absence of a hearth, coupled with the manner in which cremated remains were found scattered across the site and the prime position of the monument has been interpreted as evidence that this site may have been used periodically for ritual purposes rather than for habitation. Rynne suggested that the monument may even have served as place of inauguration

The earlier excavation at Grannagh townland was led by RAS Macalister in c. 1916 and concerned the investigation of the barrow (GA 114-088) located at the foot of the rise immediately NE of the larger monument. Measuring 15.3m in diameter, it consisted of a fosse with external bank and three cremation burials in the interior. Below the burials were two ox bones and underlying this again two spherical green glass beads and the top of a bone pin.

Ten beads were recovered between both series of excavations, two of which were of are dated to between 250 BC –50 AD, two others, recovered by Macalister, are thought to be of reused Roman bottle glass and may date from the first to the fourth century AD (Newman 1997, Guido 1978, Raftery 1981)

Finds from the excavations at these sites indicate that these sites were broadly contemporary. Rynne (1972) dates this monument to later than the nearby ring-barrow excavated by Macalister but still within the pagan tradition. Raftery includes this site in his studies of Iron Age burials.

References

MacAlister, R. A. S. 1917  ‘A report on some excavations conducted in Co. Galway’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 33C. 505-510.

Rynne, E. 1972  ‘Grannagh’, In T. G. Delaney (ed.) Excavations 1971. Association of Young Irish Archaeologists and Ulster Archaeological Society. 14.

Hawkes, C. F. C. 1981  ‘The wearing of the brooch: early Iron Age dress among the Irish’, In B. G. Scott (ed.) Studies on Early Ireland: essays in honour of M. V. Duignan. 51-73.

Raftery, B. 1981  ‘Iron Age burials in Ireland’, In D. Ó Córráin (ed.) Irish Antiquity. Tower Books. Cork. 173-204.

Newman, C. 1997  ‘Comparative Archaeology’, in Tara, An Archaeological Survey. Dublin. 164.

Guido, M., 1978  The Glass Beads of the Prehistoric and Roman periods in Britain and Ireland (Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, No. 35). London.


9.4 : Haynestown II, Dunleer, Co. Louth 93E0098

Site location: NGR 30400/30360            SMR LH012-026

Muiris O’Sullivan for V.J. Keeley

Fig. 9.4.1: Location map of Haynestown II, Co. Louth [OSI]

Trial trenching in advance of the Dunleer by-pass revealed the capstones of an underground structure on the northern slopes of a prominent hill (Fig. 9.4.1).

A more detailed investigation was carried out over 18 weeks from July to November 1993 and showed the underground structure to be a corn-drying kiln and an attached storage shed (Plate 9.4.1). The wattle screens, used in the drying process, were in carbonised form on the shed floor. Carbonised seeds from a variety of crops and weeds were also preserved and have produced C14 dates of the first half of the eleventh century AD.

Plate 9.4.1: Corn drying kiln, Haynestown, Co. Laois
[Muiris O’Sullivan]

A substantial ditch ran downhill from the mouth of the kiln. The fill of this ditch contained two adult human skeletons and a rounded flint scraper. Ditches, pits, post-holes and various other features were revealed across the hillside. Cultivation had however, disturbed many of the ancient features and consequently preservation of these was generally confined to subsoil level. More rounded scrapers and other pieces of flint were found as stray finds in the plough-soil.

A ring-ditch at the base of the hillock, almost 50m from the kiln, was also investigated (Plate 9.4.2). The ditch had been filled and partially re-cut at least once. This fill was considerably burnt and contained cremated bone, slag, metal artefact fragments, a bead, sherds of flat-bottomed pottery, flint flakes and some water-rolled stones. Only the base of a central, fire-reddened pit survived. A platform associated with post-holes lay beside the ring-ditch. An undecorated blue glass bead was found on the surface of the platform. The platform and ring-ditch appeared to be contemporary. Radiocarbon dates from the ring ditch and associated features have retrieved dates in the centuries preceding 500 AD.

Plate 9.4.2: Ring ditch, Haynestown, Co. Laois
[Muiris O’Sullivan]

The kiln would normally be considered medieval but the two inhumations, particularly the one almost at the mouth of the kiln and the flint scraper is an intriguing complication. The ring-ditch and associated platform may be assigned to the later prehistoric era. The chronological context of the other features is unclear. 

References

O’Sullivan, M. 1994  ‘Haynestown, Co. Louth’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.167. 

A short description of the project is also available online at  http://www.ucd.ie/~archdata/external/staff/muiris_osullivan/research.html

9.1: Ballydavis, Co. Laois 95E111
9.2 : Ballykeel South, Co. Clare J000122
9.3 : Grannagh, Co. Galway E82
9.4 : Haynestown II, Dunleer, Co. Louth 93E0098