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 6 : BRONZE AGE

The introduction of metal to Ireland, changes in the material culture and burial traditions mark the beginnings of the next chronological phase in archaeology, the Bronze-Age (c. 2400-600 BC). Early Bronze-Age culture in Ireland was influenced by Beaker traditions in Britain and Europe, but also exhibits insular developments. The origins of metallurgy in the Irish archaeological record may pre-date Beaker traditions, but by the Beaker phase, copper ore was extracted and the metal was used in the production of weaponry, tools, ornaments, jewellery and utensils. The first metal used as a raw material in Ireland was unalloyed copper. Much evidence for primitive copper mining has been discovered in the south-west, one such site is that of Ross Island, Co. Kerry.

The evidence for settlement in the Bronze Age is dominated by circular enclosures with internal circular buildings, often dating to the later part of the period, such as at Curraghatoor and Chancellorsland, Co. Tipperary, while an unenclosed settlement was excavated as part of the Lisheen Project, also in Co. Tipperary. Hillforts were constructed during the Late Bronze Age, with Rathgall, Co. Wicklow being an example of an elaborate settlement with associated funerary activity.

6.1 : Chancellorsland, Co. Tipperary 92E0128

Site location: NGR 17600/13590
SMR TI065-06301-15

Martin G. Doody

Fig. 6.1.1: Location map of Chancellorsland, Co. Tipperary [OSI]

The site at Chancellorsland is located close to the town of Emly (Fig. 6.1.1) and was first recorded during the Bruff aerial photographic survey in 1986 when a complex of barrows and associated earthworks were found in close proximity to each other. These sites were investigated over four seasons of excavations from 1992-95 as part of the Discovery Programme’s Ballyhoura Hills Project. A full report of the excavations is currently being prepared in the form of a Discovery Programme Monograph and is due to be published in 2004. Geophysical and topographical survey (Fig 6.1.2) and excavation revealed an oval-shaped enclosure (Site A) and a circular enclosure (Site C).

Fig.6.1.2: Site A, Chancellorsland. Contour survey and digital terrain model
[Martin Doody]

Site A is a double ditched enclosure with an overall diameter of 67m X 50m and a raised interior (Plate 6.1.1). The excavation concentrated on the perimeter ditches and adjacent areas of the interior. The site was used for habitation, with the remains of at least 11 post- and stake-built structures or parts thereof and evidence for two palisades along the inner ditch. At least two phases of activity were detected, both dating to the Middle Bronze Age and centring on 1500-1400BC. The double ditch appeared to represent at least three phases of construction with no more than one ditch in use at any given time. Finds included pottery, flint, chert, struck crystal quartz, two metal pins/awls, dumped animal refuse and waterlogged wood.

Plate 6.1.1: Site A after excavation, Chancellorsland, Co. Tipperary
[Martin Doody]

Site C is 35m in diameter surrounded by a ditch (Plate 6.1.2). It appeared to have 10 phases of use. The primary function of the enclosure was unclear but animal bone from the ditch may indicate domestic use. After the ditch had silted up a ring barrow and later a pennanular ditch were constructed in the Early Christian period. This site continued to be used into the medieval period.

Plate 6.1.2: Site C – Trench 1, Chancellorsland, Co. Tipperary
[Martin Doody]

The excavations at Chancellorsland aimed at establishing the link between ritual and domestic activities within the complex. The site was extensively used over a long period of time and excavation hoped to reveal whether ‘ritual’ and domestic activities were undertaken simultaneously or separately.

References

Doody, M. 1993  ‘Chancellorsland’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 56-57.

Doody, M. 1994  ‘Chancellorsland, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 73-74.

Doody, M. 1995  ‘Chancellorsland’ In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1994. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 80-1.

Doody, M. 1995  ‘Ballyhoura Hills Project. Chancellorsland, Co. Tipperary: Interim report’, Discovery Programme Reports 2: Project results 1993. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. 13-18.

Doody, M. 1996  ‘Ballyhoura Hills Project; Interim report’, Discovery Programme Reports 4: Project results and reports 1994. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 15-22.

Doody, M. 1996  ‘Chancellorsland’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1995. Wordwell Ltd. Bray.

Doody, M. 1997  ‘Chancellorsland’, In M. F. Hurley ‘Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1996’ Medieval Archaeology 41, 310-11.

6.2 : Curraghatoor, Co. Tipperary  E455

Site location: NGR 20010/11080

Martin G. Doody

Fig. 6.2.1: Location map of Curraghatoor, Co. Tipperary [OSI]

The site was located close to the Cahir/Clogheen road about one mile south of Ballylooby village (Fig. 6.2.1). The initial work at this site was carried out during construction of the Cork-Dublin gas pipeline in 1982 (Plate 6.2.1). This work revealed three huts (Fig 6.2.2), however due to the restrictive, nature of this excavation, it was decided that the site merited further investigation. A research excavation was subsequently carried out over five seasons (35 weeks in total) between 1988 and 1992 on an area to the south of the pipeline and funded on the recommendation of the Archaeology Committee of the Royal Irish Academy. A resistivity survey was carried out which indicated the possibility of further archaeological remains to the west and south of the excavated areas.

Plate 6.2.1: General view of excavation (gasline), Curraghatoor, Co. Tipperary
[UCC Collection]

Plate 6.2.2: Hut 2 after excavation Curraghatoor, Co. Tipperary
[UCC Collection]

The remains of further huts (Plate 6.2.2) were uncovered and also features suggesting that the possibility that the site was enclosed by a ditch. One circular hut (Structure 4) was of post/stake construction with an estimated diameter of 4m defined by nine stake-holes and it may have had an internal hearth. Another hut (Structure 5) had both a slot trench foundation and timber uprights/stakes. No internal hearth was revealed but a complex of stakes and post-holes close to the structure may represent an external hearth. A 1m deep section of ditch was exposed close to the huts. Finds included coarse pottery, struck chert, two possible hammerstones and charred cereal grains.

Two rectangular houses, which were constructed using foundation trenches, were uncovered. There appeared to be at least two phases of activity since one structure overlay a pre-existing series of pits. One of these houses has an associated radiocarbon date of the Late Neolithic/Beaker Period (2350 Cal. BC). Finds included a range of Bronze Age pottery and a barbed and tanged arrowhead. A small stone-lined kiln was also uncovered close to the huts. It appeared that at least some of the hut structures were surrounded by a substantial palisade, which then appears to have gone out of use with the further expansion of the settlement. A series of radiocarbon dates returned a range from 1070 to 890 BC.

The excavation confirmed that the settlement was far more extensive than had originally been thought. The remains of at least twelve structures were uncovered, including eight possible hut structures and probable fence lines. Further work on the ditch indicated it was not the earliest feature on the site as it cut one of the huts. The ditch was however,  not the latest either as at least one fence line was erected after the ditch was backfilled.

References

Doody, M. 1988  ‘Curraghatoor’,  In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1987. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 24.

Doody, M. 1989  ‘Curraghatoor’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1988. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 36.

Doody, M. 1990  ‘Curraghatoor’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1989. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 46.

Doody, M. 1991  ‘Curraghatoor’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1990. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 52.

Doody, M. 1992  ‘Curraghatoor’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1991. Wordwell Ltd. Bray. 43.

6.3 : Lisheen Project: Killoran KIL08,
Co. Tipperary 97E0439

Site location: NGR 27208/16670

John Ó Néill

Fig. 6.3.1: Location map of Lisheen, Co. Tipperary [OSI]

The site at Lisheen/Killoran is located on a low ridge at the western side of Derryville Bog (Fig. 6.3.1). During the construction phase of the Lisheen Mines, topsoil stripping uncovered a number of house sites at Killoran. A single season of excavation was undertaken in winter 1997.

Three round houses, A, B and C, along with a possible fourth, Structure D, were identified (Plate 6.3.1). A possible fifth, Structure E, was disturbed by the wall foundation slot trenches of Houses A and B. Houses A, B and C were side by side with the doorway of each affording a view past the wall of the neighbouring structure. They were probably contemporary. No intact occupation layers associated with the structures were uncovered due to cultivation disturbance. No firm evidence for an enclosure was uncovered. Finds included sherds of probably Bronze Age coarseware, a saddle quern fragment, burnt daub, rubbing stones, hammerstones, a possible whetstone and some struck flint and chert.

Plate 6.3.1: Bronze Age structure, Lisheen, Co. Tipperary
[Margaret Gowen]

House A

This was the largest structure and measured 9m in diameter and survived as a circular wall foundation slot trench with a SE facing doorway. The wall slot contained occasional stake-holes and stone packing and appeared to have contained wattle-built walls. Two post-holes, either side of a gap in the wall slot trench and one stake-hole at the eastern side of the gap represented the doorway. Opposite this was another gap, possibly representing a back door. An internal setting of six post-holes, probably the remains of roof supports was also uncovered along with an outer stake setting around the south-eastern half of the house. Burnt daub and a number of hammerstones were associated with this house.

House B

This was a small house, sub-circular in plan, c.8m in diameter and to the north of House A. It had an internal ring of post-holes for roof supports that were concentric with the outer wall slot trench. The SE facing doorway had two stake-holes on the western side of the door. Wattle walls were again suggested by stake-holes and stone packing in the wall slots. Sherds of coarseware and a saddle quern fragment were recovered.

House C

This was to the NE of House A and the remains survived as a SE facing doorway with part of the western wall slot trench extending from the doorway and a number of post-holes. It had probably been disturbed by a modern tree line and field boundary.

Structure D

This was 9m south of House A. Features uncovered here included an interrupted gully, that on excavation appeared to contain a doorway, marked by a stake-hole on the western side. This doorway faced north towards the other houses. Two post-holes were just inside the doorway and a gully, 5m to the south, may represent the back wall.

Structure E

This was a possible post-built structure cut by the western side of House A and the eastern side of House B. Three probable structural post-holes were uncovered with a large number of subsidiary features pre-dating the other two houses and forming a sub-rectangular pattern.

This site was particularly important due to the density of structures uncovered. It was clearly an area of intense settlement during the Bronze Age and  there was no evidence for an enclosing element.

Reference

Ó Néill, J. 1998  ‘Killoran’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1997. Wordwell Ltd. Wicklow. 173-4.

6.4 Rathgall, Co. Wicklow E84

Site location: NGR 29020/17310
SMR WI037-016

Barry Raftery

Fig. 6.4.1: Location map of Rathgall, Co. Wicklow [OSI]

Rathgall, a multivallate hillfort, consists of three more-or-less concentric stone ramparts enclosing a fourth, well-preserved wall of polygonal masonry (Plate 6.4.1). The last is clearly a two-period construction and at least in its primary phase is likely to date to the medieval period. The enclosing ramparts are probably prehistoric, but it is not clear if they represent a single phase, or several phases, of building activity. The total area of the hillfort is 7.5ha. (18 acres).

Plate 6.4.1: Aerial view, Rathgall, Co. Wicklow
[Leo Swan]

The area within the central enclosure was fully excavated (Fig 6.4.2) and extensive investigation also took place in the zone outside it immediately to the east. Test cuttings were carried out to the north, south and west within the second enclosure and in the south a narrow cutting was excavated through the principal ramparts (2 and 3) to the exterior. Two brief seasons investigation were conducted on the slopes outside the hillfort further to the south. In all about 3000m2 were excavated.

Plate 6.4.2: Late Bronze-Age Ceramic Vessel, Rathgall, Co. Wicklow
[Barry Raftery]

Within the central stone enclosure an annular, V-sectioned ditch, with internal diameter of some 35m, enclosed a circular bedding trench, 15m in diameter. The latter was partly doubled and had a narrow entrance gap in the east. The bedding trench enclosed and was surrounded by, a range of pits and post-holes. Though originally regarded by the excavator as the foundation of a large circular house the possibility that this circular feature was, in fact, an unroofed enclosure must be seriously considered. Unfortunately, the almost total absence of any useful stratigraphy here rendered it impossible to recognise with confidence meaningful patterns in the post-hole spread.

A number of large charcoal-filled pits occurred in this area, one of which had clearly been cut through by the palisade trench. Some, or all of these pits thus belong to an early phase of activity at the site.

Large quantities of artefacts were found, both scattered in the plough-soil and in the fill of many of the pits. The great majority of this material dates to the Middle and Later Bronze Age and includes large quantities of coarse potsherds (Plate 6.4.2), glass beads, fragmentary lignite bracelets, a few bronzes and clay mould fragments. The moulds were concentrated in two discrete zones, one near the centre of the enclosure, the other within and immediately outside the ditch in the south-east. 

Among the more spectacular finds was a small, penannular, gold-plated copper ring which came from a carefully dug, centrally-placed pit in association with a deposit of burnt human bones. This is either a burial or, perhaps more likely, a ritual deposit.

The site was abandoned for upwards of a millennium before small-scale Iron Age period activity took place. This is represented by an iron-smelting furnace dated by radio-carbon to the second or third centuries AD. Bronze belt-fittings of sub-Roman character from the site (but not associated with the smelting pit) are probably linked with this activity. After a further period of abandonment a phase of medieval occupation took place which may well be associated with the inner stone enclosure. This is represented by green-glazed and cooking wares of medieval character and two silver coins, one of Edward I the other of Edward III, indicate dating in the later twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. A rectangular construction of upright posts, enclosed by a shallow drainage ditch, might date to this period.

Immediately to the east of the central enclosure evidence for extended and intensive human activity came to light. The earliest phase here was represented by some scattered fragments of decorated Neolithic pottery of Linkardstown type and a spread of  flints in this area probably also belong to this phase. Overwhelmingly, however, it was again the later phases of the Bronze Age, which were most clearly evident including extensive indications of domestic, funerary and industrial activity. 

A complex stratigraphical sequence was recognisable and radiocarbon dating, well in keeping with the archaeological evidence, indicates that the principal period of activity was between about 1200-900BC with a certain amount of activity dating some centuries after this. The occupation here was both earlier than and related to, the central activity described above. Spatially it was possible to recognise two zones, a northern area that involved domestic and industrial activity and a southern area that appears to have been predominantly given over to funerary activity. Arcs of substantial post-holes separated the two areas and these arcs continued intermittently around the burial area in the south. There were also numerous pits and post-holes scattered across this outer zone but again the stratigraphy was, for the most part, unhelpful in recognising phases or meaningful patterns.

Oddly, in view of the density of human activity here, no clearly recognisable house structures were uncovered. Nonetheless it is difficult not to assume that something of this sort existed for, in the northern zone, extraordinary concentrations of pottery, clay mould fragments and glass beads, as well as items of bronze (including a conical rivet, probably from a cauldron), lignite, stone and gold were found. At least three discrete zones of metalworking were recognisable here which, allied to the two metalworking areas referred to above, indicates an exceptional intensity of metalworking at Rathgall. Indeed, further mould fragments were found scattered on the slope outside the fort in the south (see below). More than 2500 fragments were brought to light and it was possible to recognise evidence for the casting of swords, spearheads, tongued chapes, axeheads (including at least one palstave) pins, and a possible sickle. Radiocarbon dating again indicated that this period of intense activity took place in the centuries spanning 1000BC. 

The gold items included a second copper ring with gold-foil cover, a biconical bead, a tiny length of finely twisted gold wire and a superbly made composite pendant of gold and glass. Most intriguing, and of great potential importance, is a small, perforated bronze disc bearing mercury-gilding. The object continues to be the subject of considerable discussion as conventional wisdom regards such  gilding as no earlier than the last centuries BC. 

In the burial zone south of the area just described numerous pits and post-holes occurred not all of which were necessarily associated with the burial complex. Some useful stratigraphy here, which had been preserved under the later stone wall, showed that the burial complex belonged to a late phase of the Bronze Age activity. It consisted of a circular, V-sectioned fosse similar to that already described above, but with an internal diameter of 19-20m. Within the ditch-fill the ubiquitous coarse potsherds were found and among other items, were two amber beads. 

An unaccompanied cremation, probably of a male, had been centrally placed on a slab in a small, stone-lined pit. The latter had been dug into a reddened, burnt area which was in turn surrounded by a more-or-less horseshoe-shaped zone of about 1500 stakeholes. No pattern could be recognised apart from the fact that they were all but absent in the east. Though the stratigraphy here was again poor, it is likely that the stake-holes belonged to a single phase of activity. Apart from the assumption that the latter were in some way related to the central cremation this feature remains, however, enigmatic.

A spread of pits was concentrated in the southern area of the burial enclosure. Many contained domestic rubbish including the usual sherds of coarse pottery. One pit, however, was particularly important as it contained a deposit of three items of bronze, a small chisel, a spearhead and a fragmentary sword blade that had been cut at each end. 

A short distance to the west of this, a second carefully dug pit was discovered containing an upright vessel of coarse pottery within which were the cremated remains of a female and an infant. The bones were mixed with black, burnt material, almost certainly from the pyre, and similar material had been tightly packed around the vessel to fill the pit. A stone slab had been placed directly on the rim of the pot and a second, larger stone filled the upper zone of the pit.

As well as the intensive Bronze Age activity within the central enclosure and to its immediate east, the test cuttings revealed that in the north and south contemporary activity of some considerable intensity also took place. Especially important was the northern cutting which revealed the remains of a low yellow bank, clearly upcast from the central ditch, lying directly on a dense occupation layer that contained the usual  coarse pottery, glass beads and other items. Traces of this yellow bank were also observed elsewhere, overlying the main occupation layer.  It was thus clearly evident (as noted above) that the central enclosure is not the primary phase of later Bronze Age activity. 

A cutting through the defences in the south revealed a substantial rampart of dump construction (Rampart 2) with a deep V-sectioned ditch around its immediate exterior.  Outside this, remains of Rampart 3 occurred. This was considerably smaller than Rampart 2 and was much denuded. It appears to have been entirely of stone.

Investigations on the southern slopes outside the outer rampart were, to a considerable extent, random. Nonetheless, significant evidence of Later Bronze Age activity came to light. The cultural horizon present here, which included the ubiquitous coarse potsherds, several clay mould fragments and one glass bead, was identical with that present on the hilltop and it may be taken that the external and internal occupation phases were broadly coeval. 

The features uncovered included a range of pits and post-holes and two small ditched enclosures, one annular and 5.5m in diameter, the other penannular with an internal diameter of 3.5m. A central post-hole occurred within the larger enclosure, while in the smaller enclosure there was a zone of post- and stake-holes which, yet again, failed to yield any clearly recognisable arrangement. The purpose of these two features is unclear.

Nearby, the bedding trench of a small hut, sub-rectangular and with rounded corners, was found. Its internal width was little over 2m but there was a carefully constructed entrance feature, in the form of two deep post-holes joined by a small, narrow threshold groove. 

References

Raftery, B.  1970a  ‘The Rathgall Hillfort, Co. Wicklow’,  Antiquity 44. 51-54.

Raftery, B.  1970b  ‘A Decorated Strap-end from Rathgall, Co. Wicklow’,  Journal  Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. 100. 200-211.

Raftery, B.  1971  ‘Rathgall, Co. Wicklow: 1970 excavations’,  Antiquity 45. 296-298.

Raftery, B.  1973   ‘Rathgall: a late Bronze Age burial in Ireland’, Antiquity. 47

Raftery, B. 1974  ‘Rathgall’, In Delaney (ed.) Excavations 1974: Summary Account of Archaeological Excavations in Ireland. Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, Ulster Archaeological Society and Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement. 40.

Raftery, B. 1975-76  ‘Rathgall’, In Delaney (ed.) Excavations 1975-76: Summary Account of Archaeological Excavations in Ireland. Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, Ulster Archaeological Society and Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement. 42.

Raftery, B.  1976  ‘Rathgall and Irish Hillfort Problems’,  In D.W. Harding (ed.) Hillforts: Later Prehistoric Earthworks of Britain and Ireland, London: Academic Press. 339-357.

Raftery, B. 1981  ‘Iron Age Burials in Ireland’ in D. O Corrain (ed.), Irish Antiquity, 173-204.

Waddell, J. 1998  The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland, Galway University Press. Galway. 270-273.

6.1 : Chancellorsland, Co. Tipperary
6.2 : Curraghatoor, Co. Tipperary
6.3 : Lisheen Project: Killoran, Co. Tipperary
6.4 : Rathgall, Co. Wicklow