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 8 : IRON-AGE

The knowledge of iron working is thought to have been evident in Ireland by c. 600 BC. The Iron Age period (600BC-400 AD) can be further broken down into two main phases; Hallstatt and La Tène, though little evidence of the early Iron Age/Hallstatt period has been uncovered in Ireland to date. It is not until the La Tène phase (300 BC) that the Irish progressed into a full iron-using community.

Iron Age culture in Ireland is marked by the transition from bronze to iron working, by the introduction of rotary querns, by a tradition of large decorated stones, of linear earthworks and the continued use of hillforts. Iron Age settlements have also been uncovered on the same sites that were later crannógs and ringforts. The site at Dooey, Co. Donegal produced evidence for unenclosed habitation activity that was later enclosed by a fosse, later still the habitation activity extended beyond the enclosing element. Knoxspark, Co. Sligo is an example of a promontory fort. The site of a linear earthwork at Teltown Co. Meath is within a rich prehistoric and historic landscape and offered a rare opportunity to examine this monument type, of which little is known.

8.1 : Dooey (‘Cloghastukan’). Co. Donegal E33

Site location: NGR 32780/22630            SMR: DG 065-03

Brendán Ó Ríordáin* and Etienne Rynne*

Fig. 8.1.1: Location map of Dooey, Co. Donegal [OSI]

The site is situated on the edge of a level plain that forms part of a peninsula to the south of Trawenagh Bay (Fig. 8.1.1). The site (marked “Cloghastuckan” on the Ordnance Survey map) was formerly a grass-covered dune with a standing stone at its centre. Since the late 1930s wind and animal burrowing eroded the dune, undermining the standing stone, exposing human skeletons and a number of archaeological finds. The finds suggested that it was a habitation site, with extensive metalworking, while the skeletons indicated that the site had also been used as a cemetery.

The excavation, funded by the Special Employment Schemes Office through the Royal Irish Academy, was undertaken between May-September in 1959, in order to establish the extent of the original settlement.  The importance of this site lies in the fact that it displays a gradual but continuous transformation of site use from habitation to burial site.

Four phases of activity were identified. Phase 1 produced evidence of a short period of habitation, which was concentrated in an unenclosed area. The main features of this phase were a number of fire pits that contained a charcoal layer. A finely carved antler trial piece was found in a sealed context in this phase. According to the excavators this find is of primary importance and plays an important role in the dating of the first phase of this site.

Phase 2 saw the construction of a fosse with an internal diameter of 38m that enclosed the central portion of the habitation area of Phase 1. 

During Phase 3 the fosse began to silt up with sand and habitation refuse. When the fosse was almost fully infilled the site was enlarged. This phase is represented by an occupation layer that extended from the central area, over the partially-filled fosse and outside the fosse.

In Phase 4, the central area of the site was used as a cemetery and from which upwards of 70 skeletons were excavated. Almost all the skeletons were extended, orientated EW and included men, women and children. Some burials were placed in individual graves while other graves contained two burials one over the other. In the latter cases none of the bones of the lower skeleton had been disturbed, suggesting that the burials had been placed in the grave at the same time or some short time subsequently. A portion of the upper stone of a rotary quern was found with one of the burials. The standing stone was probably associated with the final stages of Phase 4, marking the central burial area.

In addition post-holes were associated with Phases 1-3, a hearth with Phase 2, a pathway traversing the back-filled fosse and a possible collapsed stone structure with Phase 3.

A cursory examination of the finds and the results of the excavation show that the inhabitants were a self-sufficient community. Large shell middens and animal bones suggest that the food supply was augmented by hunting and fishing. Evidence for the use of a type of shell, the dog-whelk (Nucella lapillus L.), for the purpose of extracting a purple or crimson dye is apparent. The evidence also indicates that the site was an important centre of industry with craftspeople involved in the manufacture of objects of iron, bronze, bone and antler (Fig. 8.1.2). Iron finds included knives, some with antler handles, chisels and gouges, pins, and ring brooches (Fig 8.1.3). Fifty decorated bronze pins and several belt buckles were found. Three of the bronze objects had amber settings, two showed evidence of having enamel decoration, including one which has three of its four pieces of millefiori set into a field of champlevè enamel.

Fig.8.1.2: Bone trial pieces, Dooey, Co. Donegal
[Breandán Ó Ríordáin and Etienne Rynne]

Fig.8.1.3: Brooch and clay mould, Dooey, Co. Donegal
[Breandán Ó Ríordáin and Etienne Rynne]

Trade was evident through the discovery of imported glass beads, amber, two silvered or tinned finger-rings and two toilet articles which may have come from post-Roman Scotland. All of these may have been exchanged for some of the fine bronze articles made on this site.

According to the excavators, the entire period of occupation belongs to the early centuries A.D.

Reference

Ó Ríordáin, A. B. and Rynne, E. 1961  ‘A Settlement in the sandhills at Dooey, Co. Donegal’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries 91, 1961, 58-64

8.2 : Knoxspark, Co. Sligo 94E060

Site location: NGR 16720/32870            SMR SL020-166---

Charles Mount*

Fig. 8.2.1: Location map of Knoxspark, Co. Sligo [OSI]

The multi period site at Knoxspark is evident as a promontory fort with enclosing fosse and internal bank, situated on a ridge at a bend of the Ballysadare River (Fig. 8.2.1; Plates 8.2.1 and 8.2.2)). The site is enclosed on three sides by the river and on the fourth by the expanse of a silted marshy lake. The eastern part of the site was to be removed by the Collooney/Ballysadare by-pass and so excavation was undertaken over three months from May to June 1994 in advance of the road construction. The investigation revealed an extensive Early Christian cemetery and as a consequence the proposed road was redesigned and the site preserved.

Plate 8.2.1: Aerial view looking south, Knoxpark, Co. Sligo [Charles Mount]

Fig.8.2.2: Knoxpark pre-excavation plan
[Charles Mount]

The promontory fort fosse was explored via trenches and a portion of the entrance causeway was also examined. The fosse was U-shaped with a sloping outer and a steeper inner side. It was 1.07m wide at the base, c.3.8m wide at the top, widening to c.5m at the western terminal. It had a series of fills including a layer of large stones and boulders, representing the demolition of the internal bank and its stone facing.

Within the internal enclosure were the East and West cairns. The East cairn had a substantial cremation and artefact deposit with no inhumation burials stratified beneath it. A quantity of stone to the east of the cairn probably represented tumble or cairn slippage. The West cairn was constructed of smaller stones and covered a possible furnace and at least one child burial. Excavation of these was not completed. The cairns were linked by a 6m long arrangement of boulders on the northern side, to the east this walling developed into what appeared to be a tumbled field wall which extended to the SE and partly enclosed the east cairn.

The cemetery, consisting of burials in pits, surrounded the two cairns. The inhumations were crouched, flexed and extended, mostly with the heads to the W or SW. Most were in simple dug pits but some appeared to have stone out-linings. Some had grave goods of metal or stone and others had animal bones. A minimum of 185 individuals was noted, primarily of extended inhumations usually orientated EW with the heads to the west. Two were extended on their sides, three were crouched and three were flexed. There were 11 isolated skulls, 82 burials had been disturbed and 13 were disarticulated. Twenty were only partially excavated.

One interesting group was Burial 4, an adult male, supine and orientated with head to the W, lower body to E and arms akimbo. The right arm of Burial 75, an adult male, was underneath the arm of Burial 4 indicating burial at the same time. A socketed iron spearhead was beside the lower vertebrae of Burial 4 and may originally have been in his hand. This burial was dated to 700 Cal. AD.

The rectangular enclosure, 23m X 19m, was constructed with an external stone facing, composed of spaced uprights and continuous walling of boulders in places. The internal wall facing was a discontinuous line of medium sized boulders. A substantial number of artefacts and organic remains were derived from the interior. The bank overlay the old ground surface and cut into this layer were Burial 27 and Burial 58 which pre-dated the construction of the rectangular enclosure. The entrance was in the western side and consisted of a pair of large orthostatic stones. Behind the northern stone only was a second large upright. The entrance was partially blocked by three low jamb-stones. Burial 7 was placed in the old ground surface in the inner end of the entrance.

An area to the east of the promontory fort was opened to reveal a corn-drying kiln. This stone structure with a series of uprights surrounding an area of burnt soil and charcoal was orientated with the flue opening to the NE and the 2.8m long furnace to the south-east. The oval furnace contained a charcoal rich layer with fragments of burnt bone, sand and charred seeds.

This was an important site as it investigated an extensive early Christian burial area within an Iron Age promontory fort possibly associated with a corn-drying kiln. The prominent position of the site may have contributed to its longevity of use.

References

Mount, C. 1995  ‘Knoxspark’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1994. Wordwell Ltd. Wicklow. 78-9. 

Mount, C. 1994  ‘From Knox Park to Tír na nÓg’, Archaeology Ireland 29, 22-23.

Mount, C. 2003  ‘The promontory fort, inhumation cemetery and sub-rectangular enclosure at Knockspark, Co. Sligo’, In M. Timoney (ed.), A celebration of Sligo – First essays for the Sligo Field Club. Sligo Field Club. 103-116.

8.3 : Teltown, Co.Meath 97E0301

Site location: NGR 28098/27434            SMR ME017-049

John Waddell* and Madelaine O’Brien*

Fig. 8.3.1: Location map of Teltown, Co. Meath [OSI]

This linear earthwork, known as ‘The Knockans’, is located directly north of a bend in the River Blackwater and east of Rath Dhu, a large enclosure (Fig. 8.3.1). The site consisted of two parallel earthen mounds approximately 3m apart (Plate 8.3.1). The earthen mounds extended roughly EW for upwards of 65m. The monument was partly destroyed by machinery in 1997, when the northern bank was completely demolished, the ditch was filled with redeposited material and part of the southern bank was removed. Two series of excavations were undertaken between August to September 1997 and July to August 1998 and were funded by The National Monuments Service (then Dúchas).

Plate 8.3.1: Aerial View, Teltown, Co. Meath [Leo Swan]

The southern bank survived as a truncated earthwork, 38m long X 10m wide X 2.4m high. Two cuttings were opened to the north to determine the amount of redeposited material in the intervening ditch. A small cutting revealed that the top of the earthwork was featureless and confirmed the presence of a broad, deep, flat-bottomed ditch between the two embankments. The surviving bank had a core of compressed burnt ash-like material and contained a small votive deposit of unburnt cattle bones in the lower levels.

Excavation of the eastern side of the southern bank revealed that the core was made up of layers of deposited silts with some large stones revetting their southern side. Above these and on the northern side were lenticular deposits of silt with pointed stakes driven into the silt layers. The area between the two banks was resolved and demonstrated that the banks were constructed without an intervening ditch. The gap between them contained a depth of silts and clay resting on the original ground surface. Finds included post-medieval pottery and modern material from the plough zone at the southern end of the south bank. Flint and fragments of bronze were recovered in the lower layers of the bank construction material, while fragments of leather, wood, some bone and one sherd of glass came from contexts within the core of burnt ash-like material. 

References

Waddell, J. 1998  ‘The Knockans (Teltown), Oristown’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1997. Wordwell Ltd. Wicklow. 143.

Waddell, J. 1999  ‘The Knockans, Teltown, Oristown’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1998. Wordwell Ltd. Wicklow. 165.

Swan, L. 1998  ‘Teltown: An ancient assembly site in County Meath’, Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 3. Archaeology Ireland. Wicklow.

8.1 : Dooey (‘Cloghastukan’). Co. Donegal E33
8.2 : Knoxspark, Co. Sligo 94E060
8.3 : Teltown, Co.Meath 97E0301