County: Wicklow Site name: RATHDOWN LOWER, GREYSTONES

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 97E0075

Author: James Eogan and Richard N. O’Brien, Archaeological Development Services Ltd, Windsor House, 11 Fairview Strand, Fairview, Dublin 3.

Site type: Prehistoric and medieval

ITM: E 728623m, N 713631m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.157622, -6.076719

Intensive monitoring was carried out during the construction of 35 houses on this site. There had been two previous phases of archaeological excavation as part of the planning process (by Charles Mount, Excavations 1993, 81, 93E0187; and by Eoin Halpin, Excavations 1994, 86, 94E0033); these excavations examined a feature known as the Hollow Way at the eastern boundary of the site, and the truncated remains of a ringfort at the western end of the site. In addition, 20 test-trenches were excavated to investigate geophysical anomalies and possible cropmarks.

The development, which was granted permission following an appeal to An Bord Pleanála in February 1997, was designed to cause minimum impact to the known archaeological remains; however, as it was taking place in an area of known archaeological potential, the developer was required to employ an archaeologist to ‘…attend on site from the commencement of development works until the completion of ground works’. The access road for the development ran through the field containing the early church site known as St Crispin’s Cell, while the site of Rathdown Castle, examined by M. Gowen (Excavations 1994, 86–7, 94E0048), is further east. It had been suggested that the development site had been a settlement in the medieval period, although the previous phases of test-trenching and associated geophysical survey had not found any remains that could be dated to that period.

Monitoring took place from April to December 1997, an archaeologist being in daily attendance from April to October.

Beaker settlement

A series of pits, stake-holes and a ditch forming the nucleus of a Beaker settlement were found close to the northern boundary of the site. The evidence was in the form of a narrow, roughly linear ditch, running for 20m north–south, with associated pits, posts and a hearth. The ditch was 0.42–0.46m wide and 0.35–0.48m deep. Sherds of Beaker pottery and struck flint were found throughout the fills. The function of this ditch is unclear, but it may have defined the settlement limits.

Approximately 9m east of the northern terminus of the ditch was found an isolated arc of three stake-holes, 1.4m in length. Some struck flakes were found in the fill of one of the stake-holes. Approximately 8m north-west of the northern terminus of the ditch was a circular pit, 0.56m x 0.66m in diameter, and 0.17–0.24m deep. This pit contained a number of dark, friable, charcoal-flecked clays. The finds consisted of charcoal lumps, burnt nuts, burnt stones, burnt bone, burnt and unburnt struck flints, and a number of sherds of three different decorated Beaker pots.

Located 2.5m east of the southern terminus of the ditch were the remains of two narrow, curving trenches, possibly the foundation trenches of a house. These formed a rough Y-shape in plan, measuring 2m and 2.8m long respectively, and being 0.08–0.16m wide. A number of shallow stake-holes had been inserted into their bases. Some small pits with internal stake-holes and two large post-holes were found between the linear ditch and the trenches. Struck flints and Beaker sherds were found on the habitation surface, within the trenches and in the fill of a number of the stake-holes. Some of the Beaker sherds were identical to those found in the circular pit. There was also evidence for a metalled pebble surface below the trenches. It measured 3–3.8m in length and 0.4–0.7m in width. In association with it were further pits and stake-holes, with struck flint and Beaker sherds. Another circular pit, located 3.5m south-east of the trenches, contained large amounts of struck flints, burnt bone, and charcoal-flecked clays.

Two hearth features were found in the middle of the site. It was not possible to establish whether these hearths were stratigraphically related. F18000, which consisted of an oval spread of burnt clay 0.9m x 1.3m in diameter, had been partially damaged at one edge by machine digging. A central pit was cut into the burnt clay, measuring 0.2m x 0.6m in diameter, and filled with charcoal-flecked clay and stones. The finds in this central pit consisted of struck flints and burnt bone fragments.

F16000 was located c. 10m east of F18000. This hearth was subcircular in shape and 1.5m x 0.9m in diameter. The fills were made up of charcoal-flecked and burnt clays. The finds consisted of struck flints, burnt bone, a beach pebble utilised as a hammerstone and a second possible hammerstone. Two sherds of thick, coarse, undecorated prehistoric pottery were also found in the fills.

Three isolated subcircular pits were noted on the site during monitoring. They were all less than 0.8m in maximum diameter and were filled with charcoal-rich material. Until further analysis is carried out very little can be said about them.

Corn-drying kiln

This feature was found close to the southern boundary of the site during the excavation of house foundations. It consisted of an oval pit (F6018) 3.5m long (north-east/south-west), 2m wide (max.) and 0.55m deep (max.). The northern part of the pit was deepest; the clay in its base had been oxidised to a bright orange colour. The area of oxidised clay was 1.3m long, 0.64m wide, and 0.06m thick. The base of the southern part of the pit sloped from south to north. Two parallel lines of five stake-holes were found in the base of the kiln; they extended over a distance of 0.8m (from the south-west edge of the pit) on a south-west/north-east alignment and averaged 5mm in depth. The north-east end of the pit had been disturbed by the excavation of the foundations, and a trench (F6021) extended 2.6m north of it in this area. It was 1m wide and sloped from north to south; it probably functioned as a stoke-hole.

Two shallow trenches, which probably functioned as flues, extended from the south-east (F6019) and south-west (F6020) corners of the pit. F6019 extended north–south for a distance of 5.6m; for most of its length it had a shallow U-shaped profile, but where it met the pit it had a V-shaped profile. It had a maximum width of 0.6m and a maximum depth of 0.32m. At the point where the profile of F6019 changed, five stake-holes were found; they formed a Y-shaped arrangement on plan, the stem of the Y being formed by three stake-holes in the base of the trench. They ran north–south, slightly oblique to the alignment of F6019.

F6020 was similar in form to F6019; it extended north-east/south-west for a distance of 1.6m and had a shallow U-shaped profile, with a maximum depth of 0.42m. However, at a point 1.1m from its junction with the pit, it widened to 0.9m; a patch of oxidised clay (0.66m by 0.44m) was identified in its base in this area.

The pit and trenches F6019 and F6021 were filled with a loose, dark brown/black, charcoal-rich silt; this material contained a considerable proportion of granite blocks, up to 0.4m in maximum length. Some of these stones appeared to be burnt, but none of them fulfilled any recognisable structural function. F6020 was filled with brown charcoal-flecked clayey silt.

Seven subcircular post-holes were found immediately west of the pit;, they varied from 0.18m to 0.42m in depth, and three of them contained packing-stones. These post-holes did not form any discernible structural pattern.

A subcircular pit was found 1.5m west of pit F6018. It had gently sloping convex sides, its basal fill was black charcoal with occasional pieces of yellowish-grey clay, and the upper fill was brown clayey silt with occasional charcoal flecks and small stones.

A series of furrows had truncated these features. The fill of one of the furrows contained a sherd of Bristol–Staffordshire slipware, otherwise no artefacts were found in any of the contexts associated with the corn-drying kiln.

Hollow Way

The access road and services for the development were designed to cross this feature in the area where the previous testing had been carried out. A further trench, 2m wide and 16m long, was excavated in this area in order to investigate this feature further. This excavation confirmed Halpin’s interpretation that the earliest feature in this area was a ditch, which was subsequently filled in and used as a routeway. Two sherds of glazed medieval pottery and a sherd of medieval cooking ware were recovered from the upper fills of the ditch. Apart from some animal bone and some struck flint, no finds were made in the primary fills.

Medieval cultivation

In the course of topsoil-stripping of an 8m-wide area for the access road, a c. 15m-long layer of dark brown stony silt was noted. It was found that it covered and filled a series of shallow ditches that were cut into the stony yellow boulder clay. Three of these (F2017, 2018 and 2019) ran south-west/north-east across the excavated area parallel to each other. While these features were not absolutely regular, each was c. 1.1m wide; they varied in depth from 0.1m to 0.4m and had U-shaped profiles. F2017 appeared to cut F2018; however, as they were both filled with the silt it was not possible to establish a definite stratigraphic relationship. The fill of F2018 had a higher percentage of stones; however, in colour and texture it was identical to the silt.

At the northern end of the excavated area a similar ditch (F2012) joined F2017. Part of F2012 ran north–south, but its southern end swung south-east to join F2017.

Four furrows (F2011 and F2013–15) ran east–west across the northern part of the excavated area; they varied in width from 0.4m to 0.65m and in depth from 0.18m to 0.24m. These features were also filled with the silt and while they intersected F2012 and F2017 it was not possible to establish their relative stratigraphic relationships.

A sherd of glazed medieval pottery, a sherd of Bristol–Staffordshire slipware, two iron nails and animal bones were found in the silt.

Close to the western side of the roadway a shallow subcircular pit (0.8m by 0.5m) had been dug into the surface of the silt (where it filled F2017). The pit was 0.28m deep and was filled with stony dark greyish-brown silt which contained a lens of charcoal; no finds were recovered from this feature.

The date and function of the ditches is uncertain; they may mark a boundary which was renewed on a slightly different line on three occasions. They were found at a point where the field surface slopes from north to south. There was no surface indication of such a boundary.