NMI Burial Excavation Records


Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 42:00802-42:010904 Licence number: 91E0047

Author: Theresa McDonald, St O

Site type: Multi-phase landscape

ITM: E 468568m, N 803482m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.963907, -10.003037

The eighth season of survey and excavation at the Deserted Village, Slievemore, Co. Mayo, continued over a seven-week period (29 June-15 August) in 1998.

Cutting A was extended northward to investigate the unusual mound, partially uncovered during the 1997 season (Excavations 1997, 135-6). An area 5m x 2m was de-sodded, joining Cutting A with the Test-trench F14. The mound of yellow clay was apparently cut into during the construction of House 36, with a layer of flat stones laid around it, situated close to the village pathway.

A drain west of House 36 was full of rotted organic material, the remains of the last thatch roof of House 36. Underneath this was a yellow clay with small stone inclusions, which is present over most of this cutting and into which two metalled surfaces are set.

Excavation south of the southern gable of House 36 uncovered a second mound of very red, oxidised soil with large stones and iron pan inclusions mixed within it. Lower down, the large stones disappeared, while the red, oxidised soil became much thicker and extremely hard, perhaps as a result of some sort of heat treatment. Underneath this was a layer of yellow clay, which extends over the whole cutting and which was cut into and redeposited to form the house platform. This is also borne out by the evidence of Trench F14 in Cutting B, where a spade cut was discovered in what is almost certainly this same yellow layer. Everything under this layer pre-dates the house.

Cutting B, in the garden to the north-east of House 36, was extended. This involved a northward extension of Test-trench F14. This enlarged the cutting by 3.5m x 3m. Under the sod were two long, rectangular deposits of orange ash, running in a north-south direction (F11). This appears to be a deposition intended to fill in the deep furrows of the lazy-beds to even out the ground surface. This is clearly shown in section and would explain the relatively flat surface of the garden. Interestingly, when House 36 was excavated very little ash was found near the hearth. What F11 almost certainly represents is that ash. It appears that no attempt was made to mix the ash into the soil as a fertilizer, and so it appears simply as a dump layer. Perhaps F11 represents an initial phase of occupation for the people who lived in House 36. There is evidence to suggest that before the house was built the land was cultivated, so in order to save the people having to redig and recultivate the lazy-beds they simply dumped ash down the furrows of the old lazy-beds. F11 runs the length of the garden in two strips. There is possibly a third deposit, but this does not appear as clean-cut as the existing two. Each strip was c. 1m wide and 0.3m deep. Both ran north-south and appear to correspond with the deep lazy-beds in the field immediately north of the garden wall.

F13, a previously unexcavated (control) area in the south-east corner of the cutting, was opened and produced a multitude of finds, mainly broken glass and pottery and also an iron shoe of a metal gowl gob in quite good condition with a nail hole near the top. The object is of quite crude construction and may have been 'home-made'. The sod layer ranged from 0.1m to 0.4m deep and produced numerous finds. Thickly matted roots extended very deep into the layers in this area. Directly under the sod was a thick layer, ranging from 0.2m to 0.5m deep, which consisted of a brown/grey, mixed soil, with lots of inclusions, e.g. ash, charcoal, small stones and pieces of turf.

Work in Cutting C centred mainly on a pit (F27) found in 1997. The fill proved to be quite complex, with many layers sandwiched closely on top of each other, few being more than 40mm deep. It was dug into the area immediately east of the manure pit. Dug into the south-east corner of this pit was another pit, F41, covered over with a large boulder. F24, a small pit excavated in 1996, was 0.75m to the south of F27. In the north-east corner of Cutting C a later pit (F64) was shown to be cut into F27. South of F27 a narrow drain, slightly curved, was dug, running in an east- west direction and terminating where it met the wall of the oval manure pit east of House 36. Part of the manure pit wall is missing at this point and may be connected with this drain.

On plan, F27 appears to be quite irregular in shape, and it seems that it is made up of a couple of contemporary pits cut into one another. It is still clear, however, that F41 and F64 are both later pits cut into F27, although F41 was more or less contemporary with the use of F27.

F64 was not fully excavated and has been left for the 1999 season. Its fill was very mixed and loose, consisting mainly of yellow/red, oxidised sandy material mixed with grey, silty material and the odd large stone. The first 0.2m was removed, revealing cavities but no finds. It is thought that this pit continues down for a good depth and may even continue under the adjacent garden wall. The presence of horseshoes as well as slag in F27 and a piece of haemitite in F41 may suggest some sort of 'smithy' activity, and there is a nearby source of running water.

Two trenches were opened in the area of the Monk's Garden: Trench 1 in the garden itself, and Trench 2 c. 5m to north. A number of features appeared under the sod, which were planned. No further excavation was carried out here as, after removal to the sod in Trench 2, evidence of a structure began to appear. Trench 2 consisted of a rectangular cutting 5m x 1.5m, running in an east-west direction. It was decided to position the trench here as a large slab stone, F5, lying flat side down, was protruding and had a cavity underneath. Under the sod, and covering almost the entire area of the cutting, was a fill layer of loose stones F4 (0.05-0.1m) mixed in a silty clay. At the eastern end of the cutting tightly packed stones of the same size as in F4 appeared. F4 was removed, for the first 3m eastwards to a depth initially of 0.2m, until it crossed the protruding western wall of the souterrain, when it dived to c. 0.5m deep.

Two walls of a structure were revealed. Both were running in a north-south direction but were distinctly different in construction and appearance. The western wall was of orthostatic construction, while the eastern was dry-stone, with slight corbelling. Cairn material was packed tightly up against the eastern side of the east wall. Both walls ran up to the lintel stone F5 and appeared to support it.

The passageway between the two walls was a very mixed fill of odd stones jumbled together irregularly and mixed with soil and ashy material. The cutting was extended northward directly above F5, and an area 2m x 2.5m was opened and joined onto the existing cutting. More cairn material was uncovered here, and, while there was no positive evidence of a cut, there was a demarcation in the size of stones, i.e. between this cairn material and the line of the village pathway running in the same direction.

A new extension running in a south-easterly direction was opened. It revealed that both the west and east wall 'kinked' off from a north-south direction towards the south-east. One metre to the east the passageway narrowed and the orthostatic wall terminated at what appears to be a blocked entrance. Eastwards, just under the sod in brown-earth soil, was found an oblong stone with abrasions at both ends that has been tentatively identified as a hammerstone. Its location close to the surface and within a jumble of other stones suggests that it is a stray find.

The structure described, despite some unusual features, e.g. the orthostatic wall and no clear evidence of a cut, may be a souterrain. The excavation will continue in 1999.