2001:928 - The Deserted Village, Slievemore, Mayo

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Mayo Site name: The Deserted Village, Slievemore

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 42:00802–42:000904 Licence number: 91E0047

Author: Theresa McDonald, Achill Folklife Centre (Ionad Eolais ar Shaol an Pobáil Acla Teoranta), Dooagh, Achill, Co. Mayo.

Site type: Multi-phase landscape

ITM: E 465012m, N 808593m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.008889, -10.059444

The eleventh season of excavations took place at the Deserted Village over a thirteen-week period from 4 June to 31 August 2001. Three sites were opened this year, House #36 and the Monk’s Garden souterrain, both in the village of Tuar, together with a series of pits immediately east of the Monk’s Garden, in an area which geophysical prospecting in 2000 had indicated might be of archaeological interest and therefore worthy of exploration, not least because of their proximity to the unusually shaped enclosure known as the Monk’s Garden.

House #36 — Cutting B and Cutting D

Excavations within Cutting B were expanded during the 2001 season to include the adjacent Cutting D in an attempt to correlate the respective stratigraphies within the two cuttings into a coherent whole, and more importantly to investigate the complex activity within the cutting. It was felt that investigation needed to address the seminal questions of drainage around the north gable of the house and the orientation (or possible reorientation) of the house during the earliest stages of its construction, as suggested during the 2000 excavations.

Re-examination of the south-facing section of Cutting B and the reinterpretation of the stratigraphy therein made it possible to more closely tie together levels within Cuttings B and D. The stratigraphy was found to be closely similar between the two cuttings, with only a small number of further isolated contexts visible at the western extremity of Cutting D. At this stage of excavation, the evidence seems to support this ‘reorientation theory’ and, by extension, the idea that the village may have been built in consultation with a pre-prepared plan of some sort.

F83 (a dark grey/brown silty clay deposit with small stone and charcoal inclusions) and the immediately underlying F119 (a grey silty deposit) produced a relatively large number of artefacts during excavation. These artefacts, primarily pottery and glass, are indicative of 18th/19th-century and modern activity, the latter probably contemporary with the ‘booley’ occupation of the house. These deposits are assumed to represent agricultural activity, however restricted, at the house. The ceramics from House #36 include creamware, pearlware, whiteware, salt-glazed stoneware, mochaware, black-glazed red earthenware, spongeware and English porcelain. An interesting pattern is beginning to emerge in the use of crude utilitarian redwares with whitewares. The ceramics date from between c. 1720 and 1868.

No artefacts were found during excavation of the underlying deposits F77 and F120/F37. That being the case, it seems possible that these deposits represent pre-habitation, or at the very least pre-house, levels in the area.

A sample of F79 in Cutting D (a bright red sandy silt deposit of very small particle size) was taken for examination by Dr Chris Caseldine of Exeter University. Preliminary analysis indicates that it is composed of clay and silt with some sand and grit, the red colour being basically Fe oxide. There are abundant fine (1.5 microns) straight to slightly curved smooth to striate rods which are probably fungal hyphae, and there are also rough nodular rods 3–5 microns in width and 20–30 microns in length which are rod phytoliths — the latter may be sourced to plant species. There is also amorphous silica present.

A reasonable first approximation is that this deposit represents the remains of a covering, e.g. a floor covering of plant remains of some sort or even a mat that has decayed in situ.

Excavations at the souterrain, Trench 3, Cutting D (mound)

Excavations at the souterrain took place in two areas: Trench 3, Cutting D, the ‘mound’ area, at the suspected souterrain entrance, and Trench 2, a new 1m by 7.25m cutting to the east of the passage and chamber and running north–south.

Excavations within Trench 3, Cutting D, focused on trying to ascertain whether or not the entrance proper to the souterrain survived the backfilling of the passage and chamber carried out during the 1940s as a safety precaution, and to locate and investigate this entrance. Excavations were also carried out in this area to attempt to determine a function for the mound, if indeed any existed.

The long, oval ‘mound’ lies to the immediate south of the souterrain passage. The cutting of Test-trench F27 in an east–west direction during the 2000 season effectively cut the mound into two distinct areas. Time permitted the investigation of one of these areas only, that to the south of the existing souterrain passage and north of Test-trench F27.

Initially it was thought that cut F49 was the entrance proper to the souterrain, though excavation revealed that it did not join with the already-excavated cut of the passage, delimited by the drystone wall F12, running north-west/south-east, but rather cut across it in a north–south direction. This cut appears to post-date the cut of the passage as it currently stands, although further investigation will be necessary to establish this with certainty. It seems, however, on present evidence, that we may be dealing with two separate but adjacent sites. The radiocarbon date from the sample of charcoal (Calluna vulgaris) taken from the area of deep burning (conflagration) of Test-trench 3, F49, south of the souterrain passage during the 2000 season provided a date of AD 650 ± 80. Further investigation planned for the 2002 season will concentrate upon clarifying the relationship between the souterrain and this second site.

Trench 2, Cutting E

Excavations within Trench 2 were concerned with trying to ascertain the thickness and horizontal extent of the cairn material (F11) covering the souterrain and, ultimately, to get a clear view of the exterior back wall of the chamber.

The removal of the upper cairn material exposed yet more cairn material in the vicinity of the stone revetment wall of the old roadway, F7, and more brown Slievemore soil at the southern end of Trench 2. No excavation of this underlying deposit was carried out and its extent is unknown at this stage.

Excavations within Trench 2, however, seem to reveal that the cairn material overlying the souterrain is quite thin in places. This cairn material in turn overlies a deposit of brown Slievemore soil. Horizontal extent has yet to be established.

Trench 4, Cutting A

During an ‘Introduction to Archaeological Excavation’ course conducted over the weekend of 24–26 August 2001, another cutting was opened at the Deserted Village site.

The cutting, lying to the east of the Monk’s Garden and to the south-east of the souterrain, measures 6m by 7m, of which 6m by 5.5m was excavated over the weekend period. A demonstration of EDM/total station function was used to set out the four corners of the grid and the coordinates of these points were recorded. The cutting was sited to best investigate two of a series of suspected pits suggested by a magnetic gradiometry survey.

The grid was desodded and contained a natural sod deposit, with small angular and subangular stone inclusions. A series of lazy-beds were revealed, part of which were truncated towards the south-west end of the cutting. Further investigation of this area is planned for the 2002 season.