2006:1641 - Stamullin, Meath

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Meath Site name: Stamullin

Sites and Monuments Record No.: - Licence number: 05E1271

Author: Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, Arch-Tech Ltd, 32 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2.

Site type: Prehistoric

ITM: E 714857m, N 765610m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.627681, -6.263542

An excavation was carried out at Stamullin, Co. Meath, between November 2005 and July 2006. A substantial number of archaeological features had been identified during the programme of monitoring (Excavations 2005, No. 1246; see also No. 1640 above, 05E0962), which was undertaken in advance of the construction of a hotel development and access road. The site was located 0.9km north-east of Stamullin village and was situated immediately west of the Julianstown interchange on the M1 motorway.

The majority of the archaeological features were located on a north–south-oriented ridge in the northern part of the field (Site A). Downslope and to the south there was a considerable density of features, although no coherent structural pattern was apparent (access road and carpark). At the southern end of the field a small number of features, including a cremation pit, were identified (Site B).

Site A

The main feature on site A was a large prehistoric ridge-top enclosure. It consisted of two concentric ditches, both of which were roughly oval in plan, with causeways forming eastern entrances. The inner ditch, which enclosed an area 28m (north-west/south-east) by 22m, was cut by and encompassed by the more substantial outer ditch to create a large outer enclosure that measured 57m (north-west/south-east) by 47m. Charcoal samples have dated the inner ditch to 1010–830 cal bc and the outer to 920–800 cal bc.

The inner ditch was 0.9–1.95m wide and 0.4–1.3m deep. It was at its most substantial in the eastern part of its circuit, where it had a V-shaped profile. To the west it became much more shallow and took on a U-shaped profile. Emphasis seems to have been placed on the ditch in the area of the entrance, suggesting that the function of the inner ditch was one of demarcation and a display of defence, rather than being intrinsically defensive. Prehistoric pottery, flints and two spindle whorls were recovered from the inner ditch.

The outer ditch completely removed the northern part of the inner ditch but retained the shape of the earlier ditch, which suggests that the inner ditch was still visible at the time of its construction. The outer ditch was far more substantial, reaching a width of 4.6m and a depth of 1.79m in the western portion. For most of its circuit it was a blunted V shape or had V-shaped sides with a flat base. In places the base was segmented, the segments divided by either noticeable drops or raised spurs. Following the deposition of the primary fills, an episode of backfill was noted along the north-western part of the ditch. At least two recuts were also evident in the western part, one of which cut through the backfill layer to the north-west and removed most of the primary fills to the south-west. The backfilling and subsequent recutting substantially reduced the monumentality of the western part of the ditch and made it proportionally more comparable with the eastern part. It appears that whatever factors necessitated a substantial western portion had dissipated.

Structured deposition took place within the outer ditch, with two possible depositional access points identified. At one point located 9m north of the entrance, two abutting cattle skulls and a human skullcap were found. Further north, a concentration of artefacts was identified, with a polishing stone, a saddle quern and three pieces of briquetage recovered. The briquetage pedestals are suggestive of salt production taking place on site.

Internal features were relatively scarce. Within the inner enclosure there was a metalled surface that extended north-westwards from the entrance. It is a reasonable assumption that this surface led towards something, a theory corroborated by the relative concentration of features in the north-western quadrant. The most substantial of these was a curvilinear gully that followed the line of the inner ditch. It had three associated linear features, two of which may have led run-off into the ditch, which suggests that it could represent the drip gully of a structure. An extrapolated 9m-diameter circular floor plan that follows the line of the gully intersects with three post-holes and an irregular pit.

Within the outer enclosure, a four-post structure was found c. 3m south-east of the inner ditch. It consisted of four post-holes that were spaced at 2m intervals to form a square pattern. Each post-hole contained stone packing, indicating that they held relatively substantial timbers. Comparable structures have been encountered on other Late Bronze Age sites and have been interpreted as raised granaries. While no kilns were encountered at Stamullin, the raised granary and the presence of saddle querns in the outer ditch indicate that grain was being stored and processed on site.

An area of concentrated activity was located south-east of the outer enclosure. It contained two storage pits, a water reservoir, a windbreak that surrounded a large pit, and a U-shaped feature that could have represented another windbreak. It is as yet unclear if all of these features were contemporary with the enclosure.

The agrarian nature of the settlement appears to be referenced by the recovery of four saddle querns from the outer ditch and the presence of a possible raised granary within the outer enclosure. The lack of corn-drying kilns and cereal remains may be the result of preservation and the extent of excavation, these activities possibly taking place further away from the settlement. Alternatively, these activities may never have taken place on the site and the evidence for the agrarian nature of the settlement might instead reflect the agrarian nature of the people who used the site for other purposes.

Access road and carpark

Immediately downslope of Site A, a large number of features were identified, which have been described separately as a result of the phasing of development. Two hearths, a U-shaped feature, a J-shaped feature, two large pits, a dog burial and a pit containing 126 flints were amongst the features excavated. The relative sterility of the remainder of the features and the lack of structural patterns has made interpretation difficult. Only one feature in the entire area contained animal bone, which would indicate that the processes associated with animal consumption were not carried out in this area. As dating analysis is still ongoing, it is as yet unclear if these features belong to a similar archaeological horizon to Site A.

Site B

Site B was located 585m south of Site A and contained twelve pits and three linear features, the majority of which had relatively sterile fills. One of the features was a small cremation pit that contained three sherds of well-made prehistoric pottery. Originally the site would have overlooked the River Delvin, which may have made it a suitable burial place. Dating evidence is required to verify if this burial falls within the range of use of the enclosure on site A.

Preliminary analysis of the archaeological features excavated at Stamullin indicates substantial occupation during the Late Bronze Age. If the cremation pit from Site B is of a comparable chronology to the enclosure on site A, the archaeology at Stamullin would then provide an insight into both the life and death of a Late Bronze Age community.