1970:20 - DUN AILLINNE (Knockaulin td.), Kildare

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kildare Site name: DUN AILLINNE (Knockaulin td.)

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

Author: Dr. Bernard Wailes, University of Pennsylvania

Site type: Early Iron Age ? Ritual Site

ITM: E 681933m, N 707832m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.114748, -6.776124

Three seasons’ of work (1968—70) so far have established no evidence for ancient activity within the site except on the top of the hill, close to the centre of the site, Here a complex sequence of constructions and ‘finds’ demonstrates Neolithic/Early Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval occupation.

Little can be said of the Neolithic phase as yet: any construction of this period. probably lies underneath the Iron Age levels, which are far from completely excavated themselves. But portions of ground stone axes and several leaf-shaped arrowheads make it fairly clear that Neolithic levels were disturbed by Iron Age construction.

To date, the Iron Age activities consist of at least five phases, briefly defined below.

First there is a circular palisade trench about 22.0m. in diameter. Second there are three concentric circular palisade trenches, set close together: the diameter of the outer being ca. 31.0m., that of the inner about 27.0m. These three trenches are ‘graded’ in size.
The outer is about 0.90m. deep x 0.80m. wide, the middle one about 0.70m. x 0.40m., the inner one about 0.40m. x 0.25m. This suggests some superstructure heavier or taller on the outside and lighter or lower on the inside, requiring intermediate support. In the third phase two concentric circular palisade trenches (ca. 42.0m. and 37.0m. diameter) replace the three described above. At some time during the ‘life’ of the phase 3 Iron Age palisade trenches a ring of very large posts was erected inside and concentric with those palisade trenches; the diameter of this circle of large post-holes is about 22.0m. Also at some stage in this phase a hut, about 6.0m. external diameter, was placed at the centre of the circles described by the palisade trenches and the large post-holes. The geometry of this lay-out indicates at least a degree of contemporaneity between these three components. However, the latest spread of occupation debris (mainly clay and small stones, dirtied with charcoal) covers the filled-in palisade trenches of this phase, while the large posts remained standing into the subsequent phase. So far, stratigraphic observation does not permit a decision as to whether the central hut remained standing into the next phase, or not.

This debris consists of much brunt and fire-cracked stone, charcoal, ash and blackened soil, and contains much animal bone: it looks suspiciously like the debris from a fulacht fiadh (although no boiling pits or remains of very large fires have been located on the site yet). After a shallow accumulation of this debris, the very large posts were extracted and, over a very limited area of the site, a lens of distinctive nature was laid down. Part of this lens was an area of freshly quarried stone slabs (not a pavement, since the layer is uneven, and shows no trace of wear), and part is a spread of re-deposited glacial till. This lens does not come close to the central hut, which is why one cannot say whether this structure remained in use up to that time, or was dismantled earlier. Finally more burnt debris was laid over the site, covering it to a maximum depth (before excavation) of about 0.80m.

The finds from the various Iron Age phases have not been closely examined and compared to other material yet. But in general they appear to have a provincial Roman character. At the earlier end a short La Tene sword might suggest a, date in the third or second centuries B.C., but there seems no reason on present evidence to deny the possibility that such types might have lasted into the earlier centuries A.D. On the later end of the chronology, there are no artefacts so far that could be regarded as ‘Early Christian’. There is no clear evidence for artisans’ workshops on the site, and the artefactual remains are rather scanty. These factors, combined with the non-secular appearance of the structures (especially the circle of very large posts) and the lack of evidence for secular occupation (such as hearths), all indicate that the later phases of the Iron Age should be interpreted as ritual. The two earlier Iron Age phases are insufficiently known yet to allow any serious interpretation.

The irregular arc-shaped embankment that is the only obvious surface feature within the site was built after a thick and culturally sterile sod had formed over the latest Iron Age level. It is noted as a probable ruined rath on p.543 of vol. III of the 1789 edition of Camden’s description of Ireland, and this indicates that it was of some antiquity by that time. Such is the evidence for its Medieval date, but no artefacts have been found in association with it, and its function is unknown.

Refs: J.R.S.A.I, 100 (1970) pp. 79—90; Journ. Kildare Arch. Soc., forthcoming;
Current Archaeology 22, Sept. 1970, pp. 309—11