1970:35 - RATHGALL (Rath East td.), Wicklow

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Wicklow Site name: RATHGALL (Rath East td.)

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

Author: Mr. Barry Raftery, Department of Archaeology/U.C.D.

Site type: Hillfort

ITM: E 690131m, N 673140m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.801711, -6.663350

During 1970 work was again concentrated for the most part in the area of the inner enclosure; additionally a section of wall, 5m. wide, was removed on the eastern perimeter and some excavation took place through the gap thus formed into the exterior. The existence of the following structures has been established:

1. A circular house situated roughly in the centre of the (much later) stone enclosure;

2. A V-shaped ditch running concentric to the house and about 8m. to 10.0m. distant from it;

3. Nine large, sub–rectangular hearths;

4. An earthen bank enclosing a circular area and running for most of its circumference under the stone wall;

5. A house, probably rectangular in plan;

6. A considerable number of straight shallow trenches of uncertain function.

The circular house and V-shaped ditch would appear to belong to the same phase of construction. The ditch encloses an area some 33m. in diameter. Its depth is nowhere greater than 1.5m. but in places it is as little as 60cm. deep. It clearly can have had no defensive significance. The house which the ditch surrounds is 15m. in diameter. Its outer wall was of posts which were set in a U-shaped trench, while the timbers of an inner ring of supports, one metre distant from the outer wall, were set partly in a shallow bedding-trench and partly free-standing. The entrance to the house was a simple gap on the east side flanked originally by massive timber posts, while two parallel lines of postholes leading into the interior of the house from either side of the entrance suggest the original presence of some form of corridor or porch construction. A considerable number of large posts in the interior leaves no doubt that the entire structure was originally roofed.

No hearth or occupation definitely associated with the house has as yet been identified, so that its date is still uncertain; it is however, unlikely to be later than Early Iron Age.

The large hearths are in no case associate with any building and appear to have been open-air constructions. In a number of cases post-hole patterns around them suggest the previous existence of some form of canopy-like roofing. There are some indications that the hearths are not mere domestic structures, but are connected with a specialised bronze-working industry which was carried on intensively on the site.

In this respect the second (probably rectangular) house which came to light immediately to the east of the V-shaped ditch is of particular interest. The building has not yet been fully uncovered so that its size and indeed its exact plan are uncertain. It appears to have been built almost entirely of timber posts, many of which, to judge from the surviving postholes, must have been quite massive. A thick black occupation layer associated with the house yielded some 500 clay mould fragments of Late Bronze Age type as well as many coarse potsherds and a bronze socketed gouge of Eagan’s Downs Phase. The house was thus not a normal family dwelling but a work-shop or smithy where the manufacture of bronze artifacts was engaged in on a large scale. Its date, around the 8th/7th centuries B.C., is fairly well established.

After the first season’s (1969) excavation it was thought that the earthen bank was contemporary with the V-shaped ditch which a narrow trial cutting revealed to lie immediately outside the latter. The 1970 excavation demonstrated that the earthen bank and the ditch are not in fact related as the former encloses a much larger area (diameter c. 45m.) and is not concentric with the ditch. Its date is not yet clear.

The linear trenches which crisscross the site do not form any obvious plan but may be the remains of house foundations belonging to the Mediaeval settlement. This is as yet, however, entirely conjectural.

The existence of some form of settlement at Rathgall in the early centuries A.D. is established by the discovery of a decorated bronze strap-end of sub-Roman type, while late thirteenth century silver coins and green-glazed pottery indicate a fairly intensive occupation during the Mediaeval period.

* Antiquity 44, 1970, 51-54