1986:19 - Downpatrick, Demesne of Down, Down

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Down Site name: Downpatrick, Demesne of Down

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

Author: N.F. Brannon, Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch, DOE(NI)

Site type: Early Christian/medieval church site

ITM: E 748220m, N 844402m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.326785, -5.721239

This second season of excavations on the Cathedral Hill (see Excavations 1985) was funded by DOENI and took place over 3 months (July-September 1986). Two sites were excavated.

Cathedral Hill
Continuing the process of total excavation of the zone of land due to become a new graveyard, part of the long sampling trench excavated in 1985 was expanded to expose the greatest available length of the large ditch previously sampled. Excavation confirmed that the fill of the ditch was medieval over Early Christian period in date, and indicated that a medieval re-cut had occurred.

At the N, upslope end of the excavations a number of previously unsuspected articulated human burials were examined, although the grave voids remained elusive. Stratigraphy indicates that the burials, lying within the circuit of the ditch, were of early medieval date, while the medieval re-burial of skulls and long bones was also noted. Further downslope the removal of 1985 baulks yielded more demolition debris from the ‘robbed’ medieval stone building discovered in 1985. Nearby the well-preserved skeletal remains of another adult and a baby were found. The quantity and quality of artifacts from the site remained high. Numerically sherds from souterrain ware and medieval pottery bulked large, but glass beads, bronze pins and finger rings, lignite bracelets and bone comb fragments were found. Fragments of dressed stone, one bearing graffiti (human faces), a motif piece decorated on both sides with panelled interlace, a crude gaming board (game unknown) and numerous whetstones and hammerstones were found.

An exhibition running concurrently with the excavation attracted almost 8000 visitors. The excavations will be concluded in 1987.

Down Cathedral
The chance exposure of early footings during restoration work on the cathedral led to brief excavations in July 1986. Projecting from beneath the N wall of the aisled cathedral, a faced foundation plinth, bearing traces of a slight batter, suggested the presence of a previously unknown structure, perhaps the N transept of a cruciform-plan church. Limited exploratory work beneath the S wall of the cathedral also located a battered plinth clearly pre-dating the present structure (which existed as a ruin in the late 18th century). This earliest structure may therefore be the 12th-century church which stood on the site prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1177 and was subsequently converted to a Benedictine foundation in the 13th century.