1990:088 - *Céide Fields' Glenulra, Mayo

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Mayo Site name: *Céide Fields' Glenulra

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

Author: Gretta Byrne and Noel Dunne, Céide Fields Centre, Ballycastle, Co. Mayo.

Site type: Neolithic field system

ITM: E 504972m, N 840005m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.299954, -9.459960

In March 1990 worked commenced on an area of approximately 30 acres (12 hectares) of Céide Fields in Glenulra townland in preparation for the opening of a major Interpretive Centre on the site. The site is part of a Neolithic landscape consisting of regular systems of fields demarcated by stone walls, court tombs and the sites of dwelling houses covering an area of approximately 1,000 acres (400 ha.), and preserved beneath blanket peat. The field system consists mainly of a coaxial pattern comprising long parallel walls varying in distance apart from c. l00m.-150m. The strips formed by these parallels were then individually subdivided into rectangular fields by cross walls’ which generally do not extend beyond adjacent parallels. The fields are superimposed on the landscape in a terrain-oblivious pattern indicating that they were designed and built in a single cohesive operation necessarily involving large scale community cooperation and organization.

Over a period of eight months from April to November part of the work on site involved the exposure of lengths of these walls by removing the turf down to the pre-peat soil level. A total length of 190m of wall was uncovered in 33 separate cuttings. The exposed walls were all dry-built from local sandstone with very occasional orthostatic stones, but all had collapsed before being covered by the growth of peat. In their present state they survive up to a maximum height of 0.8m and comprise stones up to l.2m in dimensions.

Although the purpose of the excavations was to expose previously known walls for display a number of interesting and unexpected features was discovered.

One was a small egg-shaped enclosure built on a cross wall and located just 20m north of the structure discovered in 1989 (see Excavations 1989, 41). The enclosure measures 7m long and 4m wide at the almost straight wider end and narrows to less than 2m at the opposite end. One side of the structure is formed by the field wall while the remainder of the enclosure consists of a less substantial wall which is also collapsed. Although there is no apparent entrance or gap in the wall, an unexcavated bank of peat, l.6m high and between 1.5m to 2.5m wide, across the enclosure probably conceals one. There is, however, a narrow gap in the field wall at both ends of the enclosure so perhaps the field wall stones were robbed to build the enclosure. Apart from one piece of struck flint and a couple of pieces of possibly struck quartz and chert there was no evidence of any occupation debris within the enclosure, nor was there any evidence of a roof support, giving the impression that it may have been an animal pen.

Another discovery during the excavation was a lynchet of fine stone-free soil formed against the upslope side of a field wall, showing evidence of tillage. A number of tiny flakes of flint and chert were also found within the lynchet having been washed downslope with the soil. This lynchet was within a roughly triangular area, 60m by 25m, formed by walling off the corner of a larger field measuring 200m by 120m, although it is not yet known whether the lynchetting extends into the larger area.

One length of wall in a cutting 6m long was particularly well preserved on one side and had a concentration of charcoal in the soil beside the wall, but further investigation is needed to ascertain the nature of the activity causing this.

In addition to the work outlined above a total of three weeks in August was spent on further excavation on the site previously dug in 1989 (see Excavations 1989, 41), under a separate licence directed by one of us (G.B.).

The area of flat slabs resembling disturbed paving and charcoal rich soil located in 1989 was discovered to continue for a distance of 3m to the east but this has still to be removed. Under the original area an arc of six stake-holes was located. These varied in size from 45mm diameter and 40mm deep to 90mm x 60mm diameter and 90mm deep and all were spaced about 0.35in apart. A narrow curving trench, 0.1m-0.3m wide and 0.08m-0.l5m deep, extended in an arc 2.4m long forming a semicircle along with the stake-holes. This trench then turned outwards at a right angle and continued for a distance of another metre. The ashpit previously discovered was located within the semicircle of trench and stake-holes although offcentre. The spread of slabs and charcoal-rich soil, however, overlay and extended beyond both the stake-holes and trench and this material contained a number of worked pieces of chert, quartz and flint, including a flint round scraper 19mm in diameter, and some very poorly preserved pottery.

The material in this area has not been completely excavated, however, and more work is needed to determine the exact nature of the structure.