1991:106 - NEWTOWN, Meath

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Meath Site name: NEWTOWN

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

Author: Eoin Halpin, Archaeological Development Services Ltd., and Margaret Gowen

Site type: House - Neolithic

Period/Dating: Neolithic (4000BC-2501 BC)

ITM: E 675035m, N 789014m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.845185, -6.859748

The site of a Neolithic house at Newtown was discovered in October 1991 during archaeological monitoring of topsoil removal on the BGE Northeastern Pipeline, Phase 3, which runs from Dunleer, Co. Louth to Mullagh, Co. Cavan. Two radiocarbon dates of charcoal taken from the foundation trench of the house have yielded dates of 5033±42b.p. and 4978±32b.p. (calibrated ranges: 1 sigma 3945—3783 B.C.; 2 sigma 3971—3706 B.C. and 1 sigma 3892—3706 B.C.; 2 sigma 3936-3697 B.C. respectively).

The site is situated on a relatively level shoulder of unimproved grassland which forms part of the north facing side of a gently sloping hill, rising to over 500 ft OD to the south. A small unnamed stream flows close by to the north, but the associated extensive flood plain evidences that, at one time, this was a more substantial water course. The surrounding landscape is formed by drumlins which stretch across this area of north Co. Meath and extended into Co. Cavan.

There are two other Neolithic sites in the immediate vicinity, the first, in the townland of Edengora, situated some 3.5km to the north-west, is a wedge tomb with an unroofed gallery, aligned north-east/south-west (1) and the second, at Ervey, some Skin to the north, is noted as a ruined portal tomb (2).

The site had three main phases of activity; Neolithic, Bronze Age and the recent past. The Neolithic phase was represented by the house structure and an associated ancillary structure to the east of it. The house was rectangular in shape measuring at least 10m, and possibly up to 12m, in overall length. It was divided into two rooms, that to the east was enclosed on four sides and measured 6m wide and 5.5m long. Access from the outside was gained through a 1m wide doorway, set at the northern end of the east gable. Access from this room to its counterpart at the west end of the house, was through a second doorway, defined by a pair of opposing postholes set 1.5m apart. The second room did not survive complete, largely due to agricultural activity over time and further eroded by over-zealous topsoil clearing, which scarped most of the western end and all of the area to the north of the house. Nonetheless, sufficient evidence remained to suggest that this second room was again some 6m wide and at least 4.5m long. There was no evidence that the west end of the house was ever enclosed; the original ground plan may have resembled the configuration noted at the north-west end of the Ballyglass house (3) or similarly that noted at the east end of house 2 at Tankardstown, Co. Limerick (4).

Three large postholes run down the middle of the east house. The eastern post was set some 2.5m from the approximate mid-point of the gable, the second and third were set 3.5m apart along the same medial line. There is little doubt that these are the main structural posts of the house which would have supported the central roof beam. Some small sherds of Neolithic pottery were recovered from the door postholes of the internal division and there were small patches of charcoal rich soils uncovered around the doorway but no definite features were found in association with them. The floor of the east room was dominated by a large 2m long x 1m wide and 0.2m deep ‘roasting pit’. The fill of the pit consisted of a mixture of charcoal-rich, blackened soils with a high quantity of heat-cracked stones and a burnt fragment of a Neolithic-type pot. A number of stakeholes were uncovered in the area which have been tentatively interpreted as evidence for hearth-side furniture. There was no evidence in the pit for in situ burning. Indeed, the only evidence for a possible hearth site was an area of orange, oxidised soil located close to the southern wall of the east room. Due to the presence of Bronze Age activity there is a slight possibility that the ‘roasting pit’ may be secondary.

The most well-preserved feature of the house was its foundations which survived in the form of stone- and soil-filled slot trenches. Due to differential erosion caused by the protection of a thicker overburden of hill wash on the southern half of the site, evidence from this side survived very well. While on the northern side, due to its proximity to a slope downwards, to agricultural activity and to thinner soil cover, evidence was comparatively poor. The trench survived up to 0.35m on the south side while the maximum depth of the north side is 0.1m.

The south wall of the east room exhibited superb evidence for the construction method used. The post and plank construction was revealed in the form of a large post hole in the south-east corner, a second uncovered at the junction of the internal division and the south wall and two further post holes along the length of the slot, set at approximately 1.5m intervals. The space between the post holes was filled with stones, to half the surviving depth of the trench. Nearly all of the stones were placed so as to leave a narrow stone-free slot some 0.08m—0.1m wide running along the outside edge of the trench. The trench was filled with redeposited soil and habitation debris. There was slight evidence for postholes in the opposing northern slot of the east room, in the form of a circular impression left in the glacial clay at the bottom of the slot and a circular patch of soil defining the north-east corner of the house.

No evidence for any postholes was discovered in association with the slots defining the west room or east gable, and the only post holes noted in the internal division were those used in the construction of the doorway.

Ancillary features
Situated some 4m to the south-east of the house on a particularly stony area of slightly raised ground, the western sides of a possible structure survived, defined by a 0.4m wide and 0.1m deep gully which ran in a near straight north—south line for some 5m with curved corners. At the north, where it curved eastwards, it extended a further 2m before turning back onto its northern course for some 1.5m and finally turned round to the east again where it was traced for a further 4m before fading our. No undisturbed occupation soils survived in this area and few finds or other dating material were recovered, however many of the stray finds from ‘within’ the confines of the area defined by the gully were Neolithic pot sherds.

The fill of the gully consisted of a fine grey silty clay, which, allied to the fact that the gully appeared to respect the limits of the raised area of stony ground, suggests the possibility that the feature may have been a drip gully or a simple construction gully.

Some 2m to the north of this was a raised area defined by a very high concentration of apparently imported stone. It was an irregular shape, measuring some 10m east—west by 5m north-south. Although not cobbled there was a suggestion that the stones formed a surface. The discovery of prehistoric pot sherds and concentrations of charcoal add weight to this hypothesis and the intriguing possibility arises that the whole site may have consisted of the Neolithic two-roomed farm house, with a crudely built storage shed and associated farmyard situated to the east.

The Bronze Age activity on the site was represented by a small circular pit, containing an unusual small vase urn, which was found during the excavation of the eastern room of the house close to the entrance doorway, associated with an arc of post holes to the west and which seems to have been covered by a now completely dispersed mound of stones and earth, evidence for which was noted all over the excavated area. The urn has a decoration of raised cordons, forming panels made up of comb-impressed lines filling chevrons defined by blank lines. The pot was approximately 0.22m high.

1 Archaeological Inventory of Co. Meath, The Stationery Office, Dublin, 15

2 ibid

3 Ó Nualláin, S. 1972. A Neolithic House at Ballyglass, near Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, JRSAI 102,49—57.

4 Gowen, M. and Tarbett, C. 1988. A Third Season at Tankardstown, Archaeology Ireland, No.4, 156.