1993:104 - Derryharney, Fermanagh

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Fermanagh Site name: Derryharney

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 230:96 Licence number:

Author: Malachy G. Conway, c/o Historic Monuments, Environment Service, DoE (NI), 5-33 Hill Street, Belfast. BT1 2LA.

Site type: Burnt mounds and linear barrow cemetery

ITM: E 629745m, N 836505m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.276476, -7.543287

The site is located on the west shore of Derryhowlaght Lough, near the village of Carry Bridge (Upper Lough Erne) and was discovered by Brian Williams and Fred Carroll, Environment Service, Historic Monuments and Buildings, DoE (NI) in September 1992 during field survey. Ploughing had exposed a complex of archaeological sites consisting of at least 10 burnt mounds, a linear barrow cemetery of at least three barrows, spreads of burnt daub and charcoal rich soil and a concentrated area of slag. Finds from this preliminary survey included a quantity of animal bone and a late Mesolithic flint knife, recovered close to the west shore of the lake.

Burnt mounds are currently the subject of an intensive survey in Fermanagh and this presented an ideal opportunity for more detailed study. A seven-week excavation was undertaken on behalf of the Environment Service, Historic Monuments and Buildings, DoE (NI) from 28th June to 13th August to record the burnt mound spreads and retrieve samples for dating. This first season of excavation was limited by farming activity to the old peaty shoreline of the lake.

On the northern peat margin of the lake, burnt mound material was visible on the ground before excavation. After clearance, a low, flattened, roughly oval burnt mound approximately 7m x 5m in size was uncovered (Trench 3). The burnt material comprised a compact black cinder and charcoal rich deposit intermixed with burnt shattered sandstone and lesser quantities of basalt fragments and fine sand. The deposit was at maximum of 0.55m deep. To the east, the burnt mound was flanked by a deposit of varying extent and depth and of a similar matrix to the burnt mound except that it contained a higher frequency of small basalt stone and was noticeably less burnt. These deposits overlay a sticky grey clay (sooted black on its upper margin) varying in depth from 30mm to 0.1m and noticeably unburnt by the overlying burnt mound. The clay deposit overlay a thin lens of fine brown soil which in turn overlay the peat. Several metres to the south of the burnt mound lay a wedge shaped ramp-like feature cut into the peat, 1.8m wide and 2.1m long. The ‘ramp’ was comprised of alternating layers of soil intermixed with shattered sandstone, charcoally peat, cinder, ash, fine sand and grey clay. A small wooden stake was recovered from the base of the ramp on its shallow southern end. The stratigraphical interface between this feature and the burnt mound had been disturbed by a recent field drain.

Both the burnt mound and the ramp feature overlay part of a series of 10 roughly equidistantly spaced wooden posts (1m-1.2m apart) which had been driven directly into the peat. The posts did not extend beyond the end of the ramp (south) but did extend beyond the burnt mound as far as the wood to the north. All posts had been worked using a metal tool. Identification of the species of the posts is awaited.

Excavation on the peat margin to the west of the lake revealed two small burnt mounds (Trench 4). Only one was fully excavated, measuring 2.4m in diameter and 0.1m deep. Both were low, oval mounds, consisting of the same deposits and stratigraphic sequence; burnt mound material set onto grey clay overlying peat, as described above in Trench 3.

Two isolated features set directly onto the peat were discovered 13m to the east of the two small burnt mounds (Trench 5). These features were positioned c. 1m apart. Feature 1 consisted of an egg-shaped pit 1.2m long, 0.65m wide and 0.15m deep. The pit had a basal spread of crushed sandstone onto which was set a single piece of tree bark and then covered with a coarse charcoally black soil mixed with shattered sandstone and cinder. Feature 2, a keyhole-shaped pit c. 1.2m long, consisted of a wooden lattice work set onto crushed sandstone and covered with a spread of small unburnt basalt stones. The wooden lattice was 1m-1.2m long and 0.8m wide and consisted of a series of thin branches, some of whose ends had been roughly worked. A small dump of characteristic burnt mound material 0.5m wide lay beside the wooden lattice (west). The only find from this feature was a small wooden stake from below the wooden lattice.

No datable artefacts were recovered from any of the excavated contexts, however, a cup-marked stone was found lying amongst a dump of concrete and stone boulders between Trenches 4 and 5. As a result, the dating of both the burnt mound deposits and other features uncovered in the 1993 season will be determined through C-14 dating. Excavations supplemented with geophysical prospection will resume in 1994 to examine further burnt mound deposits and also to examine one of the barrows, which was directly associated with burnt mound material.