NMI Burial Excavation Records


Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 94E0017

Author: Gerry Walsh, Road Design, Mayo County Council

Site type: Excavation - miscellaneous

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 519068m, N 764320m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.622444, -9.223374

Archaeological monitoring and excavations along the route of the proposed Ballinrobe sewerage and sewage disposal scheme began in February 1994 and were completed in December 1994. All the archaeological excavations were funded by Mayo Co. Council. Where the wayleaves ran through or adjacent to an archaeological site the archaeological excavations were strictly confined to the width of the strip of land acquired by Mayo Co. Council. The wayleaves on this scheme were up to 20m wide in places. The total length of the pipeline route was 16.3km. In the course of each individual excavation all features (including layers and structures) were given context numbers as they were revealed. In the text these numbers bear the prefix C (e.g. C5) Soil analysis and radio carbon dating tests are presently being undertaken by specialists on the material recovered from the excavations and the results of these were not to hand for this report.

1.Ballinrobe Demesne
Fulacht fiadh
Following topsoil removal and during pipelaying on the southern bank of the river Robe the levelled remains of four fulachtaí fiadha in a row were uncovered. A previous watermain was constructed in the adjacent area five years ago and modern fill seems to have been packed in around the four sites. An area c. 2m wide was excavated along the pipeline route.

Underlying the sod, 0.1m thick, was a layer of modern fill 0.8m thick. Underlying this was an iron pan layer 0.4m thick. The burnt mound material of the fulacht fiadh which was 4.4m long and 0.2m thick lay directly under the iron pan. Underlying the mound material and overlying the natural grey sand 0.01m thick was a peaty layer 0.07m thick. This peaty layer produced some wooden logs which may have been part of the original wood-lined trough. Over 200 animal bone specimens of which 49 were positively identified to species were also recovered from this layer; ninety-four per cent of the bone was cattle suggesting a diet based mainly on this species. Horse was represented by a single lower molar and pig by a first phalanx which was unfused at the proximal end. This indicated that the pig was slaughtered before it reached two years of age. Non-domestic species consisted of the distal end of a red deer humerus which points to small-scale hunting in the vicinity of the site. There were no obvious butchery marks on the deer bone but it appears to have been broken in antiquity by means of a sharp blow across the shaft with a heavy, blunt instrument, resulting in a spiral fracture of the shaft to expose the marrow cavity. No other wild species of animal was identified.

This sample can be interpreted as a concentration of bones derived principally from the butchery of two cattle carcasses. The age data available indicated that both individuals were under 2.5 years when slaughtered which implies that meat production seemed important. In the representation of skeletal elements it is clear that the sample consists mostly of meat-producing upper limb bones. It is possible that the meat brought to this fulacht fiadh came in the form of prepared joints and that very little butchery was undertaken in the vicinity of the site.

2. Ballinrobe Demesne
Fulacht fiadh
This site was situated adjacent to site Nos. 1 and 4. The burnt mound material survived up to a height of 0.95m. The mound was 11.24m long and surrounded by modern fill. An iron object, possibly a sickle, was recovered from the burnt mound material. The sickle is very corroded at the junction of the blade and tang. The tang is rectangular in section and the blade has an elongated section. The tip of the blade may be broken. The object presumably had a wooden handle. The overall length is 177mm, the blade width is 25mm and the tang width is 11mm. The weight is 118g.

3. Ballinrobe Demesne
Fulacht fiadh
This site was situated 1.4m south-east of site No. 2. An 8.47m spread of burnt mound material 0.3m thick was all that remained of this levelled site. An old grey sod layer 0.23m thick overlay the mound and underlay a 0.7m thick layer of modern fill. No small finds were recovered from the site.

4. Ballinrobe Demesne
Fulacht fiadh
This was situated adjoining site No.1. No small finds were recovered and the levelled mound material 0.2m thick which spread for a distance of 6.5m lay directly on a yellow/grey natural daub 0.16m thick. Overlying was an iron pan layer 0.03m thick. A layer of fill 0.75m thick overlay this and underlay the present sod level.

5. Ballinrobe Demesne
Stray find
A very weathered coin was recovered from the Common in this townland. One face shows a bust in relief facing right while the reverse side is too weathered to be deciphered.

6. Ballinrobe Demesne
Stray find
During topsoil removal in the vicinity of Burke's Castle an iron hook and a portion of a basal section of a wine bottle were recovered.

7. Ballinrobe Demesne
Stone circle SMR 118:134
Topsoil removal and pipe laying in the vicinity of this stone circle revealed no features or small finds of archaeological importance.

8. Cornarova
Stone culvert
This stone culvert ran diagonally across the western end of Glebe St. towards a shore at the corner of Main St., Ballinrobe. It was located 0.2m below present street level and was constructed of dry-stone-dressed masonry. The floor and roof were constructed of flat slabs c. 1m in length. The sides of the culvert, which were approximately 0.5m apart, consisted of two parallel rows of cut stone c. 0.3m high. Finds from the culvert, which could be of any date, include two sheep bones, one horse bone, a fragment of a rib from a large sized mammal, three shreds of late 19th-century ironstone china and two fragments of early 20th-century glass.

9. Cornarova
During pipelaying in Church Lane a total of 236 human teeth were recovered from a drain running north-south under the laneway. Almosts 70% of the teeth showed evidence for dental caries which suggests that they are probably modern and may have come from a dental surgery.

10. Friarsquarter West
Stray Finds
This is located within the medieval town area of Ballinrobe. During topsoil removal some stray finds were uncovered. These included some 19th-century clay pipe bowl and stem fragments, two sherds of 20th-century ironstone china and a 19th century ink bottle of clear glass.

11. Friarsquarter West
Human remains and stray finds
This site was located adjacent to the 14th-century Ballinrobe Abbey. During topsoil removal and pipelaying some human remains and stray finds were recovered.

The human remains, which seem to have been dumped here, were uncovered over a distance of 13m along the pipeline route. North of these remains and adjacent to the abbey wall a basal sherd of a late 19th-century stoneware jar and two clay pipe bowls, one 17th century, the other 19th century, were recovered from the topsoil.

12. Friarsquarter West
The well was uncovered during the removal of the footpath outside the Ulster Bank at the western end of Glebe St. It was covered by two flat slabs. It measured 1m in diameter and was dug to a depth of at least 18m. It was constructed of dry-stone, undressed masonry for most of its height, however the upper five courses contained mortared joints. Some of these upper stones were dressed and formed an internal corner at the south-east side of the well. One of the stones was decorated with regular chisel marks on one surface.

The site of the well is marked as a 'pump' on an estate map of Charles Nesbit Knox dated to 1832. It would appear therefore that the pump was in use 200 years ago and that it was installed using an existing well. The well may be considerably older than the pump, possibly of medieval date (14th–15th century). It was necessary to excavate the top course of masonry of the well to accommodate a 0.3m thick concrete 'biscuit' to cover the well before the footpath was replaced. The stones which were removed were numbered and put into storage.

13. Killasheheen
Church and graveyard SMR 118: 029
As the proposed pipeline was to run c. 8m west of this early church the wayleave adjacent to the site was trial trenched prior to topsoil removal. The church measured 14m north-south by 7m east-west and up to 0.3m of the overgrown walls survived. A cutting 12m x 7m wide was opened on the western side of the church. Small finds from the topsoil included:
1. A plain undifferentiated polished bone pin, parallel sided and tapering to a point. All surfaces are highly polished including the top of the head.
2. Two struck lithics, (a) an unretouched chert flake with a crushed striking platform and (b) an unretouched broken flake made of good quality fine grained dark grey/black flint.
3. A small fragment of a bronze mount. It is triangular in shape and broken at the narrower end. A perforation of 2.8mm diameter occurs in the upper section of the mount and the remains of a second perforation are visible along the fracture line. The mount is decorated with two parallel lightly incised lines along the edges and an intermediary row of short dashes. The mount may be prehistoric in date. The decoration is somewhat similar to the incised decoration of Early Bronze Age artefacts.
4. 18th–19th-century wine bottle fragments.
5. An iron rod which was made from a circular sectioned bar. It is splayed at one end and may originally have had a head similar to a bolt.
6. 17th-century clay pipe stem and bowl fragments.
7. Human skeletal remains. These comingled remains contained various skeletal elements from a minimum of seven individuals: two adults (one male and one female) and five children, including a teenager. Bones of all ages and both sexes were scattered throughout. However it is only possible to give a minimum number of individuals. Various pathologies were present. Dental defects occurred in one individual, dental attrition was evident on two teeth while strains to the right ankle joints of two subjects were seen.

A number of archaeological features were cut into the natural boulder clay. These included:
1. A 10m long, 0.7m wide shallow trench which ran in a north-west/south-east direction towards the south-west corner of the church.
2. A 3.5m long, 0.5m wide trench which ran east-west and contained at least four in situ human burials.
3. At least six other in situ human burials.

Following consultation with the engineering staff none of the above archaeological features were excavated. The cutting was carefully backfilled and no features were disturbed by the pipe-laying activity which was undertaken 5m to the west of the remains.

14. Rathkelly
Horse remains
The skeletal remains of two horses, two pairs of horse shoes from different horses and some wood fragments were uncovered. The size and type of horse shoe would seem to indicate that the remains were those of a cob (cross between a pony and a horse) and date from the post-medieval period. Early maps show that the old course of the river Robe originally meandered north of the existing treatment works site and the horse remains may have been dumped into the old river course.

15. Rathkelly
Fulacht fiadh
This site was discovered after topsoil removal and consisted of a 3m diameter spread of burnt stone and soil only 0.1m thick. Three utilised coarse stone tools were recovered from this. Two were made of very coarse sandstone with a high micaceous content. None show any signs of modification prior to being used. The largest is roughly oval-shaped and red/brown in colour. Evidence for use is visible on one face where it is likely that heavy grinding or prolonged abrasion has produced a very flattened smooth surface. The smaller example is coarser in texture and yellow in colour. Here also the evidence for use is confined to both edges, each of which has been worked to a flattened surface. The third coarse stone tool is broken with one surface very slightly dished in profile and may have functioned as some type of sharpening stone. Two animal teeth were also recovered. One was the upper molar from a horse which, judging from the wear pattern, belonged to an animal over five years of age. The other was a cattle lower molar which was quite heavily worn.

16. Rathkelly
Ringfort SMR 118:021
Topsoil removal and pipe laying in the vicinity of this ringfort revealed no features or small finds of archaeological importance.

17. Rathkelly
Fulacht Fiadh
This site is located on the northern bank of the river Robe. Following topsoil removal an oval area of charcoal-enriched dark brown sandy silt loam packed with fragments of heat shattered stones (C2) measuring 7.5m x 4.5m was exposed. This levelled burnt mound material was up to 0.22m thick and small finds recovered from it include a slightly broken chert barbed and tanged arrowhead which has been finely pressure flaked all over on both surfaces, a lower molar of a sheep, and an unretouched flint flake. A burnt red lens 0.06m thick overlay the top soil at the northern end of the site. A burnt red silt loam with some burnt stones 0.04m thick lay directly above C2 in the centre of the site.

Underlying C2 and overlying the natural limestone bedrock at the southern end was a compact conglomerate layer of stone, possibly iron slag and charcoal. This measured 5.5m x 2m and was up to 0.3m thick in places. It may represent the remains of a hearth area. Overlying it at the southern side of the site was a black soil with burnt stones 0.08m thick. Underlying the northern end of the burnt mound material (C2) was a dark brown silty clay loam (C3) measuring 0.42m x 0.4m and 0.26m thick. It is possible that this natural depression in the bedrock was used as a cooking trough and that C3 represents the fill of the trough which had accumulated since the last cooking . C3 produced an unretouched flint flake and some 'pot boilers' - rounded stones which may have been inserted into the trough at the appropriate time to keep the water at boiling point. A very dusky red silty clay loam at the north-east side of the site may represent the burning of the natural boulder clay. While the underlying local natural rock is limestone, the predominant stone type in the burnt mound was sandstone. Sandstone was probably specially selected and brought to the site as it is more resistant to shattering and could be re-used whereas limestone would tend to disintegrate more rapidly. A spread of burnt stone (4. 5m x 3.5m) 2m to the west probably represents the levelled remains of another fulacht fiadh. Fulachtaí fiadha generally date to the Bronze Age and the finding of a barbed and tanged chert arrowhead, a diagnostic find of the Bronze Age, would tend to support this date. However, the presence of iron (if not natual) at this site may suggest a later date. Charcoal samples from the site have been sent for radio carbon testing and these results should give a more precise date.

Castlebar, Co. Mayo