1995:172 - THE CAISEAL, Knockroe, Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: THE CAISEAL, Knockroe

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: E000554

Author: Muiris O'Sullivan, Dept. of Archaeology, University College Dublin

Site type: Megalithic tomb - passage tomb

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

ITM: E 640741m, N 631248m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.431206, -7.400891

The 1995 season, projected as the last of four campaigns, extended over six weeks. It was an intensive programme involving a team of about 15 people. Four principal objectives were set:
(1) to complete the excavation of the eastern tomb; (2) to excavate the western tomb and its immediate environment;
(3) to place strategic cuttings across the laneway in order to link the stratigraphy north and south of it and to check for evidence of kerbstones beneath it;(4) to conduct a full survey of the megalithic art on the site.

(1) The process of completing the excavation of the eastern tomb involved two elements: (a) the straightforward exercise of investigating the left-hand recess and (b) an examination of all other outstanding deposits (e.g. between the orthostats on the northern side of the main chamber and beneath a stone slab in the antechamber). The evidence uncovered was in line with the information extracted in 1994 (Excavations 1994, 49–50).

(2) A large cutting was opened on the western side of the cairn, incorporating the western tomb and an extensive area around it. This established that the tomb was much more substantial than the eastern structure. The internal area was subdivided by sills and each compartment was floored with a stone slab. The facade in front of the tomb proved to be most untypical. It is more a residual court than a standard passage tomb facade. As in the case of the eastern tomb, numerous pieces of quartz were found. A pit containing a substantial amount of ashes occurred in front of the tomb and there was a blocking of large boulders around the entrance to the passage. The excavation of the tomb itself was made more difficult by the existence of an ash root in the chamber. This was eventually undermined and removed. The burial deposits included standard passage tomb items: large quantities of cremated bone, some unburned bones and a selection of pendants and pins. There was also a Vase Food Vessel and sherds of other vessels. Since the flooring slabs emerged towards the end of the season, it was not possible to take steps to have them lifted in order to check for deposits underneath. A preliminary exploration indicates that a considerable layer of redeposited material exists underneath the flooring slab in the main chamber. Further exploration would probably involve disturbing the orthostats.

(3) Three cuttings were placed across the laneway. One ran across the approximate centre of the cairn, making a satisfactory link between the stratigraphic profiles north and south of the laneway. This cutting proved beyond doubt that the present cairn fill, apart from its lowest course, is a secondary feature built against the southern wall of the laneway, now removed. Two further cuttings were inserted to check the line of the kerb where it crossed the laneway on the eastern and western sides of the cairn. No direct remains of kerbstones were uncovered but a socket was found on the eastern side.

(4) Thirty decorated stones were encountered; they were described, photographed and drawn. These decorated stones are distributed equally between the eastern tomb, the western tomb and the kerb. A considerable amount of previously hidden art was exposed at the base of the orthostats in the western tomb. It proved to be very well preserved and there are some interesting designs. The art of the eastern tomb is surprisingly restricted in content, and very lightly picked. Some further decorated surfaces were also uncovered along the kerb.

Dr Willie Warren from the Geological Survey visited the site during the excavation and he is preparing a report on the geology of the stones. The pottery and the human bone are both with specialists and it is hoped to establish some C14 determinations from suitable charcoal samples. A definitive excavation report ought to be available by the end of the summer of 1996.