NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Sligo Site name: KNOCKNAREA MOUNTAIN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 99E0227

Author: Stefan Bergh, 47 Ferndale, Cairns Hill, Sligo.

Site type: Complex of Neolithic banks

ITM: E 566994m, N 836395m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.275291, -8.506775

The Knocknarea Archaeological Project is a two-year project (1999-2000) focusing on the characteristic mountain of Knocknarea, Co. Sligo. The main aim of the project is to expand our interpretation of the role of this mountain in the symbolic and physical world of Neolithic Cúil Irra.

The project involves extensive fieldwork, including a field-walking programme, field survey, trial excavations and geophysical and digital surveys of the prehistoric sites and the topography of the mountain. The main funding of the project comes from the Swedish Foundation for International Co-operation in Research and Higher Education. The geophysical and digital surveys have been funded by the Heritage Council, while the trial excavations have been funded by Dúchas.

Within the Carrowmore Project in the early 1980s at least four hut sites were identified around the 275m contour on the north-eastern slopes of the mountain. During fieldwork in 1992 it was noted that some of these hut sites seemed to lie along a hitherto unnoticed bank-like feature, running diagonally down the hillside to an altitude of c. 240m. This bank seemed to have a length of c. 250m and constituted a major feature on the eastern side of the mountain. A possible interpretation was that it constituted a part of a route up to the summit, as it was placed at a point where the summit could be reached fairly easily in comparison to the modern path to the top. For the interpretation of the mountain's role in prehistory, it was important to understand the character of these features. A trial excavation was therefore carried out during 1999.

The main aim was to establish the nature and date of the bank and also to establish the relation between the bank and one of the recorded hut sites, seemingly lying immediately inside the bank.

An area of 51m2 was excavated, divided into ten trenches. However, only a small part of this area was excavated down to undisturbed natural.

The preliminary results from the excavations can be summarised as follows. The substantial bank recorded along the hillside is a man-made feature. Where excavated, it had a core of stones and slabs, indicating an early phase in the form of an actual wall. This had been covered by gravel and smaller stones, creating a more smoothly shaped bank c. 1.2m high and c. 4m wide. The height and width, however, varied considerably along the bank. In some places the bank was clearly segmented by gaps.

Furthermore, probably the most important discovery was that the part recorded within the area of excavation proved to be just a portion of a very substantial system of walls enclosing the entire eastern side of Knocknarea Mountain.

There were no actual 'hut sites' (i.e. demarcated by circular banks) along the bank, as was originally assumed. Instead a number of horizontal 'floors' had been constructed along the bank on its uphill side. The 'floors' consisted of very fine limestone gravel, with a texture similar to marl. A large number of artefacts-flakes and splinters, mainly of chert-were recorded within these 'floors'. The most common artefact was the concave scraper. Flint was also present, both as artefacts and as flakes and splinters. The variation and the amount of debris implied highly intensive production of stone artefacts along the bank.

A few sherds of decorated Neolithic pottery and an amber bead were recorded in a low layer in one of the 'floors'.

The finds made within these 'floors' were identical to those made in the nearby hut sites excavated within the Carrowmore Project in 1980. As two of these hut sites were dated to c. 3000 BC, it is reasonable to assume a similar date for 'floors' along the bank.

As the 'floors' and the distribution of finds partly overlay the bank, and also formed an integral part of the bank, the dating of the 'floors' to the Neolithic gives a terminus ante quem for the bank. It is likely, however, that the bank and the 'floors' are contemporary. It should be stressed that no finds were made in the bank proper.

The excavation has revealed the presence of a large and relatively complex system of banks and walls along the eastern side of Knocknarea Mountain. The banks seem to have an early phase consisting of a stone wall with nearly vertical sides and a flat top. This wall has, in a second phase, been given a smoother profile by adding gravel and smaller stones, thereby creating a bank nearly 4m wide and c. 1m high. Just inside the bank, on the uphill side, several more-or-less levelled 'floors' have been created by adding limestone gravel.

Along these banks large amounts of debris from stone tool production, mainly in chert, indicate very intensive activity. The dominating artefact is the concave scraper, which occurs both in chert and flint. These implements seem to have been manufactured, used and disposed of along the bank.

The banks and huts are parts of a very large and complex system of features 240-270m above sea level, along the upper part of the eastern slope of Knocknarea. However, the nature of the activity represented by these feature is still not clear. It is obvious that this northern group of huts and banks has its southern counterpart, in regard to construction and activity, in the c. 21 huts recently discovered nearly 1km to the south. A central feature in the whole complex is the extensive enclosure on the eastern side of the mountain, linking the different areas and also cutting off the mountain to the east. The activity represented by the huts was clearly restricted to the upper part of the mountain, and it is reasonable to assume that this activity was in some respect linked to the ritual monuments on the very summit, dominated by the well-known cairn of Miosgán Meadhbha.