2000:0715 - TULLYALLEN 1, Louth

County: Louth Site name: TULLYALLEN 1

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 00E0429

Author: Robert M. Chapple, 20 Thalia Street, Belfast BT12 5PT, Northern Ireland, for Valerie J. Keeley Ltd.

Site type: Ring barrow

ITM: E 705683m, N 776539m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.727793, -6.398455

The site was discovered by Kieran Campbell as part of a licensed monitoring strategy implemented on the Northern Motorway project, for Meath County Council. The site measured c. 200m2 and lay c. 1.6km south-west of Drogheda and c. 1.2km south-east of Tullyallen village in open pastureland, sloping gently to the west and south, with extensive views in all directions (c. 33.69m OD). Prior to discovery the site was unknown and presented no surface profile.

On first examination the ring-barrow appeared to be subcircular in plan and comprised a shallow, round-bottomed ditch with a centrally placed cremation within a pottery vessel. In the process of mechanically stripping the area, however, the uppermost end of the pot had been shorn, exposing its contents and scattering a number of pottery sherds. The pottery type could not be identified on site, but it appeared to have been quite coarse and placed in an inverted position covering the cremated bone. For the sake of the integrity of these deposits, and to facilitate both the conservation of the vessel and the maximisation of the recorded data, a decision was made to lift the whole in a block of subsoil. This has since been passed to Carina Morton for detailed analysis, the results of which are awaited.

As stated previously, the enclosing ditch initially appeared as a relatively shallow, continuous cut without an entrance causeway. However, on fuller examination (still ongoing at February 2001) there appear to have been three definable phases of ditch cutting. The earliest (C64) represented a significant expenditure of labour and resources to produce an annular ditch of 12.8m (north–south) by 13.2m. This ditch was c. 1m deep by 1.9m wide at the upper break of slope, narrowing to 0.25m at the base. The digging of this feature encountered a natural sink-hole within the subsoil at the western edge of this ditch. This had been backfilled using a compact, dark brown, sandy clay with moderate charcoal inclusions. As the cremation is placed centrally within this earliest cut, close contemporanity must be assumed between the two. As there was little evidence of either fluvial or human deposition within this cut, it must have been open to the elements for only a brief period. At this point the ditch was backfilled with a number of layers of exceptionally clean, redeposited subsoil.

The second phase of the site was represented by a shallower recut of the ditch (C71). This recut was c. 0.85m deep by c. 1.25m wide at the upper break of slope, narrowing to 0.1m at the base. This cut, unlike C64, appears to have been open to the elements for a somewhat longer period, as some fluvial deposition appears to have taken place. This layer, where it could be identified, appeared as a plastic, dirty white to grey-brown, gritty clay. In turn this too was backfilled with clean, redeposited subsoil, similar to that used to fill C64. During this phase a second natural sink-hole appears to have been dug in the southern portion of the ditch, resulting in a collapse and mixing of the deposits at this point.

The final phase of cut (C2) was an easily visible shallow ditch with a wide U-shaped profile. This cut was c. 0.55m deep by c. 1m wide at the upper break of slope, falling to c. 0.3m at the base. The numerous fills of this cut included dark, charcoal-rich clays coupled with areas of dirty redeposited subsoil. Taken together these would indicate that this ditch phase was left open for a considerable period of time. The time period envisioned would have been sufficient to fill it completely, probably by a combination of both human and natural agencies from the prehistoric period to modern times. Within this sequence the final series of burial-related activities appears to have included the deposition of at least six token cremations (without vessels) in the south-eastern quadrant of the C2 ditch fill. However, the harsh method of topsoil-stripping employed by the contractor (which included at least 0.2m of the subsoil) may have also resulted in the removal of substantial portions of these features, making them appear more modest in scale than originally deposited.