2000:0977 - AHANAGLOGH–GRAIGUESHONEEN, Waterford

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Waterford Site name: AHANAGLOGH–GRAIGUESHONEEN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 98E0575

Author: John Tierney, Áine Richardson and Bill Frazer, Eachtra Archaeological Projects, Ballytrisnane, Old Parish, Co. Waterford.

Site type: Prehistoric

ITM: E 638660m, N 605492m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.199857, -7.434459

Eachtra Archaeological Projects was engaged by Waterford County Council in November 1998 to carry out trial excavations on the proposed N25 Road Realignment near Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford. Excavations initially focused on the townland of Ahanaglogh, where a known fulacht fiadh (SMR 15:48) existed, the northern edge of which was within the road-take. Test-trenches were dug north of the mound, to assess whether there were any remains of former habitation sites upslope from the mound. The excavations revealed the presence of a large amount of archaeological deposits, including at least two extensive linear features that appeared to be ditches. Other features also appeared, as relatively isolated burnt spreads, some of which were rich in iron slag. It became obvious that the ditches extended beyond the area of the original trenches, and it was decided that the whole field would have to be investigated. This commenced in May 1999.

The topsoil in the original field (Field 1, bounded on its western side by a road) and in the adjacent field to the east (Field 2) was removed. This revealed that the ditches stretched from the middle of Field 2, along the contour line that enclosed the flatter, northern part of Field 1, for a length of c. 280m before disappearing outside the northern limit of excavation. Along the length of the ditches there were several areas of concentrated archaeological activity. Each of these areas was numbered and excavated separately.

While excavations were ongoing in Fields 1 and 2, it was decided to test fields further to the east to determine if the ditches continued and also because other potential archaeological deposits were appearing at the eastern edge of Field 2. Testing revealed that the ditches did continue, leaving the limit of excavation in the south-east corner of Field 2 and re-entering the line of the new road further east in Fields 4 and 5. Other archaeological features occurred in Fields 3, 4 and 5, including two potential fulachta fiadh and a Beaker period or Early Bronze Age structure.

A synopsis of the evidence recovered from the excavation of the archaeological remains is presented below.

Prehistoric

Fulacht fiadh, SMR 15:48

This large fulacht fiadh was situated in a flat area at the base of a south-facing slope. The land to the east, west and south was flat but prone to flooding. The decision to excavate was taken in order to determine whether or not there was any organic content within the mound that would be adversely affected by the drainage effect of the new N25 road to the north. A 10m by 10m area was opened in the centre of the mound, where there was a central hollow, which was deemed the most likely location for a trough with organic material in situ. This method for the most part proved successful as a trough was identified and excavated.

The burnt mound was truncated on the surface by a series of cultivation furrows. This truncation did not greatly affect the integrity of the monument, as it was substantial in area (diameter c. 30m) and depth (c. 1m). The trough was underlying a large number of burnt mound deposits. It is likely that these deposits originated from another trough or troughs. The surface area of the fulacht fiadh and the fact that such a depth of burnt mound material covered the trough support the hypothesis that there was more than one trough. The excavated trough was subrectangular in plan. It had artificial corners to the west (created by the limits of the excavation) and was 2.3m long (east–west), 1.4m wide and c. 0.4m deep. Its upper fills consisted of burnt mound material, while at the base there were some silty, more organic fills. These fills indicate that the trough was empty for some time before it was backfilled by burnt mound material. A small stake, c. 0.15m long and 0.05m in diameter, was found inserted in the natural subsoil at the base of the trough and was pointed at its upper end. A large, flat boulder was situated immediately north-east of the trough and may have been utilised during activities taking place there.

Area 17

Area 17 was located at the base of the south-facing slope in Field 1, c. 80m west-north-west of the large fulacht fiadh first excavated. The site consisted of a small trough and burnt mound spread of c. 3m2. There were also a number of post-holes c. 5m north of the trough. The trough was 1.68m long (north–south), 1.48m wide and 0.43m deep. There were a number of burnt mound layers within the trough, suggesting backfilling when the fulacht fiadh fell into disuse. Eight post-holes were uncovered to the north of this small fulacht fiadh. They appear to form two possible arc patterns. The posts were quite substantial in size, but there is no other evidence for a structure. They may have supported a more extensive fence or windbreaker associated with the fulacht fiadh.

Area 19

Approximately 25m north-east of Area 17 there was a curvilinear feature with a number of internal and external pits. The area within the curvilinear cut measured a maximum of 3m in width and contained a number of stake- and post-holes. The full extent of it is unknown, as it was truncated to the south by a linear ditch feature, which removed its entire southern edge. This may have been the slot-trench of a subcircular structure. The pits were filled with possible domestic waste and some burnt material. The date of this feature is as yet unknown.

Trench 7

This trench was situated about 50m east of Area 19 and c. 40m north-north-west of the large fulacht fiadh. It contained a large but very shallow hearth feature, which was 1.85m long (east–west) by 0.85m. It was filled with charcoal-rich, silty deposits, which overlay the pinkish-red, scorched, natural subsoil. The hearth was immediately surrounded by fourteen stake-holes, probably the remains of hearth furniture. This feature was associated with prehistoric pottery. There was no evidence for a large structure associated with this hearth. Approximately 15m to the east there was a small isolated pit, which contained charcoal-rich fills and more sherds of prehistoric pottery.

Area 15

Approximately 60m east of Trench 7 and 50m north-east of the large fulacht fiadh was a small area with possible prehistoric activity. A hearth and some insubstantial stake- and post-holes were excavated.

Area 13

This area was situated in Field 2, 30m east of Area 15. The most extensive feature found here was a curvilinear foundation slot-trench. It formed an inverted L-shape in plan, with the corner of the L being quite rounded. It was c. 2.8m long (north–south) and c. 0.35m deep. The east–west part of the L-shape was c. 2m long. Within this cut were 22 stake-holes, all of which were cut into a single fill of dark orange-brown clay. The other fills of the slot were similar to the natural subsoil and may have comprised redeposited natural used as packing fills to support a structure. Prehistoric pottery was found associated with this feature. The largest sherd was decorated on its exterior with a ‘stab and drag’ pattern.

North-east of Area 13, 47 stake-holes were excavated. Some of these broadly formed two lines, but the rest were randomly scattered. These stake-holes were not associated with any other features, and there was no evidence of a foundation trench.

Field 3

This was the third field to be investigated. The main area of activity was situated at the base of a gentle slope in the south-east of the field. A large number of stake-holes and pits were uncovered. The stake-holes formed three concentric rings, the most substantial being the internal one. The maximum depth of the stake-holes was 0.3m. They appear to have formed a structure, which was probably of wattle construction. The entrance to this building was most likely to the north-east, where there was a distinct absence of stake-holes. The internal diameter of the structure was c. 12m.

There was one pit to the south-east of the structure, which contained possible Beaker pottery, and another, shallower one located to the extreme west of the structure, also containing prehistoric pottery. There were four pits to the north-eastern exterior of this feature, measuring on average 0.5m in diameter and 0.15m in depth. All were similar in morphology and most likely served the same purpose, i.e. domestic waste pits.

Within Field 3, c. 30m north-east of this circular structure, there was another series of seven pits, similar in morphology to those immediately north-east of the structure.

Field 4, Area 30

Area 30 was the name given to the site of a large fulacht fiadh in Field 4. The mound was situated on the eastern side of a natural pond feature, which had been backfilled during land improvements, thus masking the site. The mound had been severely affected by modern, post-medieval and medieval agricultural activity. One trough was discovered, which had later been recut after a period of disuse or abandonment. The trough was subrectangular in plan with rounded corners and was 2.46m long, 1.68m wide and 0.54m deep. It had 25 different stakes and posts driven into its sides, which may have supported a lining for the trough. It was not possible to determine how many phases these stakes represented; however, it is likely that they were not all contemporaneous. One pit was also excavated. This was circular in plan, 1.4m in diameter and 0.45m deep. The base of the pit had eleven stake-holes distributed relatively evenly around its perimeter. These may have supported a wicker lining. The pit may have been used as a trough. A line of stake-holes at the north-west edge of the mound was also discovered. These were interpreted as a fence that served to demarcate the mound and to prevent overspill of the mound deposits.

Fifteen metres west of the fulacht fiadh, on the opposite side of the pond, a series of pits, post-holes and layers was found, which contained prehistoric pottery.

Medieval

A series of extensive, intertwining linear features was revealed as part of the original test excavations upslope from the large fulacht fiadh. As it was obvious that these features extended beyond the test-trenches, it was decided that the whole field would have to be investigated. This revealed that the ditches continued into the next field to the east (Field 2). The ditches stretched for a length of c. 280m from the southern limit of excavation in Field 2, along the contour line that enclosed the flatter, northern part of Field 1, to approximately two-thirds of the way across Field 1, before they disappeared outside the northern limit of excavation. A possible third ditch was revealed at the base of the slope in Field 1. As excavations progressed, it became apparent that there were more ditches present than was originally thought. Each ditch was labelled with a different letter in order to differentiate between them.

Ditch A

This ditch entered the line of the road-take in the southern part of Field 2. It traversed Field 1 along the contour line for c. 200m before terminating just north of Area 19 and immediately east of Ditch D. It was on average 0.9m deep and 1.25m wide. In general the sides were relatively steep, and the base was flat to slightly concave. Ditch B crossed over this ditch three times, severely truncating it. Ditch A was probably medieval in date.

Ditch B

Ditch B stretched for a length of c. 280m from the southern limit of excavation in Field 2, along the contour line that enclosed the flatter, northern part of Field 1, to approximately two-thirds of the way across Field 1, before it disappeared outside the northern limit of excavation. It was largely parallel to Ditch A until Ditch A terminated; after this it continued and became largely parallel to Ditch E. This ditch was on average 0.5m deep, although this varied quite a lot across its length. It was on average 1.5m wide. This ditch was later in date than Ditches A, D and E.

Ditch C

Ditch C was situated at the base of the south-facing slope of Field 1, parallel to Ditches A and B. However, it was extremely wide and shallow, and its function is uncertain. Directly north of the large fulacht fiadh, the ditch had only a northern edge. The ditch varied from 0.2m to 0.7m deep and from 1.2m to 2m wide.

Ditch D

This ditch ran north-east/south-west through the middle of Field 1. Its northern limit was just within the limit of excavation, 9m north-west of the terminus of Ditch B. It was similar in shape and size to Ditches A and E.

Ditch E

The eastern limit of this ditch was located immediately west of Ditch D. It extended along the contour line, aligned east–west initially, and then changed orientation so that it extended beyond the northern limit of excavation. This was for a length of c. 65m. Ditch E was similar to Ditches A and D in shape and size. It was severely truncated by Ditch B.

Others

Two more ditches similar in size and morphology to Ditches A, D and E were excavated in Fields 4 and 5 to the east. It is not known if these were part of the same ditch or part of Ditch A, re-entering the limit of excavation from the south.

All of the ditches had been recut on numerous occasions, indicating that they were long-lived boundary divisions. The favoured interpretation is that these form the outer boundaries of an infield/outfield farming system centred on the medieval settlement in Kilmacthomas.

Area 16

Area 16 was situated in Field 1. The area straddled the contour line enclosing the flatter, northern part of the field, along which the ditches ran. The majority of the archaeology present, apart from the ditches themselves, was found north of this line. This consisted of features rich in charcoal and slag, with associated structural evidence.

During excavation, it was immediately obvious that most of the features had functioned as metalworking pits, similar in nature to pits found to the east in nearby Area 11 and to pits excavated in the previous January, north of the burnt mound. Excavation showed, however, that each pit is likely to have had a slightly different function, ranging from smelting to smithing to alloying of metals. In some cases it was difficult to determine if the pits had ever functioned as metalworking pits or if they were dug for disposal of a waste by-product. The group contains eight pits in total, which varied in size and morphology.

Structural evidence around the pits suggested a superstructure in some cases, which may indicate that these pits were used as smelting furnaces, as may the presence of tempered clay with slag attached. Rows of stake-holes near other pits suggest possible windbreaks. Other structural evidence apparently was not associated with the pits directly, and there may have been a shelter or hut of some sort on the site.

Area 16 had a baulk running north–south down its centre, and most of the features mentioned above were to the east of this. When the baulk was removed a keyhole-shaped kiln was the main feature revealed. The kiln was backfilled with sediments rich in iron slag, although its primary function is not yet determined. Morphologically it is similar to medieval corn-drying kilns.

Area 11

Area 11 was situated in Field 1, north-west of the previously known fulacht fiadh (SMR 15:48), immediately north of Area 17, west of Area 19 and east of Area 16. The archaeology here made use of an above-mentioned east–west-aligned break of slope that became increasingly evident as deposits resulting from post-medieval and modern agricultural activity were removed. The archaeology consisted of a series of boundary/water management ditches extensive earlier evidence for iron production in the form of bowl furnaces, waste dump deposits and a possible ore roasting ‘bed’. Further evidence for windshields, fencing and a (probably open-air) shelter of some sort was also unearthed.

The iron production has been tentatively dated to about the 13th century as a result of a single medieval pottery sherd recovered from a secure context within a furnace waste pit. Carbon dates taken from several other contexts will help to confirm this, but the technological level of the activities in Areas 11 and 16 also suggests a medieval/later medieval date.

Editor’s note: The summary of this excavation, which was carried out during 1999, arrived too late for publication in the bulletin of that year.