2003:2063 - CAPPAKEEL, Laois

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Laois Site name: CAPPAKEEL

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 03E0633

Author: Ros Ó Maoldúin, Valerie J. Keeley Ltd.

Site type: Ring-ditch, Linear earthwork and Charcoal-making site

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 655251m, N 704427m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.087578, -7.175205

This site was excavated as part of the works carried out in advance of the M7 Heath–Mayfield motorway construction. The excavation of Site F at Cappakeel townland revealed a prehistoric ring-ditch, a linear ditch of medieval date and a series of charcoal-production pits.

The ring-ditch was relatively small, with an internal diameter of 3.5m, and contained only the trace of an internal feature. It showed no evidence of any entrance but was disturbed on the north-west side by a linear medieval ditch. The burnt deposits that filled the ditch indicate at least two phases of deposition carried out after an initial phase of silting and separated by material thought to originate from the partial collapse of an external bank. These burnt deposits may represent a phase of activity carried out long after the construction of the ring-ditch, and may not even be analogous with the original purpose of this monument. The final deposition of material appears to have completely backfilled the ditch, effectively destroying, or at least reducing, one visual aspect of this monument. Five ferrous nails and a substantial quantity of cremated bone were recovered from that final deposition of burnt material. Nails of prehistoric or, more specifically, Iron Age date are relatively scarce from Irish contexts and these examples should greatly enhance our knowledge of their typology in Ireland. Parallels have been found on the excavations at Tara (Roche 2002, 72–5) and Ballydavis (Keeley 1999). Results of ongoing specialist analyses and 14C dates will assist in further interpretation of this monument.

The linear medieval ditch was orientated on a north-east/south-west axis and traversed most of the road-take. Its south-western terminal was revealed, but it continued out of the road-take to the north-east. It produced a crutch-headed stirrup-looped ring pin and a rotary grinding stone. Parallels for both of these artefacts can be seen on display in the Viking exhibition at the National Museum and suggest a date of c. 1000–1050. Coupled with the finds, the linear ditch suggests the existence of a contemporaneous settlement in the vicinity. The ditch may be part of a field system beside an enclosure similar to those recently discovered at Killickaweeny, Co. Kildare (Walsh and Harrison 2003), and Balriggan, Co. Louth (Delaney and Roycroft 2003).

A large number of pits following a discernible pattern and interpreted as charcoal-production pits were uncovered. They were all subrectangular, measuring c. 2m by 1m, were quite shallow, packed with charcoal, and portrayed evidence of intense burning in situ. At two locations, circular pits measuring c. 1.2m by 1.2m and with regular concave bases were found near the charcoal-production pits. The inherent qualities associated with different species of wood would have biased their selection for production of charcoal. For example, the burning of charcoal produced from the denser woods such as oak or fruit trees produces higher temperatures than that of the softer species. It is hoped that ongoing analysis of the samples retrieved from this site will suggest a reason for the charcoal-production pits and add to that body of knowledge.

Delaney, S. and Roycroft, N. 2003 Early medieval enclosure at Balriggan, Co. Louth. Archaeology Ireland 64, 16–19.
Keeley, V. 1999 Iron Age discoveries at Ballydavis. In P.G. Lane and W. Nolan (eds), Laois: history and society, 25–34. Dublin.
Roche, H. 2002 Excavations at Rath na Ríg, Tara, Co. Meath. Discovery Programme Monographs 6. Dublin.
Walsh, F. and Harrison, J. 2003 Early medieval enclosure at Killickaweeny, Co. Kildare. Archaeology Ireland 63, 33–6.

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