2003:1078 - MORETT, Laois

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Laois Site name: MORETT

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 03E0461

Author: Eamonn Cotter, for V.J. Keeley Ltd, Brehon House, Kilkenny Road, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny.

Site type: Linear earthwork, Structure, Furnace, Charcoal-making site, Metalworking site, Enclosure, Burial ground and Kiln - corn-drying

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 653679m, N 703379m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.078322, -7.198854

This site was excavated on the route of the M7 Heath–Mayfield Motorway Scheme from 30 April to 30 June 2003. It was discovered during testing along the road corridor. The site extended south-west/north-east along a c. 180m-long section of the road corridor, which was c. 80m wide. The south-western end of the site was part of the surrounding level plain, rising at the north-eastern end to a low hill. Morett Castle, a late medieval tower-house, stands c. 300m to the south. Three distinct groups of archaeological features were excavated, Areas A, B and C.

Area A was excavated at the western end of the site. The features in this area generally seem to relate to agricultural activity rather than having any domestic function. Two prominent field boundaries were noted. One was a linear ditch running south-west/north-east and extending across the full width of the excavated area. It varied in width from 0.75 to 1m and was c. 0.45m deep. To the south of it, a row of post-holes extended southwards for 7m, then curved to the south-west and continued for a further 7m, disappearing under the baulk, beyond the limit of the excavation. These probably represent a post-and-wattle field fence. To the north of the boundary ditch a setting of four large post-holes formed a square measuring 2.5m by 2.5m. Three of these post-holes averaged 0.7m in diameter, while the fourth was 0.9m. They ranged in depth from 0.5 to 0.75m. The structure represented by these post-holes would have been too small for domestic purposes and the posts may have carried a platform for grain storage. The fills of the post-holes contained small quantities of cremated bone and some pieces of flint debitage.

Another area of activity was located to the east of the row of post-holes. The main features here were a bowl furnace and a charcoal production pit. The pit measured 1.6m by 1.8m and was 0.53m deep. Its base and sides were intensely burned and the fills consisted of layers of burnt material and charcoal. The bowl furnace measured 0.65m in diameter and was 0.15m deep. It produced a small quantity of iron slag.

Area B was on the flat ground c. 20m to the east of Area A. A group of three bowl furnaces was excavated here, as well as a pit, which was probably used to produce charcoal for the furnaces. The furnaces were roughly circular in plan and ranged from 0.37 to 0.65m in diameter and from 0.18 to 0.28m in depth. All showed evidence of intense burning and large quantities of slag were retrieved from them. The charcoal production pit was roughly circular in plan and measured 1.6m by 1.9m and was 0.45m deep. It too showed evidence of intense burning and its fill contained several dense layers of charcoal. To the east of the bowl furnaces, a linear ditch ran approximately north–south through the excavated area. This was probably contemporary with another parallel ditch, C82, located c. 40m to the east, and C307, the ditch running at right angles in Area A. The basal fill of C82 produced a sherd of post-medieval pottery, indicating that the ditches are part of a post-medieval field system.

Area C encompassed the summit and slopes of the low hill which dominates the immediate landscape. The main feature here was a ring-barrow located on the eastern slope of the hill. The barrow measured c. 15m in diameter and was enclosed by a U-shaped ditch, which varied in width from 0.8 to 1.8m and had an average depth of 0.9m. The upper fill of the ditch contained a high proportion of fire-cracked stone and a considerable quantity of animal bone fragments. A number of heavily corroded metal objects, possibly nails, were also recovered from this fill. No archaeological features were noted within the enclosure.

A second, smaller circular enclosure was located approximately 30m to the south-west of the ring-barrow, on the hilltop. It measured c. 8.5m in diameter and the enclosing ditch was c. 0.51m wide and only 0.12m deep. Small quantities of animal bone were recovered from its one fill. A large iron axehead was found near the centre of the enclosure.

Approximately 25m south of the ring-barrow, four human inhumations were uncovered. Three were in a single, shallow grave and were aligned approximately east–west. They lay immediately below the thin topsoil and had been badly damaged by repeated ploughing. The fourth was c. 15m to the east and was aligned north-east/south-west. It too was in a shallow grave, but a setting of small rounded stones had been placed around it.

Four corn-drying kilns were found to the east of the barrow and the burials, on the east slope of the hill. They were sited c. 16m apart along a north-west/south-east line, following the contour of the hill, and each individual kiln lay on the same alignment (i.e. at right angles to the slope). All had a figure-of-eight ground plan and essentially consisted of two circular pits, one deeper than the other, the deeper one containing the hearth. In length the kilns ranged from 2.2 to 2.6m, while the deepest sections were c. 0.8m deep and the shallower sections c. 0.3m. The upper fill of one of the kilns produced quantities of iron slag and seems to have been reused as a bowl furnace.