2003:1344 - TONYBAUN, Mayo

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Mayo Site name: TONYBAUN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 39:107 Licence number: 03E0139

Author: Joanna Nolan, c/o Regional Design Office, Mayo County Council

Site type: Children's burial ground and Metalworking site

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 524398m, N 811640m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.048379, -9.154457

The realignment of the N26 (N26 Ballina-Bohola, Stage I, Carrowntreila) will run through most of this site, which had to be excavated in advance of topsoil removal on the route. The site survived as a rectangular area with the long axis running east-west; it was raised above the surrounding fields to a height of between 0.8 and 1m and measured 17m north-south by 22m. It was heavily overgrown by briars, bushes and four or five large sycamore trees. The site is well known in the area; some local people have had family members buried here. Local information suggests that the last burial took place here about 50 years ago.

The site was bounded on three sides by walls built of small, roughly squared limestone, which are common in the area. The north and south sides of the site were bounded by collapsed walls which appeared similar in stonework. Inside these walls and on a slightly different axis were remnant traces of what appeared to be the original site boundary; all that remained were footings of a drystone wall.

A geophysical survey was carried out around the site in December 2002 by GeoArc Ltd, under licence number 02R188, at the request of DĂșchas, to investigate the possibility that it could contain features relating to earlier use. It identified a very subtle anomaly which curved from the south-south-east round to the east side of the site and towards the north-north-west.

Testing of the site was carried out between February and April of 2003, with full excavation taking place in May. At the northern limit of the testing area, an apparent large V-shaped ditch was revealed. Excavation established that it was non-archaeological, perhaps cut by water running through a particularly soft sandy/gravelly pocket in the natural.

About 1.36m to the north of this, a group of features indicating metalworking activities were found. This comprised a bowl-shaped furnace pit, a spread of charcoal and fire-reddened clay to the north of the furnace pit, and, underlying this spread at its south-west edge, a second small round pit. The spread of charcoal was centred on a large flat-topped boulder which may also have been used as an anvil to crush ore-bearing rocks before they were put into the furnace pit. About 2m to the west of this group of features was a third, irregularly shaped, flat-bottomed shallow pit. It contained dense charcoal, including charred wood fragments at its base, and burnt stones randomly dotted through the fill; it was probably used as a hearth.

Two large trenches (C and D) were dug in the area between the burial ground and the 'ditch'. They revealed large areas of lazy-bed ridge and furrow systems, with another roughly circular bowl furnace pit located at the north end of Trench C. It contained a stone lining of five flat stones set upright and/or on edge and abutting each other in a circular arrangement. In the base of the pit was another small, squarish slab laid flat. All of these stones were fire-cracked. Gaps between the uprights were filled with a very fine-grained silt or dauby clay. The pit fill was dense comminuted charcoal mixed with a little topsoil. It contained a very large amount of pure furnace bloom, which would probably have been suitable for smelting and casting. This bloom may have survived from the last use of the furnace pit.

Excavation of the burial ground revealed that the burial markers were part of roughly rectangular stone settings. The best examples were regular in outline and the east (head) and west (foot) ends were marked by large stones, often roughly triangular in outline, laid flat. They seem to have been constructed on and within the lower layer of topsoil. This was a yellowish-brown silt-rich clay with a good deal of root activity through it. The children's burials were mainly contained within this layer. These stone settings did not line grave-cuts; they were separated from the actual burial by at least 0.4m of topsoil. The burials were interred in coffins, small wooden boxes held together by iron nails. Bone preservation was often poor. There had been a good deal of disturbance on this site; tree root activity and animal burrows were common. There was also evidence that skeletal material was disturbed by later burials; stray pieces of individual bones and concentrations of unrelated parts of skeletons were found at varying levels in the topsoil.

Two hundred and forty-eight burials were recovered from the site, 181 children and 67 adults, and of these only 214 were complete enough to send for analysis by Dr Eileen Murphy of the Department of Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University, Belfast. 14C dates were obtained for seven of the adult skeletons at the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit; the dates ranged from 345+/-29 BP to 159+/-30 BP.

Glen Park, The Mall, Castlebar, Co. Mayo