2003:1503 - MONANNY 1, Monaghan

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Monaghan Site name: MONANNY 1

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 03E0888

Author: Fintan Walsh, Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd.

Site type: House - Neolithic, Pit and Enclosure

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 684199m, N 805243m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.989575, -6.716059

A 6400m2 excavation in the townland of Monanny, c. 1km to the north of Carrickmacross, was funded by Monaghan County Council and the National Roads Authority in advance of the construction of the 8.137km N2 Carrickmacross–Aclint Road Realignment. The previously unknown site (Monanny 1) had been discovered at route Chainage 17600–17680 during a testing programme undertaken in March–April 2003. Resolution excavation was completed from June to September.

The main focus of the site occupies a low-lying area adjacent to a small river (part of the Glyde River system). The site is located on a gentle south-facing slope and is surrounded on the north and west by low drumlins, which shelter it from prevailing winds. The area immediately to the south (on the opposite side of the river) is in part low-lying and liable to flooding. The land immediately south-west and west of the site is defined by small tree-covered hillocks.

The surrounding topography provides a sheltered location in the landscape. The adjacent river is also rich in salmon, trout and eel. The site's location may have been chosen for these reasons.

It is probable that the majority of the site's occupation dates from the Early Neolithic period. The structures fit into the known typology for Early Neolithic house types and are comparable to such sites as Tankardstown 1 and 2 and Corbally, which produced radiocarbon dates of c. 4000–3000 BC. The finds from Monanny 1, which included over 2000 sherds of fine, hand-thrown pottery and a polished stone axe, are also indicative of this period.

Monanny 1 was divided into four areas (Areas A–D) for the purpose of excavation. The three structures were described as Structures A, B and C.

Area A
Area A contained the remains of a badly scarped Neolithic (house) structure with associated pits, post-holes and linear features. All features were cut by plough furrows of post-medieval/modern date orientated north-west/south-east.

Structure A survived as a shallow subrectangular foundation trench cutting subsoil. The structure measured c. 10m east-west by 6–7m. The internal floor space area measured 54m2. No trace of the southern wall survived and a possible entrance threshold was identified in the north-west corner. A number of stone-packed post-holes were associated with the southern limits of the eastern and western walls, with some evidence also of support posts cut into the packing material of these posts. It was clear that the main structural posts were located in the four corners of the structure, while the foundation trench would have supported upright planks. No internal features were present. The structure showed clear phases of construction and abandonment.

Excavation revealed that the structure's walls were mostly based on a bed of redeposited natural, which was evident along the length of the slot. Planks and posts would have been placed on this, with packing material placed around the structural elements. This packing consisted of a mixed/mottled, compact, redeposited natural, which was evident along the length of the slot. Evidence of posts was revealed by circular voids within this packing material. The voids were filled with occupation material that had entered after the probably deliberate abandonment of the structure. The occupation material consisted of charcoal-rich clays with abundant amounts of Early Neolithic pottery. The western wall of Structure A seems to have been burnt down, which probably was the reason for the abandonment of the structure, as no evidence of rebuilding is present. Evidence of burning comes from a possible in situ burnt plank within the foundation trench of the western wall.

The pits and post-holes in the vicinity of Structure A could be interpreted as contemporary features. A number of these features contained fragments of Neolithic pottery. An enclosing ditch appears to surround Structure A on its north, west and east sides. The ditch had a total length of c. 65m and enclosed an area of c. 483m2. It was c. 0.5m wide and c. 0.15m deep. The ditch formed three sides of a rectangle (open or truncated to the south). The ditch is of unknown date, as few finds were retrieved from the fills. A quantity of charcoal was recovered from the eastern segment of this feature, which could give a date for the enclosure. If it was contemporary with the Neolithic structures, it may have defined a fence line around Structure A. This interpretation must be treated with caution until dated.

Area C
Area C contained Structure B and a group of pits in an area of very large stones that projected up from the subsoil. Structure B had been cut in two by a large post-medieval ditch. The area was also scored by many furrows.

The main feature in Area C was Structure B, a large rectangular (house) structure with an internal wall division towards the eastern end. Structure B measured c. 13.5m east-west by 8m externally. The internal overall floor space was 78m2. The foundation trench varied in depth from 0.2 to 0.3m and was generally U-shaped in profile.

As with Structure A, this structure seems to have been abandoned and the posts and planks removed. The process of removing these structural entities seems to have disturbed much of the foundation trench packing fills. However, there was evidence of the remnants of posts and planks surviving as voids within a distinct packing or base material throughout most of the foundation trench. The largest post-holes were fairly central to the north and south walls of the structure and may have been the main roof supports (there were no significant internal or external structural features). Substantial post-holes were also evident in the corners and at the junction between the inner dividing wall and the north and south walls of the structure. The foundation trench would have supported the plank walls of the structure, with subsidiary posts for extra support where necessary. The subsidiary posts were evident in occasional post-hole cuts at the base of the foundation trench. A lower stone-packed deposit was noted throughout most of the length of the foundation trench; this may have acted as post or plank footing associated with the phases of construction and use of the house. The stone-packed deposit varied in form from subtle compact stony lenses to large clusters of rough stone packing. This was stratigraphically overlain by a series of silty layers or layers of redeposited natural and some occupational deposits, dumped in from the inside of the house, which are representative of the post-abandonment phase of the structure.

At the north-west corner of the house a possible entrance was noted, consisting of a series of closely packed flat stones which defined a threshold for the entrance. The foundation trench also became significantly shallower at this point. A post-hole adjacent to and west of the threshold may have acted as a doorjamb.

A burnt timber (possible plank) was uncovered in the southern wall, which should give a good radiocarbon date. This may be the result of limited fire damage to the house during its lifespan, as this is the only point where evidence of burning is present. This part of the house wall was probably replaced or mended.

The internal division of the structure produced a large amount of occupation debris. Most of the pottery and flint has been retrieved from these fills. A polished stone axe was also recovered from the foundation trench, at the junction of the south wall and the internal wall, within an abandonment deposit.

The foundation trenches of Structure B together created two rooms. The large room (Room 1) measured 8.5m east-west by 6.5m. The smaller room (Room 2) measured 3m east-west by 6.5m. The large room probably functioned as the living area. This room had access to the main door and had a hearth represented by a discrete area of burning (0.5m diameter) central to the western half of the room. No other internal features were present. Room 2 may have acted as a storage space for grain or other supplies or as an animal shelter when needed. An entrance to this room was tentatively identified at the north-west corner, where the foundation trench was significantly more shallow.

Few pits and post-holes were uncovered in Area C. The area to the east of Structure B contained large outcrops of rock and would have been unsuitable for intensive activity. The main feature consisted of a large pit, which was reused a number of times. This feature measured c. 2m by 3m and was 0.4m deep. Apart from a small quantity of pottery, few finds were recovered from it. The fills were all charcoal-rich, however. It could tentatively be interpreted as a refuse pit associated with Structure B.

Area D
Area D contained Structure C and a number of pits and post-holes covering a wide area to the west. As with Areas A and C, this area was also scored by many furrows.

The main feature in Area D was Structure C. This was a large rectangular (house) structure measuring c. 12m east-west by 7m (12m by 8.5m, including external post-holes). The internal floor space measured 52m2. The foundation trench was between 0.16 and 0.37m deep and was generally U-shaped in profile.

Structure C had seven deep post-holes external to the foundation trench on its northern side. The post-holes were 'doubled up' at the north-west and north-east corners of the structure. The main post-holes (c. 0.5m deep) were spaced at between 0.2 and 0.5m from the outer edge of the trench and were quite evenly spaced at 1.5-1.7m from each other. Three or four of these post-holes taper to points at the base, suggesting that the posts were sharpened and driven into the ground. As these post-holes were quite substantial (c. 0.5m deep) in relation to the foundation trench, it is probable that they carried much of the structural weight of the building. Only three post-holes were evident along the outer edge of the southern wall of the house. Again they were between 0.2 and 0.5m from the wall. Two were located at the southern corners of the structure, where they could have supplemented the load-bearing post-holes within the corners of the foundation trench.

As Structure C was burnt in situ, the foundation trench contained remnants of burnt posts and planks throughout. It seems, however, that the main load-bearing posts were located at the corners of the structure, with the walls constructed with planks and occasional supporting (subsidiary) posts when needed. Additional subsidiary post-holes were spaced at c. 0.5-0.75m in the western half of the north wall. The structural elements were supported by substantial packing material. As with Structure B, the builders of Structure C utilised the abundant stone resource around the site, which was a main component of the packing material.

A possible entrance threshold was identified at the southern end of the eastern wall. At this point in the foundation trench there was no evidence of burning; also the trench was distinctly narrower and shallower. Two post-holes immediately inside the structure at this point may have defined the door structure, an entrance 2m wide. The foundation trench was filled by occupation deposits at the threshold. This material contained large quantities of pottery.

A number of post-holes were excavated within the structure. These may have acted as roof supports. Structure C may have been divided into two rooms defined by a partial internal division. The two rooms would have been of equal size, each 5m by 5m. A hearth was located central to, and close to, the north wall of the structure.

A hearth/working area was identified external to, and immediately north-west of, Structure C. This area consisted of a number of small patches of burning and a quantity of stake-holes and pits. The main area of burning was central to a cluster of stake-holes, which may have defined the supports for a spit over a fire.

Many of the features excavated in Area D to the west of Structure C were singular truncated pits which contained no dating evidence. In total, 30 features were excavated in this area. Two of these features displayed in situ burning. The largest of these contained large quantities of burnt clay and charcoal.

In total, 2023 sherds of Early Neolithic pottery, 48 pieces of struck flint, fourteen stone tools (including a polished stone axe) and one bead/pendant were recovered from Neolithic deposits at Monanny 1. In addition to these, quantities of charred nuts, burnt bone and charred/burnt planks and posts were recovered.

A number of theories can be put forward at this stage in terms of construction development and sequencing of focused habitation. In addition to the idea that the three buildings were in use at the same time, it is possible to view the site as a sequence of buildings, one replacing the other, rather than three strictly contemporary dwellings. For example, it could be argued that Structure A, which is the simplest, was the first structure. Structure A may have been abandoned due to fire damage to the western wall, which prompted the removal of the posts and planks from the north and east walls for reuse. Structure A may have been replaced by Structure B, a much larger building, with perhaps some of the rescued posts and planks from Structure A being used in its construction. When Structure B outlasted its use, it was deliberately dismantled, perhaps replaced by a more elaborate and strengthened Structure C. Again, the posts and planks from Structure B (some of which would have been very substantial) may have been reused in the construction of Structure C. It appears that Structure C was completely, and perhaps deliberately, burnt. The structural elements of the building were burnt right to the base of the foundation trench throughout the majority of its length. Evidence from sections within the foundation trench suggests that, as the building burnt, it fell to the north.

Area B
The main feature in Area B was a burnt mound and its associated features. No other archaeological remains were uncovered.

The main focus of the site was probably abandoned in the Early Neolithic period, but the low-lying sheltered area seems to have been attractive to later peoples. The adjacent river which bounds the southern limits of the site was used as a water source for the functioning of a 'burnt mound', a site type usually attributed to the Bronze Age. The burnt mound measured c. 15m east-west by c. 5m and was a maximum of c. 0.5m deep (the length of the southern side was truncated by the river). A subrectangular-shaped trough, which measured c. 3m by 1.2m and c. 0.5m deep, was uncovered under c. 0.5m of the burnt-mound material central to the overall feature. Excavation of the trough revealed the presence of a large timber plank at the base. The trough is cut into natural clays and gravels. The gravels were encountered at the base of the trough, while the compact clay was encountered around the surface level of the feature. The clay may have acted as a sealer for water retention, while the gravels at the bottom naturally allowed water to fill the trough, due to the proximity of the river and a high water table. The timber could have acted as a base plate for the trough, perhaps for resting foodstuffs on for cooking, if that was the function of this feature.

A second burnt mound was excavated immediately south-west of Monanny 1 as part of the same road project (No. 1504 below, 03E1254). The river may have been a focal point for such activity and it is expected that similar sites would be present along the route of the river to the south-east, where the adjacent lands are low-lying and liable to flooding.

A burial was uncovered at the southern limits of the Monanny 1 site. The burial was in a Christian manner, supine, oriented east-west, with the head to the west. The bone was in very bad condition and the burial had been cut by a mid- to late 19th-century plough furrow. It is possible the burial was associated with the post-medieval farm nearby (marked on the 1835 OS map) and/or the post-medieval 'family' burial ground which was found nearby at Site 109, Cloughvalley Upper 1, c. 60m to the south (No. 1485 above, 03E1255).

A second burial was excavated towards the western limits of the site. This consisted of a very small quantity of disarticulated broken bones of a probable juvenile. These bones were found within the fill of a shallow feature which cut an earlier possible Neolithic feature, both of which were subsequently cut by a post-medieval 'corral' feature. This curving enclosure is marked as a rectangle on the 1835 map.

The site was cut by a number of drainage ditches, one of which cut through Structure B. These features produced finds such as 19th-century black-glazed pottery and fragments of glass. A number of boundary ditches binding the site appear to coincide with those visible on the 1835 OS map. Within the areas of the boundary ditches, the site was covered in the remains of furrows/lazy-beds. In addition, there is the curving 'corral' feature which is visible on the 1835 map. These features are probably associated with the lifespan of an adjacent ruined building, which is marked on the first-edition OS map. The building (Chainage 17630), which is not marked on the third-edition OS map, survives today as a badly disturbed stone wall and associated rubble.

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