2003:1688 - Site 1A, Tonafortes, Sligo

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Sligo Site name: Site 1A, Tonafortes

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 14:224 Licence number: 03E0535

Author: Ed Danaher, ACS Ltd, Unit 21, Boyne Business Park, Greenhills, Drogheda, Co. Louth.

Site type: Ceremonial enclosure/henge monument, fulachta fiadh and 19th-century dwelling

ITM: E 568055m, N 833442m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.248827, -8.490167

This site was situated within the proposed route of the N4 Sligo Inner Relief Road and County Extension. It is c. 3km south-west of Sligo town centre and south-east of the existing Carrowroe roundabout. The megalithic cemetery of Carrowmore is situated c. 2km to the west. The site is located in undulating pastureland, while the enclosure is situated in a hollow below the embankment of the existing N4 Sligo-Collooney Road and is overlooked by a small hill to the north-west of it.

The enclosure, first noted from aerial photographs, is recorded in the RMP as a 'ceremonial enclosure' and has an overall diameter of c. 85m. It consists of a circular central area, 45m in diameter, and is enclosed by two banks with an intervening ditch. Test excavations on the enclosure and its environs carried out in 2001 by Sebastien Joubert (Excavations 2001, No. 1187, 01E1095) revealed dimensions for the banks and ditch, while a number of potential features were identified to the north and east of the enclosure. Owing to the nature of this site, the complete topsoil-stripping of Area 1A was undertaken.

In addition to revealing the eastern quadrant of the circular enclosure, two fulachta fiadh and the partial remains of a 19th-century dwelling were also exposed. The smaller of the two fulachta fiadh had been almost entirely destroyed by a field clearance pit, while the larger one revealed a thin spread of burnt-mound material measuring 6.2m by 3m, which sealed a trough, a pit and seven stake-holes. The trough was oval in shape, aligned east-west and had dimensions of 2.2m by 1.5m by 0.38m. A small oval pit was located to the north-east of it, while a small cluster of stake-holes (orientated north-east/south-west) was present to the south-east of it.

A characteristic feature of most Irish henges is a bank composed of material scarped up from the interior of the enclosed area creating a domed interior (Condit and Simpson 1998). By contrast, this enclosure is defined by an internal ditch and external bank, thus conforming to the type of henge found in most areas of Britain. It is believed that these monuments 'had a variety of ceremonial or ritual functions' (Condit 1993) and date from the Late Neolithic/Bronze Age period (Condit and Gibbons 1991).

Less than 10% of the monument was excavated. The excavation predominantly concentrated on the sections of the ditch present to the north and south of the eastern entrance feature. The depth of the ditch was significantly deeper on the north side of the causeway than on the southern side. In addition to excavating the exposed ditch deposits, three cuttings were placed across the ditch in order to provide complete profiles of this feature, two to the south of the entrance and one to the north. The fills within the northern cutting fell into three distinct groups, while only the upper two of these groups were present to the south.

The basal fills, which were only present within the deeper north ditch section, were poorly sorted stony fills heavily affected by iron panning. Charcoal-rich lenses towards the base of these fills were the only evidence for internal stratification. These types of stony basal ditch fills are generally interpreted as the product of rapid redeposition from unstable ditch sides or the upcast bank. A well-defined stone-free layer that was present in all ditch sections capped the basal fills. These stone-free layers were interpreted as in situ topsoil and would have formed the ground surface in the henge ditch until recent levelling occurred, burying the soil. Stony sediments that contained some artefacts of post-medieval date constituted the uppermost ditch fills in all excavated sections. These sediments sealed a number of stone-filled pits on the south side of the causeway and were interpreted as the product of relatively recent backfilling to level the site. The stone-filled pits are the product of episodes of field clearance.

Condit, T. 1993 Ritual enclosures near Boyle, Co. Roscommon. Archaeology Ireland 7, 14-16.
Condit, T. and Gibbons, M. 1991 A glimpse of Sligo's prehistory. Archaeology Ireland 5, 7-10.
Condit, T. and Simpson, D.D.A. 1998 Irish hengiform enclosures and related monuments: a review. In A. Gibson and D.D.A. Simpson (eds), Prehistoric ritual and religion, 45-61, Stroud.