2004:0054 - KILLYGLEN, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: KILLYGLEN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: ANT035-022 Licence number: AE/04/136

Author: Naomi Carver and Tom McNeill

Site type: Mound and Habitation site

Period/Dating: Medieval (AD 400-AD 1600)

ITM: E 736832m, N 903599m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.861491, -5.868584

Investigations were undertaken during July 2004 at Killyglen, Co. Antrim, by Queen's University with the support of the Environment and Heritage Service: Built Heritage. The site consists of a partially destroyed mound, a derelict church (SMR 35:23) and a complex of earthworks including a house platform. It is situated on a gently sloping terrace 3km west of Larne. The site covers two fields, an area of c. 2.5ha. The church and associated earthworks lie c. 100m west of the mound. The mound may once have been a motte but now survives in a damaged state with an 8m-wide cutting through its centre. The purpose and date of this cutting is unclear. The mound has also been badly damaged by cattle and prior to excavation a number of features of potential archaeological interest were exposed. These included several mortared stones and a possible cobbled surface. The mound has previously been identified as a motte (McNeill 1975, number 10) and associated with an entry to 'Kylglan' in the 1333 Inquisitions held after the death of William de Burgh, Earl of Ulster (Orpen 1913, 138), when a fortnightly court for external suitors was held there along with land of the Earl's and at least two tenants. The church of 'St John ofKilgan' was established in 1251 and has been in disuse since the 17th century according to diocesan accounts (Roulston 2003, 113).

The excavation consisted of seven trenches in three main areas: the mound, the house platform and the unscheduled area between the mound and church. Four trenches were used to investigate anomalies following a geophysical survey of the unscheduled area. The main objectives of the excavation were to provide a date for both the mound and the house platform and to establish the presence, or absence, of a medieval settlement between the mound and church.

The mound
Trench 1, on the south-western side of the mound, contained a stone wall built on to a splayed plinth. The first course of the wall was constructed of sub-angular basalt stones bonded with green mortar, while the remainder of the wall was of angular chalk and light-grey mortar. The plinth had a base of sub-rounded basalt boulders and an upper portion of angular, roughly cut chalk, all bonded with green mortar. The foundation cut for the wall truncated a possible 'occupation' deposit which contained sherds of medieval cooking ware. This deposit probably represented the original phase of occupation and directly overlay the core material of the mound. The second trench on the mound (Trench 2) was located on its north side and revealed deposits from the earliest construction phase, including a possible cob wall. Over this lay a series of layers of stone and mortar, either fallen into the cut through the mound or truncated by it; deeper excavation to resolve this was not possible during this season's work.

The house platform
Trench 3 was located across the eastern edge of the house platform and extended 7m east-west against the line of the house wall visible before excavation. There was no reasonable evidence to explain the plan of any existing house or the nature of its walls. The house platform was constructed of stone, possibly with revetting earth. There may have been a timber structure on the outer face; a possible slot-trench for substantial timbers was excavated. A deposit of household 'rubbish' containing medieval pottery and carbonised grain suggests a 13th- to 15th-century date for the occupational activity associated with the house platform. Towards the eastern end of the trench was a possible cobbled surface, which probably pre-dated the house platform. A linear feature, probably a drain, was excavated beneath the cobbled surface.

Area of possible medieval settlement
Resistivity survey in the area to the west of the mound pointed to a number of anomalies but none appeared to provide evidence of an organised settlement with ditched enclosures, etc. Three of the four trenches in this area were excavated to test these anomalies. Trench 4 was sited across what appeared on the surface to be a shallow ditch but on excavation contained nothing of archaeological significance. Trench 5 contained the bottom courses and possible foundation cut for a drystone wall. The alignment of the wall suggested that it was probably the remains of the east wall of the churchyard, destroyed during or before the present fields were laid out. In Trench 6 a curvilinear gully and a series of small post-holes were excavated. Trench 7 contained a linear feature filled with several charcoal-rich deposits. Prehistoric finds from the trench suggest an unsuspected cultural horizon but may be no more than opportunistic knapping of flint nodules from the nearby streambed.

The excavations produced a relatively small number of artefacts, mainly sherds of pottery. The assemblage was representative of assemblages from other rural medieval sites in Antrim (S. Gormley, pers. comm.). Medieval pottery from the apparent primary occupation phase on the mound is consistent with its identification as a motte. The stone wall in Trench 1 was secondary, but probably also medieval. A series of deposits in Trench 2 were probably derived from a mortared stone structure.

No direct evidence of the nature of the cutting through the centre of the mound was found. It is thought that rather than being a recent occurrence, this feature may have been the collapsed remains of a medieval tower, built on the site after the primary occupation phase. A cut visible in the primary deposits in Trench 2 is tentatively suggested as the foundation cut for the wall of the tower. Medieval pottery from the house platform confirmed that the occupational activity associated with this feature was contemporary with the occupation of the motte. The four trenches in the possible settlement area produced no evidence of any organised medieval settlement. A small sherd of medieval pottery from a post-hole in Trench 6 suggests only small-scale settlement at best. Further geophysical work will be undertaken to test the site further.

McNeill, T.E. 1975 Ulster mottes: a checklist. Ulster Journal of Archaeology 38, 49-56.
Orpen, G.H. 1913 The Earldom of Ulster. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 43, 133-43.
Roulston, W.J. 2003 The provision, building and architecture of Anglican churches in the North of Ireland 1600-1740. Ph.D. thesis, Queen's University Belfast.

School of Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University, Belfast BT7 1NN