2004:0077 - TAMLAGHT, Armagh

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Armagh Site name: TAMLAGHT

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: AE/04/33

Author: John Ó Néill and Philip Macdonald, School of Archaeology and Palaeoecology

Site type: Ritual site - unclassified

Period/Dating: Bronze Age (2200 BC-801 BC)

ITM: E 682863m, N 844862m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.345711, -6.725524

Archaeological excavation at the site of a Late Bronze Age hoard discovered by a metal detectorist at Tamlaght, Co. Armagh, took place in late February and early March 2004. The hoard was discovered, and lifted, by a metal detectorist in mid-February 2004. It consisted of four separate copper-alloy artefacts: a Class 3 sword; a Fuchsstadt-type vessel; a Jenisovice-type vessel and a ring. Fuchsstadt-type and Jenisovice-type vessels are both Continental types of sheet vessel, which have previously not been recognised in either Ireland or Britain. Typological study of the hoard suggests that it dates to the Roscommon phase of the Irish Late Bronze Age (c. 1150-c. 1000 BC). The hoard was recovered in a short valley formed by two north-south-running ridges located c. 0.8km and c. 1.1km to the south-west of the broadly contemporary sites of Haughey's Fort and the King's Stables, towards the western edge of the archaeologically rich landscape known as the Navan complex. The Environment and Heritage Service: Built Heritage considered that a small-scale excavation of the site was desirable, as the hoard may only have been partially lifted. The excavation had two specific aims: to recover any undisturbed elements of the hoard and to evaluate its context of deposition.

Initially, a rectangular-shaped trench was opened around the findspot (dimensions 2.4m by 1.95m, longest axis aligned north-north-west/south-southeast). The backfill of the hole dug by the detectorist was re-excavated. The finder reported that the sword was lying almost horizontally and aligned approximately north-north-west/south-south-east, with its tip to the north-north-west. The two vessels were positioned immediately to the south-south-east of the sword's hilt, with the Jenisovice-type vessel placed inside the other. Excavation confirmed the accuracy of the finder's account. The backfill was excavated as a sample to enable recovery of other fragments of the hoard. In addition to a fragment of copper-alloy sheet from one of the vessels, which was recovered during the excavation, a further three sheet fragments derived from one of the vessels and three fragments of the sword's hilt were recovered during flotation of the sample. Examination of the undisturbed peaty subsoil underlying that part of the trench containing the sword revealed traces of a black organic surface, which was lifted as a block to enable excavation in laboratory conditions. Subsequent investigative conservation has suggested that the black organic surface is the remains of a leather scabbard or a sheath (M. Fry, pers. comm.).

Following investigation of the hole dug by the detectorist, the remainder of the trench was excavated. The uppermost deposit was a humic cultivation soil c. 0.2m deep, which contained three sherds of 18th- or 19th-century pottery. Underlying the cultivation soil was a peaty subsoil (max. depth 0.22m), within which the hoard had been deposited at a depth of c. 0.32m below ground surface. No evidence for a cut, or any other type of feature that could be associated with the hoard, was observed. Processing of samples taken from the peaty subsoil produced several small copper-alloy sheet fragments which were derived from the Jenisovice-type vessel. The peaty subsoil overlay the natural yellow boulder clay, which had a relatively flat surface throughout most of the trench but rose steeply towards the southern end of the excavation. This suggests that the hoard was possibly deposited into the peaty subsoil from an immediately adjacent area of higher, and presumably drier, ground. Two conjoined, irregular-shaped linear discontinuities set across the rise in the surface of the boulder clay are possibly the tracks of tree roots. The hoard was located immediately adjacent to these features, suggesting that, if they were contemporary, the position of the possible tree may have been significant in selecting the location of the hoard's deposition.

The hoard site is located towards the western edge of the Navan Complex. The date of the Tamlaght hoard suggests that it is broadly contemporary with the nearby sites of Haughey's Fort and the King's Stables. Previously the 11-12th-century BC phase in the Navan Complex has been perceived as one of ritual activity and deposition in sacred spaces formalised by artificial enclosures. The discovery of the Tamlaght hoard suggests that votive deposition was also being undertaken in informal, natural locations during this period.

In addition to the two vessels in the hoard, two other possible Late Bronze Age Continental imports are known from the Navan Complex. They are a possible Jenisovice-type vessel handle (Mallory 1991, 21, fig. 16.5; R. Warner, pers. comm.) and a disc-headed pin of Sunflower type (Mallory, Moore and Canning 1996, 12, fig. 13), both from Haughey's Fort. Eogan has suggested that the Irish disc-headed pins, which date to the Dowris metalwork phase, were derived from similar examples from the western Baltic region. The identification of the western Baltic region as an area which had contacts with Ireland in the Late Bronze Age highlights a potential source for the two Continental vessels in the Tamlaght hoard.

The hoard's importance lies, at least in part, in the unique association of a Class 3 sword with relatively closely dated Continental artefact types. Prior to the discovery of the Tamlaght hoard, the earliest contacts with the western Baltic region were dated to the Dowris metalwork phase. The discovery of the Tamlaght hoard partly dispels previous suggestions of a hiatus in external contacts during the Roscommon metalwork phase (pace Eogan 1995, 130-3). It also presents a horizon of limited imports, possibly derived from the Baltic region, which prefigure the wider range of imported items dating to the subsequent Dowris phase. Eogan's suggestion that the north-east of Ireland may have been an area that initially received western Baltic types, as the primary form of disc-headed pins and 'sleeve fasteners' are more numerous in that area (Eogan 1995, 134), is strengthened by the recovery of the Tamlaght hoard and the identification of a possible Jenisovice vessel handle from Haughey's Fort.

Eogan, G. 1995 Ideas, people and things: Ireland and the external world during the Later Bronze Age. In J. Waddell and E. Shee Twohig (eds), Ireland in the Bronze Age: Proceedings of the Dublin Conference, April 1995, 128-35. Stationery Office, Dublin.
Mallory, J.P. 1991 Excavations at Haughey's Fort: 1989-1990, Emania 8, 10-26.
Mallory, J.P., Moore, D.G., and Canning, L.J. 1996 Excavations at Haughey's Fort: 1991 and 1995, Emania 14, 5-20.

Queen's University, Belfast, on behalf of the Environment and Heritage Services