2004:0183 - TULLYCOMMON: Glencurran Cave, Clare

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Clare Site name: TULLYCOMMON: Glencurran Cave

Sites and Monuments Record No.: CL010-054 Licence number: 04E0432

Author: Marion Dowd

Site type: Cave

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 527340m, N 696383m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.013212, -9.082804

The discovery of a perforated dog/wolf/fox canine and a number of bones scattered over the floor of Glencurran Cave prompted the DoEHLG to commission a rescue excavation at the site, which took place over five weeks in March and August. The objective of the excavation was to rescue archaeological material which was at risk from disturbance and/or destruction by human and animal activity in the cave. In addition, the excavation aimed to establish the nature and extent of archaeological deposits.

Glencurran Cave has two entrances. The main entrance is orientated north; the second smaller entrance is completely choked but is orientated approximately west. Though the cave is over 750m in length, only the outermost 65m or so is of archaeological interest. This 65m stretch of passage was divided into grids. The human and animal bones that were scattered over the cave floor were bagged and labelled according to the grid in which they were found. Four trenches were excavated at different points inside the cave, which, when combined, involved the investigation of 15m of cave passage. In addition, a small trench was opened outside the cave entrance. All the excavated deposits were wet-sieved through a 3mm mesh sieve.

In the test-trench (1m by 1m) outside the cave entrance two strata were encountered. The uppermost comprised a tumble of large limestone rocks that overlay a silty clay which contained a single human bone, animal bones and a high quantity of charcoal. A trench (2.8m north-south by 3.65m) immediately inside the cave entrance was also opened. Layers of badger bedding (0.5m deep) occurred in the western part of the trench. These layers of decomposing foliage sealed a heavily disturbed stratum of silty sand that produced bones, charcoal, fragments of scallop shell, struck flint and fragments of clay pipes. A bronze ringed pin was found 1.5m inside the entrance, where it appears to have been deliberately placed beneath a large flat stone on the cave floor.

From the trench located inside the entrance, the cave passage descends for almost 12m. This section of the cave is partially blocked with boulders that have collapsed from the roof and walls of the cave. Approximately 5m of this stretch of sloping passage were excavated. Deposits were greatly disturbed and contained animal bones and one fragment of an amber bead.

At a distance of 15.7m from the cave entrance, the cave floor levels out and a trench (6m north-south by c. 2.2m) was opened here and excavated in grids 0.5m north-south by 1m. Only the uppermost stratum—a very shallow silty clay (40mm thick max.)—was removed. Traffic through the cave and animal activity have clearly had a negative impact on this upper deposit, as evidenced by the fact that almost all of the bones found here were fragmentary and a large number of the artefacts were broken. This shallow layer produced human and animal bones, charcoal, fragments of scallop shells, a broken ground shale chisel, three bone beads, six whole amber beads, over 50 fragments of amber beads, three perforated cowrie shells (Trivia monacha), a perforated periwinkle shell (Littorina obtusata) and a rubbing stone.

A further trench (2m by 1m) was opened in the area where the perforated dog/wolf/fox canine was originally discovered, c. 17m inside the blocked western entrance to the cave. A badger latrine pit at this location indicated the degree to which deposits had been disturbed. Three shallow layers of silty sand of various compactions were encountered. In total, the three strata (just 23mm in overall depth) in this small trench contained human and animal bones, nine amber beads, 50 glass beads, eight perforated cowrie shells, nine perforated periwinkle shells and 23 sherds of Late Bronze Age pottery.

Glencurran Cave was clearly used on many different occasions in the past. The Late Bronze Age pottery, the early medieval ringed pin and the post-medieval clay-pipe fragments attest to at least three periods of activity. In addition, the struck flint, the chisel and the shell beads indicate activity dating to some time between the Late Mesolithic and the Early Bronze Age. The human bones and the preponderance of beads suggest that the cave was a focus for prehistoric funerary activity, a hypothesis that will be tested by AMS dating.

Kilcummin, Castlegregory, Co. Kerry