2004:0647 - KILGOBBIN, STEPASIDE, Dublin

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Dublin Site name: KILGOBBIN, STEPASIDE

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 25:16(01-10, 12) Licence number: 04E1373

Author: Teresa Bolger, c/o Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, 27 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.

Site type: Environs of early ecclesiastical site

ITM: E 719156m, N 724005m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.253016, -6.214333

An excavation was carried out at a development site at Stepaside village, Kilgobbin, Co. Dublin. The development is adjacent to Kilgobbin Church, the site of an early medieval ecclesiastical foundation associated with a pair of Rathdown slabs and a stone cross. Part of the development site lies within the constraint area for the monument.

Excavation was carried out in six areas that had been identified by a programme of monitoring undertaken by Ellinor Larsson (No. 644 above, 04E0777). The majority of the areas investigated during this phase of work appear to relate to the church site and to date to the 5th-12th centuries AD.

Area D1
Area D1 was located directly south-east of the church site within the area zoned for green space. Topsoil has been stripped over an area measuring up to 50m by 25m revealing a complex and dense concentration of archaeological features and deposits, the most significant of which were a pair of curvilinear ditches, indicating the remains of successive circular or subcircular enclosures. An area measuring c. 50m by 6m was excavated through Area D1 to create a corridor for the main services conduits. The remainder of the area was sealed with terram and backfilled for the purpose of preservation in situ.

Investigation within the services corridor indicated occupation over multiple phases with evidence for a sequence of enclosures oriented on at least three distinct alignments. There was also evidence for activity pre-dating the earliest enclosure ditch and post-dating the latest. Four main phases of activity have been identified, which would appear to be of early medieval date and to relate directly to the ecclesiastical site.

Phase I The earliest occupation evidence identified appeared to pre-date all the enclosing ditches identified at the site. It was mainly characterised by a circular slot-trench and pit. No finds were recovered from the deposits associated with this phase.

Phase II The second phase of activity was defined by a north-south-orientated ditch (C3) traversing the southern and central parts and a concentration of post-holes in the northern part of Area D1. It is not entirely clear whether this ditch represents the remains of a field boundary or if it defined an enclosure. It extended north-south from the southern limit of excavation for c. 18m before terminating. It tended to curve very slightly to the east. No direct relationship could be established between it and the scatter of post-holes further north. A number of ferrous objects including a couple of possible pins were recovered from deposits associated with this phase of activity, as well as a small fragment of a clay mould.

Phase III Phase III provided the first evidence for a formal circular or subcircular enclosure, represented by the curving ditch C14/C155. It defined an area c. 37m in diameter. The curvature of this ditch indicates that the present church and graveyard would not have been encompassed by it. It should be noted that the size of the enclosure would be within the middle range for ringfort sites. The only other associated activity within this enclosure was limited to a scatter of post-holes in the centre and south of Area D1. Finds associated with Phase III include a ferrous knife and pin.

Phase IVa-c Phase IV represents the main phase of occupation recorded at the site. Three sub-levels were identified within this phase. This phase began with the development of a large curvilinear ditch (C21) running across the central part of Area D1. Again,this ditch is likely to have defined a circular or subcircular enclosure. The curvature of this cut suggests that it would have encompassed all or at least a significant portion of the present church and graveyard. It is likely that it was associated with an ecclesiastical foundation. No other features can be clearly associated with this phase of activity, but it is likely that such features survive in those areas of the site which remain uninvestigated.

Phase IVb was characterised by the apparent deliberate backfilling of this ditch, probably by levelling out an associated bank.

Phase IVc was characterised by the latest in the sequence of ditches (C8). The original site survey carried out by Arch-Tech Ltd suggests that C8 intersected the Phase IVa ditch, C21, but did not cross it. Unfortunately this section of the site lay outside of the extent of this excavation. It is likely that C8 represents an alteration of or adjustment to the enclosure defined by C21. It would appear that for some the reason the area enclosed by C21 in Area D1 was not large enough and this necessitated the backfilling of C21 and its bank and excavation of an annexe ditch (C8) to the south. Certainly C8 does appear to define the southern extent of a spread of deposits and features which produced very strong evidence for metalworking and related industrial processes. The uppermost material sealing C21 (ditch) produced extensive evidence for metalworking in the form of slags and crucible fragments. A series of pits (C31, C30 and C70) also produced evidence for metalworking.

A rich array of finds was recovered from the deposits associated with Phase IV. This included a selection of ferrous and copper-alloy pins, a fragment of a polychrome bead, a lignite bracelet, a selection of crucible sherds and a highly ornate copper-alloy clasp.

Phase V The latest phase of activity identified at Area D1 was characterised by evidence for later agricultural practices, mainly the presence of shallow plough furrows.

Area D2 and D3
Area D2 measured a maximum of 15m east-west by a maximum of 15m and Area D3 measured a maximum of 25m north-south by a maximum of 18m. They were located adjacent to each other in the north-west of the site, just south of Kilgobbin Lane. The two areas were separated by a buried live electrical cable and were only 2m apart at their closest point. Three phases of activity could be identified; both areas were characterised by ditches of possible early medieval date.

Phase I was mainly characterised by a pair of ditches, Phase II by a single burnt feature and Phase III by quarrying and cultivation. Features associated with this area extend north and east into the area zoned for green space.

It seems likely that the two ditches which characterise Phase I are related. They appear to define a large subrectangular/subcircular enclosure that extended beyond the limit of excavation to the east and north. A possible rubbish pit and the presence of large amounts of animal bone and artefacts in the upper fill of one of the ditches suggest domestic activity within this potential enclosure.

Finds associated with this phase of activity include ferrous knives, a possible scissors or shears, and both ferrous and copper-alloy studs or mounts.

The orientation of both ditches does not indicate a direct relationship with the series of enclosures to the east at Area D1. However, the similarity in the finds from both areas does indicate a degree of contemporaneity.

The only feature associated with Phase II was the remains of large hearth of indeterminate date that overlay the final fill of the Phase I ditch in Area D3.

The final phase of activity was characterised by the remains of a large 18th/19th-century quarry that was probably excavated to extract the underlying natural gravels found in Area D3. Quarrying is indicated in other parts of the development site on the first-edition OS map (mainly to the south and east of the church). As this activity is not indicated on later editions, it seems likely that it commenced in the 18th century and had begun to decline by the mid-19th century.

Area D4 and Area F
Area D4 was a small rectangular cutting located to the south of Area D3, adjacent to Kilgobbin Lane. The cutting measured 5m by 6m. Area F was a small rectangular cutting that measured 14.8m east-west by 7.8m. It was positioned at the north-western corner of the development site and was bounded by the Enniskerry road on the south. Neither area produced features or deposits of any great archaeological significance.

Area D4 appeared to have been fully resolved during the previous phase of works at the site. The features associated with Area F appear to be related to agriculture and bioturbation. The furrows had a similar alignment and morphology to 18th/19th-century furrows encountered to the east in Area E and are probably a western continuation of the same activity. The pits encountered tended to be shallow irregular cuts, which were probably formed via bioturbation or agricultural activities. The only posthole encountered in Area F was an isolated feature and its original function is uncertain.

Area E
Area E measured a maximum of 51m by 32m and was located to the west of the main entrance from the Enniskerry road. A sequence of features (mainly characterised by ditches and kilns) was identified, mostly localised in the centre and south of the area. Initial indications are that these features date to the early medieval and later medieval periods. Most of the features are likely to be the result of ancillary activity relating to the ecclesiastical enclosures located to the north in Area D1. Four phases of activity were identified.

A large area of modern disturbance was identified along the eastern limit of excavation in Area E. This disturbance measured roughly 10m east-west by 32m. It removed all the archaeological deposits from the very eastern end of the area.

Phase I
The earliest activity identified at Area E was characterised by a single feature, C302, a linear ditch orientated north-east/south-west that was located in the southern part of Area E. It extended beyond the limit of excavation to the south-west and had a shallow terminal at its north-east end. A concentrated deposit of oxidised clay and charcoal, C334, was found along the base of the cut at its northwest terminus. This appears to be the remains of a hearth.

Phase II
Phase II saw an increased level of activity in Area E. In all, two corn-drying kilns with ancillary features and four separate ditches were identified (these probably represent the remains of field boundaries). Three of the ditches formed a possible subrectangular enclosure in the south-east corner of the site.

Kiln 1 was located within this possible enclosure. The kiln was figure-of-eight-shaped, with a post-hole at each side of the junction between the two chambers. A curvilinear slot-trench extended south from the ditch C252 to enclose the kiln. The southern edge of C252 kinked to accommodate the curvature of the northern chamber of the kiln, and the base of the ditch stepped up. Therefore, both kiln and slot-trench appear to be directly contemporary with the ditch. The stratigraphy of the fills within the kiln suggests at least two if not three phases of usage.

Kiln 2 was located to the west of Kiln 1 and appeared to be unenclosed. It truncated the earlier ditch C302. This kiln originally had two flues, but the south-eastern flue had been deliberately sealed off with large granite boulders, and deposits associated with the initial firing of the kiln extended under them. This left the kiln with a more keyhole-shaped plan. As with Kiln 1, at least two phases of use can be distinguished from the stratigraphy of the deposits.

Phase III
Phase III was mainly characterised by a substantial ditch (C342), which truncated one of the Phase II ditches. This feature is likely to be medieval, based on the ceramic assemblage recovered from it. A scatter of post-holes was also recorded across the central section of Area E.

Phase IV
The latest phase of activity identified at Area E was characterised by the evidence for later agricultural practices, mainly evidenced by the presence of furrows. Several of these furrows heavily truncated the complex of features associated with Phase II.