2004:0914 - MOHIL: Dunmore Cave, Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: MOHIL: Dunmore Cave

Sites and Monuments Record No.: KK014-017 Licence number: 04E1517

Author: Marion Dowd

Site type: Cave

Period/Dating: Early Medieval (AD 400-AD 1099)

ITM: E 650883m, N 665029m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.733949, -7.246585

Dunmore Cave is a National Monument in State Care and has been open as a show cave since the 1970s. The Annals of Ulster, the Annals of Inisfallen, the Annals of the Four Masters and the Chronicon Scotorum all record for the year AD 928 or AD 930 that Derc Ferna—believed to be an earlier name for Dunmore Cave—was the site of a Viking massacre (Dowd 2004, 275). Indeed, a collection of Viking material, including nine silver coins dating to around AD 928, were found during excavations in the cave in 1973 (Drew and Huddart 1980, 17). In 1999, a second collection of Viking material—thought to be of late 10th-century date—was discovered at the site, including fourteen Anglo-Saxon silver pennies, a silver penannular arm-ring, hack silver, strap tags and sixteen conical-shaped objects woven from silver wire (Wallace and Ó Floinn 2002, 223). Since 1699, visitors to Dunmore Cave have commented on the quantity of human remains contained in the cave and a series of 19th- and 20th-century excavations at the site also involved the recovery of human bones (Dowd 2004, 464–7).

In the 1970s a lighting system was installed in part of Dunmore Cave to facilitate public access. In 2004 it was decided to upgrade the existing system and this involved ground disturbance, which required archaeological supervision. A trench (38.2m by 0.35m by 0.3m) was excavated by hand beside the steps leading down from the visitor centre to the cave entrance. Deposits here consisted of quite disturbed silty sand and in part involved digging through the pre-existing 1970s cable trench. Builders' rubble and modern debris were encountered, in addition to a few animal bones and sherds of modern chinaware and glass. This trench continued inside the cave for 12.6m, where it was dug through clayey silt that sloped down from the entrance. A sample of c. 40% of the excavated material from this stretch of cable trench inside the cave was wet-sieved through a 3mm mesh sieve. Plastic, modern debris and a small quantity of bones were recovered. The excavated material was backfilled into the cable trench after the cables were laid.

The lighting system upgrade also involved excavating by hand three trenches inside the cave adjacent to three existing electrical distribution board cabinets. These trenches were dug to facilitate the foundations of extensions to each of the existing structures. This work was monitored and all the excavated deposits were wet-sieved through a 3mm mesh sieve. The main distribution board box (MDBB) is located c. 10m east of the cave entrance. The extension trench (1.8m by 0.7m by 0.1m deep) was excavated through a layer of silt which contained builders' material, modern debris, plastic, bones and half a typical early medieval shale/lignite bracelet. Sub-distribution Board Box 1 is located 5m south of the MDBB. The related trench (1.1m by 0.9m and between 0.08m and 0.2m deep) was excavated through sandy silt which again contained fragments of builders' material, modern debris and bones. Sub-distribution Board Box 2 is located in an area of the cave called Haddon Hall and c. 7m opposite a large calcite formation known as the 'Buffalo'. Builders' rubble, modern debris, bones and the shank of an early medieval bronze ringed pin were found during sieving of the clayey silt from this trench (1.8m by 0.7m by 0.2m deep).

Several clusters of ex situ human and animal bones had been exposed at different locations throughout Dunmore Cave for a number of years. Upon consultation with the DoEHLG, it was decided to record and remove these bones from the cave under the above licence. A bronze ringed pin and a blue glass bead were found amongst one scatter of bone.

The shale/lignite bracelet fragment, the two bronze ringed pins and the blue glass bead found during the lighting system upgrade in Dunmore Cave are roughly contemporaneous with the known Viking material from the site. Similarly, the skeletal material recovered is consistent with the preponderance of human remains that have been discovered in the cave over the past two centuries.

Dowd, M.A. 2004 Caves: sacred places on the Irish landscape. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Department of Archaeology, University College Cork.
Drew, D.P. and Huddart, D. 1980 Dunmore Cave, County Kilkenny: a reassessment. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 80, 1-23.
Wallace, P.F. and Ó Floinn, R. 2002 Treasures of the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Kilcummin, Castlegregory, Co. Kerry