NMI Burial Excavation Records


Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 42:8(02); 42:9(04) Licence number: 05E0599

Author: Audrey Horning, Achill Archaeological Field School, Achill Folklife Centre, Dooagh, Achill Island, Co. Mayo.

Site type: Deserted village

ITM: E 468568m, N 803482m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.963908, -10.003031

Archaeological investigation of the cultural landscape associated with the Deserted Village, Slievemore, Achill Island, Co. Mayo, as part of the 2005 Achill Archaeological Field School, took place between 1 June and 19 August 2005. Key elements included the continuation of excavation at House 23; the excavation of a trench to the north and west of an enigmatic orthostatic structure; and the continuation of a digital survey of the landscape. Forty-two students from five countries participated in the field school, which combined training in field and laboratory techniques with formal teaching in Irish archaeology, a field trip programme and a series of guest lectures. The public archaeology programme begun in 2004 was also expanded.

House 23 is a single-unit dwelling situated within the westernmost village on the slopes of Slievemore, measuring 20' 6" by 10' 6". Architectural features include opposing east–west doorways, a recess situated in the north half of the western wall, a manure pit outside the eastern door and evidence for corbelled construction in the south-west corner. House 23 appears on the first-edition OS map of 1837, with excavated materials suggesting construction in the early 19th century with use into the early 20th century. The 2004 licence (91E0047) for the excavations at House 23 specified opening a 10m by 10m area, while the 2005 licence (05E0599) extended the area covered by an additional 4m east. Seventeen 2m2 units were opened and 297 contexts recorded. Excavations were designed to be an exercise in household archaeology. By concentrating specifically upon a single locale, the potential for deriving significant, contextual data contributing to a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of the previous occupants increases greatly.

In the garden area, excavations revealed a shift in agricultural practice, with the reorientation of ‘lazy beds’ from north–south to east–west. Soils were fertilised with household waste – evidenced by broken glass and ceramics and partially burned turf – and with seaweed, as indicated by sandy patches. Excavation in the house revealed that the northern gable wall is not tied into the eastern wall, suggesting that the dwelling was originally larger. This wall and presumed access to the upper chamber was blocked with a hearth and a stone bench. An unusual feature also encountered was a curvilinear drain, unlike a typical byre drain. Instead of carrying animal effluent from the byre end of the dwelling out through a channel underneath the doorway leading into a manure pit, the House 23 drain leads from the hearth southward, curving west into an unexcavated area. Architectural materials were represented by a strap hinge, cut and wire nails, wood fragments, and pieces of turf scraws once employed as an ‘underthatch’ for the roof. No evidence for flooring was unearthed, suggesting that any stone pavers were intentionally removed before abandonment.

Finds from the House 23 number 1718 objects. Of the ceramics, the vast majority represent refined white earthenware tablewares, most of which are decorative (sponge-decorated wares from Scotland, English transfer prints and moulded plain-glazed refined white earthenwares probably from the Staffordshire potteries). Less than twenty sherds of black-glazed coarse earthenware were unearthed. Two fragments of cast-iron cooking ware were unearthed, along with a range of as yet unidentified ferrous objects which may also relate to household utensils.

Excavations in the area known as Trench 2, which encompasses an orthostatic chamber and passage feature variously interpreted as a souterrain and as a passage tomb, concentrated upon ascertaining the stratigraphic relationship between this feature and the surrounding soil matrices. An excavation of the deposits which pre- and post-date the construction of this feature was carried out. A 2m by 3m unit immediately to the south-west of the junction between the chamber and the creep was excavated to identify pre- and post-chamber horizons. Another trench was excavated to the north and west of the structure to ascertain the construction method and sequence. The excavations were only partly successful, in that artefactual evidence from the 2005 excavation season dates to the Neolithic period (as principally represented by a convex flint scraper) and to the 19th century.