2008:928 - Slievemore Deserted Village, Slievemore, Achill Island, Mayo

County: Mayo Site name: Slievemore Deserted Village, Slievemore, Achill Island

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 08E0578

Author: Stuart Rathbone, Achill Archaeological Field School, Achill Archaeology Centre, Dooagh, Achill Island, Co. Mayo.

Site type: Multi-period archaeological landscape

ITM: E 463231m, N 807312m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.996919, -10.086031

Excavations at House 23
Excavations during 2008 in the Deserted Village centred on House 23, which has been under investigation since 2004 (by Theresa McDonald and Audrey Horning, Excavations 2004, No. 1154, 91E0047; by Audrey Horning and Nick Brannon, Excavations 2005, No. 1133, 05E0599; by Simon Ó Faoláin, Excavations 2006, No. 1471, 06E0428; and by Ros Ó Maoldúin, Excavations 2007, No. 1246, 07E0191). House 23 is located in the western village and consists of a small single-roomed structure with opposing doorways located in the east and west walls. The two opposing doorways are connected by a substantial stone-built drainage channel. The western doorway was blocked during the building’s occupation. The southern gable end has slightly rounded corners with traces of corbelling surviving towards the top of the walls. The northern gable end wall is inserted between the long walls indicating that the length of the building has been reduced at some stage. A fireplace and a stone bench are built into the northern wall. Beyond the northern wall the top of a curvilinear wall had been exposed in the preceding seasons and it was thought that this might be the original northern wall of the house. A large manure pit is located immediately south-east of the structure and the village roadway runs to the south. Well-defined garden plots are located to the north and west of the building and a small stream runs to the east. House 23 was originally chosen for excavation because of its low and ruinous state, much more ruinous than the adjacent buildings and indeed most of the other buildings on the mountain, which was thought to indicate that the building may have been constructed at an early date within the overall settlement’s history.
The excavation of the interior of the house had largely been completed during the 2007 season and this year all that was left to complete were the drainage channels that cut through the floor of the building. A small section of a north–south drainage channel had previously been exposed in the south of the building and it was suspected that this ran under the east–west drain that ran between the two doorways. Upon excavation this was proved to be correct and the earlier drain was followed into the northern part of the house, where it split into two shallow curving channels which formed a roughly circular arrangement around the northern part of the house. This curvilinear drainage pattern is highly unusual and is thought to relate to the earliest phase of the building.
One of the most interesting parts of this year’s excavations was undertaken in the room located to the north of the inserted north gable wall, which was suspected to be the original end of the building. Prior to excavation this room was defined by a curvilinear row of boulders located about 1.5m north of the north gable end wall and taken to be the top of a wall. The space between the northern gable end and the curvilinear wall was filled with a dark organic soil, overlying a deep build-up of peat ash. The curvilinear wall was found to be very insubstantial, consisting of just three or four very rough courses of drystone walling. The foundation cut was found to slope down at an angle rather than being vertical, and the base of the wall actually sits half way up this cut rather than at the base as had been expected. Where the curvilinear wall approaches the north-eastern corner of the main building there is a gap to allow for access into this room from outside, and in this area the base of the eastern wall of the house can be seen extending a short distance beyond the inserted northern wall. As this extension of the eastern wall consists of the same quality of stonework as the rest of House 23 it conclusively proves that the curvilinear wall is not an original feature, but a later addition built up against the inserted northern wall. It is now thought that this room represents a roughly built lean-to outbuilding, probably an ash house, tagged on to the northern side of House 23 after it was shortened.
A 5m by 3m trench was excavated over the manure pit to the south-east of the house. This was found to be different in form to those seen elsewhere within the village, again suggestive of an earlier date for the construction of House 23. Along the western side of the pit there is a row of substantial boulders which appear to mark a revetment supporting a pathway that runs from the eastern door to the roadway to the south. A second substantial stone-built revetment was revealed c. 2m south of House 23, which runs east to west for at least 9m. This revetment must relate in some way to the village roadway and locating the position of the roadway as it runs past House 23 will be one of the principal foci of next season’s excavations. A small trench measuring 2m by 1m was excavated c. 20m east of House 23 on the supposed line of the road. A well-made cobbled surface was revealed immediately below the sod layer, thus confirming the position of the road in this area.
A total of five 1m by 5m trenches were excavated in the northern garden to attempt to locate the foundations of a building shown in this area on the 1838 OS map but of which no traces are now visible above ground. No evidence of a former structure was identified, nor was there any evidence of a terraced cut on which a building could have been located. Therefore it seems that either there is an error in the 1838 OS map or that the building was sited on a raised platform which has subsequently been deliberately removed or eroded away.
Finally, a north–south field wall that divides the northern garden was investigated along part of its course by a 5m by 2m trench. The wall consisted of large boulders set upright on the surface of the subsoil and held in place by a bank of small stones and soil. As this construction technique is different to the majority of garden walls it had been proposed that the wall might be prehistoric in origin. Unfortunately the only dating evidence consisted of a large number of 19th-century sherds of pottery and fragments of glass. These artefacts may simply derive from the adjacent garden plots and as yet this feature cannot be conclusively dated.
Excavations at Roundhouse 1
Roundhouse 1 is one of a pair of circular structures located 50m apart on the 150m contour on the southern slopes of Slievemore. It was subject to a trial excavation in 2006 and the north-eastern side was partially excavated in 2007. This site became the main focus of the 2008 season, with the 2007 trenches being completed and new trenches excavated around the south and west.
A total of six trenches were excavated across the site and a complicated and monumentally proportioned structure has been revealed. The structure is roughly circular in plan with an external diameter of c. 11m. It is defined by a substantial stone wall and has an entrance at the south-east. The southern arc of the wall is particularly complicated and consists of numerous components. The outer perimeter of the wall is defined by a ring of substantial kerbstones, behind which is a large drystone wall that stands up to 1.7m high and is up to 2.2m wide. The internal edge of the wall is defined by a second ring of large kerbstones. The top of the wall is wide and level and a vertically sided, flat-bottomed slot runs through the middle, which was 0.5m wide and 0.7m deep where investigated. The slot contained a loose sandy clay fill with some charcoal. Large sections of both the inner and outer rings of kerbstones had fallen away from the wall, but as the wall has not subsequently collapsed it is suspected that the kerbstones were not actively retaining the wall.
The wall at the north was generally similar in construction, but was lower and narrower. It again consisted of internal and external rings of kerbstones, but with a rubble core, retained by drystone facing, rather than the well-coursed stonework seen at the south. There is no continuation of the central slot feature around the north of the building. The northern wall is c. 1.4m wide and stands to a height of 0.8m.
A small exploratory trench was placed over the wall at the west of the structure where there was a suggestion that an entrance may have been located. This trench did not reveal the full width of the wall but showed that the entrance was a secondary feature relating to the use of the structure as an animal pen in the Early Modern period. The slot feature was present at the east of this trench but the wall otherwise had more in common with the smaller northern part of the wall than the larger southern part.
A trench in the centre of the structure revealed a deep build-up of peat within the interior overlying a thin buried turf layer, complete with preserved grass and much charcoal. Underneath this turf there was a spread of dark charcoal-rich material which covered a hearth, two adjacent post-holes and a series of small stake-holes.
The structure has a complicated entrance located at the south-east consisting of an elongated sunken feature, with a stone-lined base and large stone slabs flanking the sides. A pair of pillar-like orthostats is present at each end of the entrance, with the western, inner pair being slightly taller than the eastern, outer pair. A sill stone is present running between the two stones of the outer, eastern pair of orthostats. Interestingly, the entrance feature extends beyond the inner edge of the wall into the building’s interior band so the inner pair of orthostats are actually internal features. On either side of the entrance there is a large cairn-like mass of rubble retained by large boulders, and the eastern end of the entrance, beyond the pair of orthostats, expands out to join with this material, in a funnel-like manner.
A final rather confusing feature was found abutting the northern side of the north wall and the northern side of the cairn-like material to the north of the entrance. It consists of a low platform of densely packed rubble measuring 1.2m in width and at least 2m in length which is retained by a large stone slab. The top surface of the rubble is quite level, and it is believed that originally this feature extended further to the east and west but has subsequently collapsed.
The artefact assemblage from the structure was severely limited, consisting of only a fragment of a flint plano-convex knife, a small flint scraper, a fragment of a chert blade and a few pieces of flint debitage. No bones, animal or otherwise, were recovered from the site due to the highly acidic nature of the soil. A radiocarbon date of 1411–1210 cal bc has been obtained from a piece of charcoal from the preserved turf layer within the structure’s interior, but as this layer has been conclusively demonstrated to post-date the collapse of the structure, this date is a terminus ante quem. Charcoal samples from the hearth and post-holes found within the central trench are presently being processed and should directly date the period of the structure’s occupation, presumed to lie in the Early Bronze Age.
In 2009, the Achill Field School will investigate the adjacent structure and it is hoped that the two excavations will complement each other and provide a better understanding of when these structures were built, what their exact form was and what activities took place within them.