2010:513 - Bective, Meath

County: Meath Site name: Bective

Sites and Monuments Record No.: ME031–026 Licence number: E4028/E4132; C353; R180

Author: Geraldine Stout, Archaeological Survey of Ireland, Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Irish Life Centre, Block 6, Abbey Street, Dublin 1

Site type: Medieval Cistercian abbey

ITM: E 685823m, N 759951m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.582405, -6.703914

The second season of an archaeological research excavation was carried out within the southern precinct of Bective Abbey, Bective, Co. Meath, in July 2010. The site is located c. 0.7km south-east of the village of Bective and c. 6km south-west of the town of Trim. Bective Abbey is a National monument.

The objectives of the 2010 excavation were twofold: to expose further remains of a medieval building discovered in 2009 (Excavations 2009, No. 637) and to investigate an enclosure in front of the South Range of the abbey which was thought to be the site of the medieval monastic garden. The former was represented by post-pads revealed during excavations in the southern precinct in 2009 and the latter was identified in the topographical and remote survey of the outer precinct.

Excavation over four weeks successfully revealed further evidence for the medieval building when a post-pad was exposed attached to a short section of wall. To date, three post-pads and a section of mortared wall of a medieval building have been uncovered. Another possible section of this medieval wall, which formerly abutted one of the post-pads, was robbed during the post-medieval demolition phase at Bective Abbey. This building had an external drain and was enclosed by a medieval ditch. It is aligned east-south-east/west-north-west. At this stage it is difficult to determine whether we are dealing with the interior or outer walls of a structure as the post-pads may have carried internal arches. Contrasts in surface deposits seemed to suggest an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’. Further investigations to the north and west of the 2010 Cuttings are needed to establish its full extent.

Excavations in 2010 also revealed evidence for processing of cereal on a large scale. The cereal probably came from the farms or granges on the surrounding monastic estate. The flue, chamber and stone-built superstructure of a medieval cereal-drying kiln were uncovered in association with a series of rake-out deposits and pits in the lower medieval levels. The Bective kiln is of ‘keyhole’ type, which is the most common type of cereal-drying kiln found in Ireland. Their overall size relates to capacity and efficiency. The Bective example fits in well with the average dimensions and the fact that it is stone-lined. The closest parallels for the Bective kiln are that from Kilferagh, Co. Kilkenny, which was dated by pottery to the 13th/14th century. The relationship between the kiln and the medieval building needs further investigation. For the most part, structural evidence elsewhere indicates the presence of buildings close to the kilns rather than the kilns within buildings, with the exception of Rathbane South, Co. Limerick, where a kiln might have been inside a barn, and at Haynestown, which featured a kiln inside a storage shed.

Excavations in 2010 also confirmed a medieval date for the construction of an enclosure in front of the South Range and uncovered within its interior ‘garden soil’ with charcoal-enriched shell deposits, a linear trench and a stone cairn. The topographical survey undertaken in 2009 identified a number of low earthworks in the immediate vicinity of the abbey. Immediately south of the abbey, there is a square enclosure, defined by a low broad embankment. It has been encroached by the present national monument’s boundary wall. Given its location outside the south range of the abbey, where all the cooking would have taken place, it was thought that this could be the location of the medieval kitchen garden. Environmental samples taken in 2009 from a drain running along the remains of a medieval building in the south precinct of Bective Abbey produced evidence for herbs, vegetables, salads and fruits including cabbage/

mustard, dock, sorrel, wild radish, pulses and vetches and elderberries.

In 2010 a cutting was placed across this enclosure to determine its date and function. There are a number of different archaeological indicators for the presence of gardens which were observed at Bective: the presence of ‘garden soil’, a soil rich in organic material; abraded fragments of shell, bone and ceramic, indicating the manuring and regular cultivation; and the presence of an enclosure. The interior was almost featureless, which is what one would expect for a garden. The only features identified were a shallow linear trench running north–south on the same axis as the enclosure and an isolated spread of stones. These may indicate some internal division in the garden. In vegetable and medicinal gardens, raised beds were often a major feature from the plan of St Gall onwards. Beds were almost universally rectangular and arranged in a regular pattern, either windowpane check or checkerboard. The individual raised planting beds, wattle fences, and central wellhead of the garden are all characteristics typically found in medieval monastic gardens. A number of soil samples were taken for environmental analysis.

The Bective Abbey Project would like to acknowledge the Royal Irish Academy, who grant-aided the research excavation, and the participants in the Irish Archaeological Field School organised by CRDS Ltd.