Since 2003 Dr. Charles Mount has been the project manager of the archaeological investigations at the Brownstown, Co. Kildare quarry. The work has been carried out on behalf of Kilsaran Concrete, under the terms of the ICF Archaeological Code of Practice, as a condition of the planning permission to develop a quarry at the site. Dr. Mount also prepared the Cultural Heritage section of the EIA for the extension of the development. A combination of monitoring of topsoil stripping, geophysical investigation, and test and full excavation have revealed a range of archaeological features dating from the Neolithic to the Early Medieval period. To date six rectangular Neolithic houses, a beaker burial and 24 figure-of-eight corn-drying kilns have been preserved by record. A rectangular enclosure, with a wide deep ditch, enclosed at least twenty-nine individuals as well as an ossuary. To the north of this a complex inter-cutting series of wide ditches were excavated, as well as a series of smaller ditch and drain features. A possible sunken house was excavated to the east of the rectangular enclosure.
All the investigations at Brownstown have been fully completed to final report stage with all post-excavation analysis completed. We were also able to carry out the work in partnership with the Making Christian Landscapes INSTAR Project and Frank Coyne wrote made a significant contribution to the project using the Brownstown material and Paul MacCotter wrote a report on the historical background of the site which is contained in the preliminary INSTAR report for the Heritage Council.
There have also been a number of publications of aspects of the excavations:
Purcell, A. 2002. Excavation of three Neolithic houses at Corbally, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. Journal of Irish Archaeology II.
Tobin, R. 2003. Houses, enclosures and kilns: excavations at Corbally, Co. Kildare. Archaeology Ireland 17.
Coyne, F. 2010. Corbally, Co. Kildare: the results of the 2003-4 excavations of a secular cemetery. In C. Corlett and M. Potterton (EDS) Death and Burial in Early Medieval Ireland. Dublin.
Mount, C. 2013. A note on some beaker period pit burials in Ireland. Journal of Irish Archaeology. XXI.
Below is a summary of the investigations carried out at Brownstown to date. Summaries are from www.excavations.ie
No archaeological significance
Monitoring of soil-stripping took place at this site before gravel extraction. The site is in the townlands of Brownstown and Carnalway, near Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. The area is gently undulating, generally sloping from north to south, and mostly low-lying (from c. 140m to c. 120m OD). The site was under open pasture at the commencement of soil-stripping.
The site was stripped using a mechanical excavator fitted with a 2.5m-wide toothless bucket, working tracks of c. 13m wide (the reach of the digger arm). Four features were identified. In addition, a small flint scraper was found lying on the surface of the redeposited topsoil bund, but it was not possible to determine from which part of the site it had been taken.
Feature 1 was an irregularly shaped area of dense, charcoal-rich soil measuring c. 6m2. No finds were recovered from this feature, and no other features were noted during the soil-stripping in its vicinity. The shape and content of this feature suggest that it was an in situ burnt-out tree root.
Feature 2 was an area of staining containing animal bones and burnt material. It is in the southern half of the field and was first noted as a distinct spread of darker soil. It is slightly curved, c. 6m long and 0.4m wide in the middle, widening to c. 1m at the northern end and c. 1.5m at its southern end. The northern portion of the feature is subcircular; the southern portion is irregularly oval. The visible surface of the feature consists of a dark grey/brown, friable silt, with a small clay content and possibly a small ash component. It contains very little charcoal. There are small, irregularly shaped concentrations of animal bones at both the northern and southern portions, and on the eastern side of the southern end is a thin band of heat-reddened soil at the boundary of the feature.
To the north of Feature 2 is a further area of darkened soil, consisting of a linear feature 2.5m wide by at least 15m long, running north-east to south-west (Feature 2.1). It ends sharply at its south-west end but may continue for a further 30-40m to the north-east. It has the appearance of a remnant field boundary. Feature 2 was covered in plastic, and it and Feature 2.1 were fenced off for further examination.
Feature 3 was a small, subcircular concentration of charcoal, c. 0.2m in diameter, surrounded by a broader area of brown to yellow sand with charcoal flecks. The spread of charcoal-flecked sand fades out less than 1m from the centre of the feature. The concentrated area of charcoal ran to a depth of only c. 40mm, with a vague zone of darker brown, charcoal-flecked sand underlying it. The feature contained no other material or finds.
Feature 4 was a similar discrete concentration of charcoal c. 20m to the south-east of Feature 2. It is subcircular and c. 0.2m in diameter, with a spread of charcoal flecks thinning out away from the centre. Because of its proximity to Feature 2, and the fact that it is in an area of the development that will not be further disturbed in the short term, this feature was covered in plastic and marked out for further examination.
BROWNSTOWN, CORBALLY AND SILLIOT HILL
Monitoring of topsoil-stripping was carried out at this site over a period of four months from November 1997 to February 1998 during the development of a quarry for Kilsaran Concrete. A considerable area of ground was stripped in advance of the development. During the course of the stripping of the access road to the quarry area several modern features were revealed. These included a small area of post-medieval activity, a deposit of ash and charcoal (probably the remains of tree-root burning) and two small field clearance cairns.
The stripping of the quarry area straddled December 1997 and January 1998. During the course of this a series of features of archaeological interest were revealed. In December eight charcoal-flecked pits were located and excavated. Seven of these formed a subcircular plan, approximately 8m in diameter, with the eighth pit lying approximately 8m to the north. One piece of worked flint and three sherds of pottery, of which only one survived intact, were found. The three sherds were similar in character and a Bronze Age date is suggested.
In January 1998 soil-stripping recommenced and several additional features of interest were revealed, including several pits containing large amounts of charcoal and a spread of burnt material. One of the pits contained several sherds of prehistoric pottery, one of which was decorated with cord-impressed lines. Fragments of burnt bone were also found in this pit. Two small natural hollows filled with a charcoal-rich deposit were found. A spread of charcoal and burnt stone approximately 6m by 4.5m by 0.28m deep was excavated; no finds were recovered from this feature. A small possible post-hole was found and excavated. Two areas of tree-root burning were found..
Four features had been identified during the course of monitoring carried out in advance of a quarry development at Brownstown/Carnalway, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare (Excavations 1999, 122, 99E0416). Two were deemed to be archaeologically significant, and both were excavated.
The larger of the two features proved to be a clay-cut drying kiln, most probably used to dry corn, although no remains of cereals were recovered. The second was a pit containing charcoal and soil deposits, which had been truncated by ploughing.
The kiln appeared as a cut in the natural sand subsoil, filled with a brown, sandy clay and measuring 6.32m by 1.68m in maximum extent. It consisted of two depressions linked by a channel. The larger, lower depression (1.6m x 3.4m) acted as the fire-bowl, joined to the channel or flue, which directed hot air to the northern depression or drying bowl (c. 1m diameter). A wooden structure, indicated by post-holes, probably covered the drying bowl. The flue may have been covered by sods.
The kiln went through at least two phases of use, indicated by a recutting of the fire-bowl through earlier ash deposits. After the kiln went out of use the cutting was backfilled in what appears to have been one action. The posts were also deliberately removed before rotting in situ. It appears that this kiln had a limited lifespan, perhaps a couple of seasons. Comparable sites, mostly lined with stone, have been found on medieval sites in Britain and Ireland and may even have been used up to the 19th century.
The second feature, located 22m south-east of the kiln, was a circular pit (0.67m x 0.62m, 0.12m deep) containing two fills. The uppermost consisted of a discrete circular deposit of mottled brown, burnt soil with charcoal flecks (0.28m x 0.18m, 0.12m deep). The second, which was a mid-brown, sandy, silty soil with charcoal flecks, constituted the remainder of the fill of the pit (0.38m x 0.63m, 0.12m deep). The pit was truncated and disturbed by later ploughing.
No datable or diagnostic finds were recovered from either feature. A piece of prehistoric waste flint was found in the kiln, but it appears to have been redeposited along with a brown, sandy clay, which was used to backfill the kiln after it had gone out of use. A sherd of post-medieval pottery found adjacent to the kiln, lying on the surface of the natural, was also disturbed. Charcoal and bone samples were recovered from the fills of both features for radiocarbon dating.
CORBALLY, BROWNSTOWN AND SILLIOT HILL
Neolithic structures and prehistoric activity
In November 1997 work commenced on a large-scale development near Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. A sand-and-gravel extraction pit was opened in a green-field location straddling three townlands: Corbally, Brownstown and Silliot Hill. Planning permission had been received for the phased extraction of the sand deposits over a period of several years. Monitoring of topsoil removal was required under the terms of the planning regulations.
The first stage of the development involved monitoring of topsoil-stripping in three separate areas: the access road, an overburden storage area and the quarry.
In January/February 1998, when soil-stripping recommenced in the remaining small portion of a pasture field in Corbally townland, a number of significant, well-preserved archaeological features were revealed. The foundations of three Neolithic houses were uncovered. These were surprisingly well preserved and were fully excavated. Several other areas of archaeological activity were revealed within this same field, including separate features containing Beaker pottery and possible grooved ware.
The Neolithic houses
Three Neolithic houses were uncovered in the south-western corner of a field. House 1 was centrally placed, 3m south-east of Structure 2 and 12m north-east of Structure 3. The remains of substantial foundation trenches were revealed in all three, as well as internal features including post-holes, stake-holes, pits and hearths. External post-holes and pits were also found. The three houses were constructed of post-and-plank walls.
A significant quantity of finds was recovered from the site, including sherds of Western Neolithic, round-bottomed, shouldered bowl and worked stone, including flint, chert, quartz, serpentine, saddle querns, hammerstones and broken fragments from polished stone axes.
House 1 was the largest of the three, measuring 11.07m x 6.73m. It was orientated north-west/south-east and was trapezoidal in plan, narrowing at the south-eastern end, where the doorway appears to have been. A large, continuous foundation trench divided this building into two chambers, and small, discontinuous trenches subdivided a third, smaller chamber.
The foundation trenches were very substantial, with post-holes dotted at regular intervals along their length. Large, substantial internal post-holes were present, which acted as roof supports, and two large, substantial hearths were centrally placed in the large chamber. There is the suggestion of two phases of activity within the house, as well as two phases of pre-house activity. Finds from this building were particularly rich. Only one radiocarbon date has been obtained to date, placing the house in the early fourth millennium BC, 3995 BC (5220+80 BP).
House 2 measured 10.77m x 5.29m and was again orientated north-west/south-east. This structure was slightly trapezoidal in plan, although this was not as obvious as was House 1. The narrower end of the trapezoid was at the south-east end, where the entrance appears to have been. A large, continuous foundation trench divided the house into two chambers.
The foundation trenches were substantial but slightly smaller than in House 1. Post-holes were found in the foundation trenches. Pairs of internal post-holes divided the house into aisles, which supported the roof. Several additional post-holes appear to have been added during the lifetime of the house, presumably to augment the support provided by the original post-holes. The house dates from the fourth millennium BC, 3685 BC (4910+-80 BP).
House 3 was the smallest of the three buildings, measuring 7.37m x 6.45m. The structure was orientated north-west/south-east and was Subrectangular in plan. Discontinuous foundation trenches subdivided the building into two chambers.
The foundation trenches were very substantial, with post-holes dotted regularly along them. The house was divided into aisles by roof-supporting post-holes. A large central hearth was present.
These three structures were very similar to previously excavated Western Neolithic houses, and the radiocarbon dates indicate that they were constructed from the early to mid-fourth millennium BC. Peripheral archaeological activity was identified near the houses. Additional radiocarbon dates may cast further light on the contemporanity of this activity.
Peripheral archaeological activity
A subcircular pit lay less than 100m to the east-north-east of the Neolithic houses. Occasional tiny fragments of burnt bone, several burnt worked flints and a considerable amount of Beaker pottery were found in the pit. It measured 1.18m north-south by 1.25m and was 0.23m deep.
Archaeological deposits were also found c. 100m to the north-east of the Neolithic structures. A series of post- and stake-holes was revealed. Seven of the larger holes formed a rough arc c. 9m in circumference. Most of the smaller stake-holes were clustered together to the north-east, inside this arc. Further north-east of these deposits the ground had been disturbed by machine activity during soil-stripping, where it had been partially scarped away. Although many of the recorded features were very deeply cut and would have survived such disturbance, no trace of additional features, truncated or otherwise, was found. No finds were recovered from these deposits.
A pit lay 20m from the arc of post-holes. This measured 4m north-south by 2.24m. It was oval in plan but very irregular. One piece of worked chert and one tiny sherd of decorated pottery, possibly Beaker ware, were found in it.
Approximately 235m to the north-east of the arc of post-holes another small pit was found. It measured 1.44m north-south by 0.94m and was 0.54m deep. It contained a large quantity of early prehistoric pottery, possibly grooved ware, as well as worked stone. This feature was at the edge of the sand-pit. Similar features may lie adjacent to it outside the development area.
Further monitoring was carried out 800m south of the Neolithic houses, on the side of a gently rising hill, where limited soil-stripping was undertaken. During the course of this work three small pits, one post-hole, and part of a large curvilinear feature were uncovered.
The pits were small, charcoal-rich features c. 0.6-0.8m in diameter. Cremated bone fragments were present in one of these, and a flint thumbnail scraper in another.
A section was put through the curvilinear feature to reveal a V-shaped ditch, 0.5m deep and 2m wide. The feature was traced over 23m. Both ends continued under the surrounding topsoil, suggesting that it is part of a larger circular enclosure. It probably represents the ploughed-out remains of an enclosure, with a shallow ditch surviving. It is likely that the remainder of the feature survives under the surrounding ploughsoil. The topsoil was backfilled after the section had been dug, and no development works were undertaken in this area.
These features appear to represent a phase of Bronze Age activity, not unusual given the large amount of previously recorded Bronze Age activity in the surrounding parts of north Kildare, as well as the presence of upstanding monuments.
Peripheral activity associated with Neolithic settlement
A geophysical survey was conducted in advance of the expansion of a sand quarry at Corbally, Co. Kildare. The geophysical survey was carried out adjacent to the site of three Neolithic houses, uncovered by excavation. A 20m x 40m area was surveyed; four test-trenches were subsequently opened to calibrate the results.
The geophysical surveying was conducted in June and July 1998, while the Neolithic structures were still under excavation. Both magnetic susceptibility and magnetic gradiometry surveys were conducted. A series of positive anomalies was identified by the magnetic susceptibility survey, and a series of positive and negative anomalies was identified by the magnetic gradiometry survey. However, these anomalies did not suggest the presence of coherent archaeological deposits consistent with the Neolithic houses. The test-trenches revealed several isolated post- and stake-holes. However, most of the anomalies highlighted by the geophysical surveys proved to relate to subsoil changes and not to archaeological deposits.
When the area was fully stripped of topsoil this pattern of isolated ephemeral small features continued. In spite of its close proximity to the Neolithic houses, no large-scale archaeological deposits were revealed.
Proximity to Neolithic settlement
Limited topsoil-stripping was undertaken to the north-west of where substantial Neolithic deposits were previously revealed, including the remains of three Neolithic houses (Excavations 1998, 103-4). No features or finds of archaeological significance were revealed during this phase of topsoil-stripping.
Proximity to Neolithic settlement
Topsoil-stripping was undertaken on a small area several hundred metres east of where substantial Neolithic deposits were revealed in 1998 (Excavations 1998, 103-4, 98E0094). No features or finds of archaeological significance were revealed.
This licence covers the Phase 2 development of the quarry. The area lies in the fields to the south and west of the present quarry and the former location of the three Neolithic houses. Both fields have been walked, and some possible prehistoric artefacts were noted. Charcoal spreads were noted in both fields. The extent of archaeological material from this particular site and its immediate hinterland emphasises its archaeological importance and the need for continued monitoring over this site.
Monitoring took place of topsoil-stripping by a bulldozer with a 4m blade. In the course of the stripping 24 areas of archaeological potential were identified. The features exposed vary from quite ephemeral features to substantial spreads of burned material with visible structural features, including one definite rectangular structure. The area of the spoilheaps remained untested. Work will continued on this site in 2001.
Testing – various
Preliminary work under this licence concentrated on the features exposed in the northern corner of Field 4. All of these features lay on a very gradual north-easterly facing slope that opened onto a mature field boundary and ultimately gave way to the present pit. Most of the features tested were of some archaeological significance.
Area 9 tested as a thin lens of dark soil within a light gravel matrix. The deposit contained no evidence for charcoal and is probably the result of soil staining through the decay of the prevalent mudstone.
Area 10 was initially revealed as a single subcircular feature, defined by dark, charcoal-rich soil contained within a sandy natural. Area 10 is the subject of a separate report; see below,.
Area 8 was defined as an extensive linear feature, possibly a ditch, running in a south-easterly direction. Initial testing delimited the feature as being 0.15-0.2m in depth, with a fill consistent with natural silting as against deliberate infilling. Sections cut through Area 8 show the feature to be in excess of 4.5m in width and over 0.6m in depth. In total three fills were recorded, all of which appeared to be naturally deposited through the process of silting.
Area 7 was an amorphous group of possible post-holes. Excavation demonstrated that these features lost definition and did not display either a clear plan or a definite profile, which may be representative of root activity. The features follow no distinctive pattern and may be surface manifestations of a large subsurface disturbance like a tree bowl.
Area 6 first appeared as a localised area of soil discoloration with some charcoal content. Subsequent surface clearance expanded this discoloration into an extensive spread of charcoal flecking and oxidised clay. The features were tested and found to be of no real substance and therefore of little archaeological significance.
Area 5, as with Area 6, originally appeared during soil-stripping as an area of soil discoloration with some charcoal content. It appears to be the remains of surface burning, probably associated with tree clearance. It was not of archaeological significance.
F.31 (Area 25) was revealed during later topsoil-stripping to allow access to the extension for extraction of boulder clay. It takes the form of a linear soil discoloration running south-south-west/north-north-east. When tested the feature showed as a ditch with moderately sloping sides and a slightly concave base. The ditch contained four distinct fills, all of which appear natural.
This licence was extended to cover testing on features to the west of the site, which were unearthed during soil reduction under extensions to licence 00E0864 (monitoring – see below, No. 631). This phase of testing was quite inconclusive but did allow for an archaeological assessment of some of the features on this part of the site. All excavation and further testing fell under licence.
Area 10, tested under licence 01E0078, proved to be the partial remains of a prehistoric structure, possibly Neolithic. It was excavated under this licence. This site consisted of five well-defined post-holes, which yielded coarse pottery sherds, and some struck flakes of flint. Structurally, some severely truncated features were recorded, including the corner of a rectilinear building defined by a slot-trench and stake-holes. Other features were noted but these were best recorded on plan as they were only millimetres in depth and cut by multiple plough-marks.
Field-walking, May 2001
May saw work recommence in this area with a field survey of the area directly affected by the extension to the pit. Both fields had been ploughed, harrowed and planted with a cereal crop. This allowed for extensive field-walking specifically for the recovery of artefact assemblages that might identify areas of archaeological potential within the adjacent ploughlands. The artefacts recovered identified areas of potential to the south-east of the present extension and to the south-west, approaching the ridge crest. The highest density of artefacts collected came from Field 4 , sixteen pieces of chert, flint and quartz. Four of the pieces are scrapers, while the majority are struck flakes, with one pebble core. The scraper forms are of a generic later prehistoric type (Neolithic/Bronze Age).
House 4 was a rectangular structure, 7m by 10m, aligned almost due east-west along its long axis. It displayed a clear opening or entrance feature in the south-west corner. The eastern wall trench showed evidence of at least three distinct phases of activity. A deep foundation trench with the burnt remains of upright oak planks forming the wall structure represented the earliest phase. Central to this wall structure were the remains of a fire-pit/hearth, which was located within the wall and appeared to be contemporary with it. Further remains of the oak planking were noted in the primary deposits in the wall trenches on the north and south wall slots. Parts of this structure may have been damaged by fire.
The next phase of activity saw the damaged parts of the house being replaced by more flimsy structural panels. These panels may have been raised in situ or prefabricated and placed in parts of the foundation trench recut to accept them. The fire/hearth pits on the eastern wall appear to have been a constant throughout the life of the house, as several recuts of the pits were noted. Some post-holes and pits were recorded outside the foundation line of House 4. The only internal features seemed to be the remains of an internal partition. A lazy-bed truncated the west wall of the structure and little evidence of this wall remains.
Artefacts from House 4 include quantities of Neolithic pottery, struck flint flakes and flint debitage. A polished stone axe was recovered from the primary deposits on the eastern foundation trench. A variety of flint scrapers were also recovered from this material. The highest density of environmental material also came from this area, including seeds, chaff and some hazelnut shells. This material should facilitate the recovery of radiocarbon dates. Dates for the structure are not yet available, but pottery analysis indicates that the house dates from the fourth millennium BC and is possibly contemporary with the other Corbally houses.
Licence 01E0299 was extended to cover the remainder of the site, as the whole area was being treated as an archaeological landscape.
House 5 was a rectangular structure, 7m north-south by 5m. The alignment of the structure set its long axis at right angles to House 4. The form of the house was clearly defined by well-preserved foundation trenches. Evidence in the wall slots defined a possible doorway to the structure to the south-east. The western foundation trench of House 5 showed extensive evidence for burning, which preserved the stumps of upright oak planking that formed this wall. The remainder of the foundation trenches presented evidence of planking but mainly in the form of impressions. The interior of House 5 showed clear evidence for an internal hearth, which was cut by a lazy-bed/drain that crossed the site from the west. There was also evidence for two internal partitions originating from the western foundation trench and extending inwards. Four internal post-holes and corresponding post-holes in the north and south foundation trenches verified the alignment of the structure while also giving an insight into the formation of the roof structure.
Very few artefacts were recovered from House 5 but are similar to finds from House 4 and include a very fine chert arrowhead. The pottery assemblage is almost non-existent.
The evidence for House 6 is not conclusive. Pre-excavation, the features that formed House 6 appeared rectangular in plan. These features became less defined during excavation. In general, the features were structural but may not all have been part of a single structure as in a house. The features may have defined structures relating to activities associated with House 5. They showed evidence of truncation and had been seriously damaged by a drain/lazy-bed that crossed the site from the south-west. Post-excavation work on House 6 has just commenced, with preliminary results available from the environmental sampling. This shows a high density of seeds and chaff, with the predominant species being wheat.
In association with Houses 4, 5 and 6 were areas of peripheral prehistoric activity. These have produced some struck flakes of flint and chert and occasional sherds of pottery. These features were relatively nondescript and appeared to relate to areas of domestic activity associated with the houses and their occupants.
Kilns and associated features
The kilns were first recorded under licence 00E0864 but were ultimately excavated under licence 01E0299.
Prior to the completion of the House 4 excavation (see above, No. 630), soil reduction to the west of the site took place under an extension of the above licence, which revealed further features in this part of the site.
These features include a series of seven kilns. Four of these kilns were distinctive in form, having a figure-of-eight plan. All were aligned north-west/south-east. In general, they consisted of two earth-cut pits, one of which displayed a lining of burned clay. The pits were linked by a narrow flue rising from the firing pit to the actual kiln, which resulted in slight level variation between one side and the other. Large amounts of charred seed were recovered from the fills. The species represented within the sample were hulled barley, wheat and oats. The presence of oats in Ireland is not noted until early historic times, which suggests that these kilns may originate in the Early Christian or early medieval period. Some prehistoric flint flakes and coarse pottery have been recovered from the fill of these kilns. A further two kilns of similar form and alignment lay to the north-west. These were substantially larger and not quite as clearly defined. Again, quantities of charred seeds were recovered, as well as a plano-convex flint knife and some debitage.
Testing on features to the south-west of House 4 revealed a stone-lined kiln of substantial proportions. A pit lined with roughly coursed rubble masonry battered slightly inwards towards its base and reaching a maximum depth of 0.8m formed the kiln. From the basal fill two fragments of coarse pottery were recovered, along with some environmental samples including some seeds. Excavation revealed that it was quite a large kiln, with a firing pit and rake-out pit to the north-east linked by a flue to the actual kiln. Removal of the stone lining of the kiln towards the end of the excavation exposed extensive evidence for a burned clay lining. This suggests that this kiln was originally earth-cut and was later stone-lined. This appears to indicate that the earth-cut kilns pre-date the stone-lined kiln.
Over the whole area on the west to south-west of the site ephemeral features were found, including shallow ditches, pits and vague outlines, that could be interpreted as possible structures. In general, it was very difficult to separate these features into distinct archaeological entities. The overall impression is that the features constituted an extensive land drainage system or possibly vestiges of earlier land enclosure. Testing of these features supported this theory, as the majority of the features appeared to have naturally silted up.
Other features showed evidence of having been used for aspects of the agricultural activities involving the kilns. Deposits of charcoal and charred seeds constituted part of the fill of one of these ditches. Initial analysis of the charred remains from the kilns has shown some evidence for germinating barley. This would suggest that the area might have been used for the malting process, indicating that the kilns were multi-functional, being used both for the drying of wheat, oats and barley and for stopping the germination of the barley in the malting process.
Testing was carried out on this feature, which lay outside the stripped area to the south of the main focus of archaeology. This feature was quite unusual and posed questions as to its antiquity and nature. It was identified during pre-development research as a kettle hole of glacial origin. Under close scrutiny it did appear very regular, being almost perfectly circular, with a level base. The evidence would support the possibility that it was man-made. The possibility was that the feature might be a pond-barrow of Bronze Age date. The results of testing on this feature can only be classified as inconclusive.
Further extensions to the Corbally site are expected in 2002.
In August 2002 Kilsaran Concrete Products Ltd recommenced topsoil-stripping in Field 4 of this site. This was designed to facilitate the extraction of boulder clay. The area to be stripped was immediately to the south-east of the area excavated in 2001 (Excavations 2001, No. 631). It was thought that this area might reveal archaeology as the stripping approached the ridge crest and that the density of features would diminish on the south-eastern slope of the ridge. This proved to be the case, although the density of features on the ridge was quite surprising. The area extended 130m from the boundary fence with Field 3 and 110m south-east from the limits of the 2001 excavations.
A total of 40 features were identified during the stripping process: six fire-pits, eleven kilns, eight enclosures associated with the kilns, three major linear features, one well-defined barrow, three burials, two stone-filled pits, four other features and one non-antiquity. These features were revealed during the initial topsoil-stripping, but excavation revealed far more. The excavation was carried out under an extension to licence 01E0299 (see No. 899 below).
Topsoil-stripping also exposed a section of a large enclosure, which appeared to straddle the north-west boundary of the field. The presence of such an enclosure was suggested in 2001. The density of agri-industrial ephemera appeared to suggest that there was a definite focus to this activity, and it seemed likely that some form of settlement had existed on or adjacent to the crest of the ridge. The first manifestation of this enclosure was the fosse, which was exposed by machine during the topsoil-stripping and was over 5m wide. A burial was also partially exposed, and topsoil-stripping halted at that time. A buffer zone was established 30-35m from the north-west field boundary. This enclosure was assessed separately (see 02E1310).
Enclosure with burials, kilns
Features exposed during the initial and subsequent phases of stripping were excavated under this licence. These features are either part of the existing archaeological landscape as defined in 2001 (Excavations 2001, No. 627) or, owing to stratigraphic association, cannot be extracted from it. The methodology for excavation was to work west from the pit face, which also demarcated the end of the 2001 excavations. Most of the features were on the ridge top, which crossed the site from south-east to north-west.
Initial monitoring revealed eleven kilns, and subsequent monitoring during excavation exposed a further five, most of which had the characteristic keyhole/figure-of-eight plan. The kilns varied from c. 1.8m to over 3m long. Their alignment was, for the most part, roughly north�-south. Some of the kilns exhibited evidence of multiple uses, and two appeared to have been prepared but never used. An unusual feature in seven of the kilns was evidence of an enclosing ditch/trench. During excavation these enclosing trenches displayed no evidence of structural features.
Topsoil-stripping in conjunction with the removal of the soil dumps exposed the cranium of a human burial. This burial was found to lie west-east in a shallow, subrectangular grave-cut. The grave-cut was within the precincts of an enclosure defined by a fosse with well-defined openings to the west and east. The enclosure was almost circular, measuring 11.25m east-west by 11.5m. The ditch was 1.6-1.7m wide and 0.2-0.4m deep. The eastern entrance displayed evidence of flanking post-holes. The western opening was flanked by a single possible post-hole. The ditch fill was humic, with large quantities of animal bone, some of which appeared to be butchered. From this fill also came an iron spear-point. Within the enclosure five burials were identified and are being excavated. The central burial was in a well-defined grave-cut, completely lined by contiguously set pebbles. The body appeared to have been interred in a shroud, given the positions of the feet, legs, arms and scapulae. The other burials in the enclosure may have been buried in shrouds, but the lining of the grave-cuts was either incomplete or non-existent. The burials appeared to represent three adults/adolescents and two children (5-7 years old). The fosse of the enclosure was cut on the west by the ditch enclosing one of the kilns. This is conclusive evidence that the kilns post-date the barrow and possibly the burials.
One kiln to the south of the enclosure proved quite enigmatic. Initially it was thought to be a grave-cut, being aligned west-east. The fill was very friable, with many voids, large rocks and animal bones. On removal of this upper fill, a compact layer was reached that displayed evidence of in situ burning. This suggests that at this level the feature served as a kiln. This secondary fill was removed to reveal a skeleton. The skeleton was not interred in a formal way but was on its side with knees bent, one arm raised by the head and the other across the abdomen. Immediately under the body was another area of oxidised clay, suggesting that the cut originally served as a kiln. The nature of the burial and the subsequent reuse of the kiln suggest that the body was thrown into the kiln rather hastily and covered quickly.
The small circular pits found in conjunction with the kilns may cast light on the improving technology associated with the heating/firing of the kilns. The small keyhole kilns appeared to have suffered considerable failure through ignition of the cereals as a result of their proximity to a direct heat source. The larger, enclosed kilns showed evidence of repeated firings and possibly extended periods of use. The circular pits may be the key to the increased efficiency. During excavation these pits consistently produced quantities of charcoal, and they may have served to manufacture charcoal adjacent to the main kiln. The use of charcoal would introduce a more efficient heat source and a lower risk of ignition from sparks.
Most of the features excavated appeared to be associated with the large enclosure (see 02E1310). As was the case in 2001, monitoring exposed several linear features, which have silted up over time. When viewed on plan and in association with similar linear features identified through the gradiometric survey, they appear to correspond to field boundaries. The field systems appear to be focused on the enclosure and do not cut through its enclosing ditch. Therefore it is possible that the fields are contemporary with the enclosure. The burials in the enclosure may be later than the period of its occupation, but, if the site proves to be ecclesiastical, the burials may well be contemporaneous.
Early medieval burials/enclosure(s)
Topsoil-stripping exposed a section of a large enclosure that appeared to straddle the north-west boundary of the field. The presence of such an enclosure was suggested in 2001 as part of a risk assessment for this site. The density of agri-industrial ephemera appeared to suggest that there was a definite focus to this activity, and it seemed likely that some form of settlement had existed on or adjacent to the crest of the ridge. The first manifestation of this enclosure was the fosse, which was exposed by machine during the topsoil-stripping and was over 5m wide. A burial was also partially exposed, and topsoil-stripping was halted at that time. A buffer zone was established 30-35m from the north-west field boundary.
Under this licence, some testing was to be carried out on the fosse, the exposed burial recorded and lifted, and any surface scatters of bone collected. The features within the enclosure were to be planned, and, if possible, a geophysical survey was to be carried out over the immediate location of this enclosure to define its full extent. This non-intrusive approach was adopted to inform both Kilsaran Concrete Products Ltd and Duchas about the archaeological potential of this site and to enable both parties to make a considered judgement on how best to proceed. At the end of excavations in November 2002 this area was covered with heavy-gauge plastic and completely backfilled. Any small-scale excavation within the fosse was first backfilled with sand before being covered.
Topographical survey was carried out but revealed very little surface evidence of the enclosure. A gradiometric survey was undertaken (licence 02R134) in September 2002. This survey was successful in defining the extent of the curvilinear ditch, which extended beyond the field boundary into the adjacent field. This formed a large subrectangular enclosure measuring c. 45m north-east/south-west by c. 50m. The geophysical survey also determined the spread of the archaeological features in the next field. It suggested the presence of a far more elaborate archaeological landscape than previously suspected.
The features recorded are all cut into natural, which appears to preclude the likelihood of complex stratigraphy. Yet the area exposed is on the ridge crest, where the topsoil is at its shallowest and has already been scoured by years of weathering and repeated plough action. There are pockets of deeper soil cover just below the ridge crest. The gradiometric survey shows clear evidence of subsidiary enclosures within the main fosse. These may resolve into quite complex structures. The number of burials currently stands at eight and will rise above that figure. The scale of industrial activity on this site in respect of crop husbandry suggests that the enclosure is a high-status structure. Artefacts indicate a range of dates from the 9th century (a bronze clasp) to the medieval period (a pottery sherd). It has been suggested that the burials in this enclosure post-date the 7th century.
Geophysical survey at Corbally in fields 3 and 4 identified a rectangular enclosure with associated linear features.
Moated site with later inhumations
Excavation of the site identified during testing revealed a rectangular site of the southern part was excavated. This measured 50m x 25m. The site was enclosed by a large ditch, 5m wide and 2m deep, with a causeway at SW. A shallow internal ditch contained animal bone and a complete horse skull. There was a possible circular structure in the centre of the site.22 inhumations in 20 grave cuts and an ossuary pit were recorded in the interior of the suite. Artefacts included iron knives, copper alloy stick pin, finger ring and bone pins.
A geophysical survey was carried out in march 2004 in the area north of the enclosure excavated in 2003. The survey identified a large number of features across the site.
Test trenching was carried out in 2004 to identify the linear features identified to the east of the rectangular enclosure in 2003. Testing revealed several sections of linear trenches
Completion of the excavation of the enclosure, burials and linear ditches.
Excavation revealed the remaining part of the enclosing ditch of the enclosure, seven burials inside this . There were a number of ditch features including a possible rectangular house. A complex series of ditches ran in a northerly direction from the enclosure, enclosing a e series of smaller interconnecting ditches. East of the main enclosure was a possible sunken house.
Testing in Field 4
Test trenching in the southern part of field 4 revealed that two trenches continued from the northern area. To the south were two possible post holes, a cremation pit, a possible pit and a small area of fire reddened clay.
Monitoring in field 2 in 2006 revealed two segments of ditch extending from south to north, a human burial and a possible stone setting
The re-stripping of Areas 2 and 3 in field 2 at Corbally resulted in the identification of a complex series of linear features, potential ditch cuts, pits and further evidence of human burial.
Monitoring of the site of dry batch mortar plant at to the south of the previous work at Brownstown uncovered no archaeological material.
CORBALLY and BROWNSTOWN
Geophysics investigation in fields 2 and 7
Geophysical investigation of fields 2 and 7 was carried out in December 2006. The survey identified a sub-circular enclosure with internal ditch and pit type remains in field 7. Weak linear anomalies, clustered positive responses and low level tends extended through areas 2B, 2A and 2C. Traces of a possible circular enclosure were noted in Field 2 and low level linear anomalies were noted to the north and southeast of this. See Appendix 3.9.3 for full report.
CORBALLY and BROWNSTOWN
Geophysics investigation in fields 1 and 3
A geophysical survey (09R185) was undertaken in fields 1 and 3 in October 2009. Survey involved a magnetic gradiometer survey of 5.3ha in which a number of weak magnetic responses were identified. No clear responses of archaeological potential were identified and the surveyors concluded that the features were weaker than those seen in previous surveys. Twenty-two anomalies were recorded.
Corbally and Brownstown
In February 2010 a programme of test trenching was undertaken focused on locations corresponding with features of archaeological potential identified in a previous geophysical survey (09R185). A total of 11 test trenches were excavated at locations agreed with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DoEHLG). These had a combined length of approximately 1,137 linear metres. One additional test trench was excavated to determine the nature and extent of certain features. No archaeological sites or features were observed within this site in the course of this assessment and no further archaeological works were required.