Stone enclosure at Kilgreany Cave, Co. Waterford

The assessment of a proposed quarry extension at Cappagh, near Dungarvan Co. Waterford for John A. Wood Ltd. in 2007 required the assessment of the environs of Kilgreany cave. The limestone cave is situated at the base of a low rocky escarpment of limestone on the northern side of a broad marshy valley through which the river Brickey flows. It was excavated between 1928-34 by the Bristol University Speleological Society and the Royal Irish Academy and by Hallam Movius (1935) of the third Harvard Expedition to Ireland and both human and animal remains, including Pleistocene fauna such as Reindeer, Bear and Giant Irish Deer were recovered. The cave also contained artefacts dating from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and early medieval periods. More recent radiocarbon dating of the human remains placed them into the first half of the third millennium BC or the fourth millennium BC (Molleson 1985-6).

A geophysical investigation of the exterior of the cave was carried out by John Nicholls of Target Archaeological Geophysics (Licence 07R055) and identified a well defined negative linear responses that indicated an oval enclosure measuring 120m x 60m in diameter, that partly enclosed the south-east end of the cave escarpment and extended to the south-east.  The negative response suggested the presence of stone foundations of the enclosure. There were also several linear responses in the interior of the enclosure that may have been potential divisions (Nicholls 2007).

As no development took place in the vicinity of the cave there was no further investigation of the enclosure. While the enclosure may simply be the remains of a later field enclosure the possibility that it was associated with prehistoric or later activity activity in the cave would merit future investigation.

Kilgreany cave under excavation in 1934

Kilgreany cave photographed in 2007.

Some of the finds from Kilgreany cave, from Movius et al. 1935.

Kilgreany geophysics by Target Archaeological geophysics.


Molleson, T.I. 1985-6. New radiocarbon dates for the occupation of Kilgreany Cave, Co. Waterford. Journal of Irish Archaeology III, 1-3.

Movius, H.L., Roche, G. , Stelfox, A.W. and Maby, J.C. 1935. Kilgreany Cave, County Waterford. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Seventh Series, Vol. 5, No. 2, 254-296.

Nicholls, J. 2007. Geophysical Survey Report: Lands at cappagh, Kilgreany Townland County Waterford. Licence No. 07R055. Unpublished report for John A. Wood Ltd.



Identifying pottery fire-pits in the archaeological record

Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary Site 125.3

Probable pottery fire-pits at Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary Site 125.3. Image from McQuade et al. 2009.

Thanks to the work of the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology it may now be possible to identify the pottery fire-pits of the Irish prehistoric pottery industry.

One of the most characteristic artefacts of the Irish Bronze Age is pottery. It was produced in large quantities and is found at all types of sites from settlement and ritual to industrial. Until recently no prehistoric pottery fire-pits, where the clay is heated until it becomes pottery, had been identified in the Irish archaeological literature (see for example Ó Faoláin and Northover 1998, 73). Even where quite large settlement sites have been investigated like Corrstown, Co. Derry, where over 9,000 sherds of pottery were recovered, and Chancellosrland site A, where over 2,000 sherds were found, no fire-pits were identified.

UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology fire-pit.

UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology fire-pit with charcoal and pottery in situ. Photo Aidan O'Sullivan

Now thanks to the work of the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology it looks as though firing sites can be identified. At UCD Aidan O’Sullivan, Conor Mcdermott, Thomas Cummins and John Nicholl have been making vessels of various periods and types and firing them in sub-rectangular shaped fire-pits. Once the contents of the pits have cooled and the finished pots are removed what is left is a fire-reddened pit filled with charcoal and any sherds of failed pots. The great value of this experimental work (and documenting it with images and video through media like Facebook) is that it helps archaeologists identify these features in excavation reports. Aidan O’Sullivan and the others have not only demonstrated how pottery can be made in a simple fire-pits, but Aidan has noted that the field archaeologist will find.

“Charcoal, ash, burnt stones, and pieces of fire-reddened and blackened soil. You might also find heavily fired and black, sooted pottery fragments, the fragmentary remains of previously failed pots that have been through several kiln fires.”

He also noted:

“The effect of a north-easterly breeze, meaning that only centimetres away on the ‘wrong’ side, the fire was essentially cool”.

So some method of blocking the prevailing airflow across the surface of the fire-pit is needed to maintain a constant temperature. As Graham Taylor who writes pottedhistory has noted:

“If the wind is gusting it can cause huge temperature fluctuations which destroy pots.”

The wind can be mitigated by the erection of a simple wattle screen across the path of the prevailing wind.

As Graham Taylor points out:

“A common technique would be: fairly serious fire in the pit allowed to burn down to charcoal, green brushwood directly onto this, pots on to this, then more dry fuel, close over with green brush and clay leaving a few small air holes around the edge. Walk away and leave it for a couple of days. If you’ve got it right, and it doesn’t go out, it’s a gentler way to fire larger pots and get them black.”

The sealing material may be dug from a pit or pits next to the fire-pit which may be refilled with the waste charcoal and sherds of any failed pots from the fire-pit.

Therefore the elements that one might expect to find at a pottery firing site are a fire-reddened pit or pits filled with charcoal, ash, sherds of failed pots with a windbreak to the west or south and pits from which soil has been dug to seal the fire-pit. These pits can be back-filled with the sooty failed pot sherds from the firing.

Plan of probable pottery fire-pits at Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary site 125-3.

Plan of probable pottery fire-pits at Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary site 125-3. from McQuade et al. 2009.

At Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary a site appears to fulfil all of these criteria. The site was excavated under the Direction of Colm Moriarty in advance of the construction of the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown Road Scheme and is published by Colm in M. McQuade, B. Molloy and C. Moriarty (Eds.) In the Shadow of the Galtees. Archaeological excavations along the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown Road Scheme. NRA Scheme Monographs 4, 30-31. The site consists of two sub-rectangular pits set in a line and aligned north-west to south-east with concave profiles that measure 1.37m and 1.65m long by 0.97m and 1.25m wide and 0.25m deep. The sides and bases of the pits were fire-reddened and contained charcoal fills.

Just to the east of the fire-pits was a pair of pits also filled with charcoal-rich deposits and sherds of food vessel vase and urn. Charcoal from the primary fill of one of the pits was radiocarbon dated to 2289-2014 Cal BC (UB-7377). Set 3.3m south of the fire-pits and aligned roughly east-west were nine stake-holes that appear to have supported a windbreak 7m long. This appears to have been a pottery firing site in which the leather hard vessels were placed into the fire-pit, fired under a layer of soil from the pits and then, after cooling, the material from the fire-pits was deposited back into the pits along with sherds of failed pots.

Cloghabreedy is a good example of a fire-pit because it has a number of elements, is a single period site without the complication of earlier or later features and was well excavated and published. However, where fire-pits lack associated pot sherds or windbreaks or are separated from these features by later elements recognition becomes more difficult. The conclusion is that using the insights being gained at the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology it will be easier in future to identify the firing sites of the prehistoric pottery industry.


Ó Faoláin, S. and Northover, J.P.  1998. The Technology of Late Bronze Age Sword Production in Ireland, The Journal of Irish Archaeology, Vol. 9 (1998), pp. 69-88

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and carried out his post-graduate and doctoral research on the period. Since then he has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is partly based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can learn more about Charles Mount’s publications here.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Identifying pottery fire-pits in the archaeological record. The Charles Mount Blog, 9 May 2012.

Irish Flanged Axes

Flanged axe found near Castledermot, Co. Kildare.

The flanged axe is a distinctive Bronze Age form, introduced at the end of the Early Bronze Age that represented an attempt to improve the hafting mechanism of the axe head by creating a longitudinal flange combined with a latitudinal ridge to prevent the axe head from moving around on the haft while in use. With the flanged axe the flanges extend beyond the stop-ridge and curve back into the sides of the axe. Actually the use of low flanges and stop-ridges had already appeared on the earlier Derryniggin type axes about 1700-1600 BC. Another approach is represented by the palstave axes, where the flanges and stop-ridge were cast as a single unit. The palstaves appear to represent a parallel approach to improving the axe haft and may have been a later development that came into use alongside the flanged axe, though much smaller numbers are known from Ireland.

There are about 700 flanged axes known from Ireland. They take a variety of forms. Most have the characteristic crescent-shaped blade. Some have low flanges that are convex in section and others have high angled flanges. In some cases the high flanges were bent inwards to grasp the haft and these are called wing-flanged axes. Some examples have loops which acted as an additional fixing point to attach the axe head to the haft. Some of the flanged axes have decoration on the blades and flanges.

No Irish flanged axe has ever been found in association so dating them is difficult. A matrix for a looped flanged axe occurs on a stone mould from Lough Scur, Co. Leitrim along with the matrices for two flat, thin butted axes. The mould doesn’t date the flanged axe as the matrix could have been a later addition to an old mould but it does suggest that flanged axes could have developed during the Early Bronze Age. The flanged axes probably appeared while the Derryniggin axes were still in production before 1600 BC and superseded that type. No flanged axes have been found in Late Bronze Age hoards so they appear to have gone out of use by 1200 BC.

Further reading

Greer Ramsey 1995. Middle Bronze Age Metalwork: Are Artefact Studies Dead and Buried? In J. Waddell and E. Shee Twohig, Ireland in the Bronze Age. Dublin.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book entitles Ireland in the Bronze Age. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Irish Flanged Axes. The Charles Mount Blog, November 10, 2011.

Hoards in the Irish Copper and Bronze Ages

Hoard of gold lunulae from Rathrooen, Co. Mayo. Image originally published in Clarke et al. 1985.

Throughout the Copper and Bronze Ages the deposition of hoards fluctuated through cycles of activity driven by religious, social and economic factors. After 1,500 years hoard deposition increased parabolicly in the last few centuries of the period indicating that the economy had boomed to the extent that people were wealthy enough to participate in an unprecedented process of wealth destruction. But this was followed by a complete halt to hoard deposition caused by economic collapse or social and religious changes or a combination of these factors.


In Ireland the use of metal commenced with the use of copper and gold from at least 2400 BC in the period known as the Copper Age and continued until the wide adoption of iron technology after 700-600 BC. One of the main themes of the Copper and Bronze Ages are hoards. Hoards are collections of objects that are buried together either in the ground or in bogs or other wetlands like lakes, marshes or rivers. Sometimes large collections of objects from bogs and wetlands that probably accumulated over time are also referred to as hoards. The study of the contents of hoards are important to our understanding of the Copper/Bronze Age as they record which objects were in use at a particular period, tell us about the production and distribution of objects and about contemporary society and religious practices. There are a number of different types of hoards including hoards of scrap metal for recycling and hoards of newly made objects for trade and distribution that were intended for recovery. Personal hoards are made up of sets of ornaments, tools or weapons that represented the personal property of an individual. These may have been deposited with the intention of recovery or they may have been intended as religious offerings never to be recovered. Finally there are large community hoards that are usually found in bog/wetland locations and were offerings deposited as part of religious ceremonies.

The record of hoards

There are more than 230 hoards known from the Copper/Bronze Age that contain more than 2,200 objects. Thirty-eight hoards are known from the Copper Age, 32 from the Early Bronze Age, just 5 from the Middle Bronze Age and 157 from the Late Bronze Age (O’Flaherty 1995, Eogan 1983 and 1994). One of the earliest hoards is the Castletown Roche hoard of four flat copper axes which were found close to the Awbeg River in Cork. Hoards continued to be deposited right into the seventh century BC and possible afterwards. In fact most of the known hoards were deposited in the period from the ninth century BC, known as the Dowris phase after a large bog/wetland hoard found near Birr, Co. Offaly. It was also in the Late Bronze Age that very large community hoards developed at bog/wetland locations like Dowris, Mooghaun, Co. Clare and the Bog of Cullen, Co. Tipperary. A trend throughout the Copper/Bronze Age was the deposition of hoards in bog/wetlands. About a third of the Copper and Early Bronze Age hoards, all the Middle Bronze Age hoards and about half the Late Bronze Age hoards are from bog/wetlands. The defining characteristic of these hoards is that they formed a part of religious ceremonies and were never intended to be recovered.

The Copper Age hoards

From the Copper Age, which commenced by 2400 BC or earlier, there are about 114 objects, mainly flat axes, gold discs and lunulae known from 38 hoards. Gold and copper were usually deposited separately. For example at Clashbredane, Co. Cork 25 flat axes were found in Raheen bog during peat cutting, while at Dunfierth, Co. Kildare 4 gold lunulae neck ornaments were deposited together in a bog. A few other objects like daggers and halberds are mainly found in the bog hoards. The objects in gold hoards were often in pairs and appear to represent personal objects.

The Early Bronze Age hoards

After 2200/2100 BC copper was alloyed with tin to create bronze and the Early Bronze Age commenced. There are about 145 hoard objects known from 32 hoards in this period of over 600 years. There appears to have been a reduction in hoard deposition compared to the Copper Age. Axes were still the most common object included with a few daggers and halberds occurring in bog/wetland contexts. Gold disappeared from hoards and wasn’t deposited again until the Late Bronze Age.

The Middle Bronze Age hoards

After 1500 BC the Bronze Age moved into its Middle phase and hoard deposition went into a further decline. Only three hoards with just 11 objects are known mainly from bog/wetlands in the north-west. These included Spears for the first time with flanged and palstave axes.

The Late Bronze Age hoards

After 1300/1200 BC, in the period known as the Bishopsland phase, gold hoards reappeared for the first time since the Copper Age. Twenty-five hoards of mainly personal ornaments are known that include 130 objects such as torcs, bracelets, rings, ear-rings and hair-rings that were made of gold and were mostly deposited in dry land hoards. The gold objects were all international types that are found throughout Britain, France and Spain. These were the personal property of individuals but appear to have been selected and buried for some special social or religious purpose rather than just concealment.

After 1000 BC there was another brief period of decline in hoard deposition during what is known as the Roscommon phase of the Late Bronze Age. Only 3 hoards containing more than 200 objects are known from this period. The most important find from the period the Roscommon hoard contained more than 200 pieces of broken and possibly scrap bronze. The objects in the hoards are primarily swords, spearheads, axes and other tools.

After 900 BC during the Dowris phase the Bronze Age reached its finale. It is not entirely clear how long this period lasted. There is evidence that iron working had been introduced to Ireland sometime between 800-700 BC. So for part of the Dowris phase both bronze and iron were in use simultaneously. From this short period more than 130 hoards are known containing more than 1,600 objects of bronze, gold, amber, glass, etc. These two or three hundred years saw over three times more objects deposited in hoards than in the proceeding 1,500 years. These hoards also contained the widest range of objects of the Bronze Age with tools such as axes and gouges, weapons such as swords and spear-heads, and razors, rings, containers, musical instruments and personal ornaments and gold rings and gorges, and beads of glass and faience. Most of the hoards are known from bog/wetlands and a number of them like Dowris, Cullen and Mooghaun each contained more than 200 objects which appear to have been deposited over a number of years.

The parabolic increase in hoard deposition indicates that during the Dowris phase the economy had boomed to the extent that many people were wealthy enough to participate in an unprecedented process of wealth destruction through the offering of valuable objects to the gods at ceremonies mostly centred on sacred bog/wetland sites. The large community hoards like Dowris and Mooghaun contained a wide range of objects from cauldrons and swords, to musical instruments, tools and ornaments. These hoards may be the accumulation of annual or episodic ceremonial offerings. There were also hoards of ornaments like the example from a bog at Kilmoyly, Co. Kerry with its gold bracelets and dress fastener deposited in a wooden box. These hoards represent an offering on behalf of wealthy individuals. There are weapon hoards like the example from wetland at Ballycroghan, Co. Down with its three leaf-shaped swords. The weapon hoards probably represent the offerings of individual chieftains. There are also tool hoards like the example from Crossna, Co. Roscommon with socketed axes, a gouge and knife, which probably represent the offerings of wealthy farmers.


The mechanisms behind these wildly fluctuating rates of hoard deposition are still poorly understood. If hoards were being buried as a means of concealment and safekeeping with the intention of recovery we would expect to have found much larger numbers of hoards from the Middle Bronze Age and the early part of the Late Bronze Age and would expect to find gold hoards throughout the period. Instead what we are seeing are cycles of fluctuations in hoard deposition that were driven by religious, social and economic factors. The phases may have lasted for hundreds of years but could have been shorter. The activity also took place at different social scales from the community to the individual level but each would have taken place within a defined social and political context. Some time probably between 600 and 500 BC the deposition of hoards ceased completely as a result of economic collapse or social and religious changes or a combination of these factors. This could have been a slow process or an abrupt collapse in activity. The production and use of bronze alongside iron continued in the succeeding Iron Age but was never again to reach the same scale.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Further reading

O’Flaherty 1995 discusses the bronze hoards of the Copper and Early Bronze Age. Eogan 1994 discusses the gold hoards of the Copper Age and Bronze Age. Eogan 1983 catalogues the hoards of the Middle and Late Bronze Age. Kristiansen 1998 discusses in detail the social and economic analysis of hoarding throughout Europe.

Clarke, D.V. et al. 1985. Symbols of Power at the time of Stonehenge. Edinburgh.

Eogan, G. 1983. Hoards of the Irish later Bronze Age. Dublin.

Eogan, G. 1994. The Accomplished Art. Gold and Gold Working in Britain and Ireland during the Bronze Age. Oxford.

Kristiansen, K. 1998. Europe before History. Cambridge.

O’Flaherty, R. 1995. An analysis of the Irish Early Bronze Age hoards containing copper or bronze objects. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries 125, 10-45.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Hoards in the Irish Copper and Bronze Ages. The Charles Mount Blog, August 25, 2011.

The two burial traditions of the beaker period in Ireland 1.1

A beaker from Largantea, Co. Derry, after Herring 1938.


New discoveries are transforming how we view the beaker period.


Beaker is a style of prehistoric pottery found throughout Europe in the later part of the third millennium BC from Scandinavia to North Africa and from the Danube to Ireland. Early beakers are tall pots with characteristic curving bell-shaped profiles and narrow flat bases that are often decorated with horizontal bands of decoration, although later beakers had a wider variety of forms. Radiocarbon dating indicates that beaker came into use in Ireland during the Cooper Age in the years following 2450 cal BC. Beaker ceased being deposited in burials by about 2170 cal BC but remained in general use when the Bronze Age commenced about 2000 BC and only went out of use entirely about 1900 Cal BC. It is the roughly three hundred years when beaker appeared in burials between 2450-2170 cal BC that I will refer to as the beaker period.

In Ireland beaker is found at settlement and ceremonial sites as well as in burials and early copper mines. Until recently Irish beaker burials were only known from megalithic tombs mainly in the north of the island. Discoveries made since the 1990s have transformed the situation. We are now able to discuss two burial traditions, one involving both old and newly built megalithic tombs in the north and a single burial tradition in the south. Beaker period burials are now known from old megalithic tombs with beaker associated burials. They are also known from newly built megalithic Wedge Tombs with beaker associated burials as well as from Wedge Tombs without beaker associated burials. To this we can now add burials with beaker in pits and without beaker in stone cists.

Old Megalithic tombs

In the Beaker period people in the north of the island placed burials accompanied by beaker pottery into megalithic tombs which were already very old monuments. The main old tomb used for beaker burial was the Court Tomb. There are about 390 Court Tombs known that consist of longitudinal chambers under long cairns with forecourt entrance features. At Ballybriest, Co. Derry, for example, an oval cavity resembling a polygonal cist was created in the Court Tomb cairn and the cremated remains of an adult male associated with a beaker were then placed into the cavity.

Newly built megalithic tombs

Wedge Tombs are the most common megalithic tomb type known in Ireland, with more than 500 known examples found mainly in the north, west and south-west. Most Wedge Tombs have wedge-shaped chambers with forecourts and round to oval cairns. Wedge Tombs came into use during the period 2540-2300 cal BC at about the start of the Beaker period and broadly contemporary beaker burials have been identified in a number of Wedge tombs mainly in the north. Both cremated and unburnt human remains were deposited in the Wedge tombs although cremation was more common. For example, at Largantea Co. Derry, cremated remains were deposited with what appeared to be whole beakers.

Wedge Tombs with burials not associated with beaker

Not all the Wedge Tombs investigated contained Beaker pottery. A number of examples have been investigated in the south of the country, like Labbacallee and Island, Co. Cork, that contained human remains but no beaker pottery. This indicates that not all beaker period burials were accompanied by beaker and we should be on the lookout for contemporary pit burials without pottery.

Pit burials with beaker

There are a number of pit burials containing Beaker now known from the south and east of the country. These burials are characterised as having small token quantities of cremated bone associated with sherds from one or more beakers sometimes associated with large stone artefacts like axes and mace heads, as well as flint and cereal grains. At Lismullin, Co. Meath a pit contained a cremated individual with burnt stone, a fragment of a mace head and sherds of two beakers as well as some Neolithic sherds and a flint flake. At Corbally, Co. Kildare a pit with a scorched base contained cremated human bone, animal bone, burnt flint and a chert barbed and tanged arrowhead with sherds of two beakers. Another pit in the neighbouring townland of Brownstown Co. Kildare contained cremated bone and barley and wheat associated with sherds of beaker.

Cist graves without Beaker

At Brackagh, Co. Derry a a small sub-rectangular cairn that was enclosed by 11 posts covered a pair of stone cists, one rectangular and the other octagonal, within a figure of eight stone setting. The octagonal cist contained the cremated remains of two adults that were dated to 2620-2485 cal. BC. The rectangular cist also contained the cremated remains of two individuals dated to 2485-2342 cal BC. There were no artefact associations with the burials. These cist burials highlight the possibility that other cists containing cremations but no associated artefacts may also date to the Beaker period.


The new evidence is transforming our view of burial in the beaker period in Ireland. Two contrasting burial types are now visible, one traditional and centred on megalithic tombs mainly in the north of the island. The other focussed on simpler single graves mainly in the south. The megalithic tombs continued a long tradition of collective burial of both burnt and unburnt remains and the deposition of whole pottery vessels that may have contained organic materials. In contrast pit burials were single graves with only small amounts of cremated bone accompanied by broken artefacts. What is emerging are two different views of burial, one looking to past traditions, the other making a new statement, but both using the international style of beaker pottery.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Further reading

Waddell 1998 is an excellent introduction to the prehistory of Ireland which summarises many of the themes and sites discussed here. Herity 1987 has summarised all the finds from the Irish Court Tombs. Schulting et al discuss the chronology of the Irish Wedge Tombs. O’Brien 2004 has published his excavations of the early copper mine at Ross Island, Co. Kerry and set the mines in the context of the Copper Age. For more on the pottery of the Bronze Age read Brindley 2007. Herring 1938, Purcell 2002, O’Connell 2009 and O’Regan 2010 include primary information on the Larngantia, Corbally, Brownstown, Lismullin and Brackagh burials.

Brindley, A. 2007. The dating of Food Vessels & urns in Ireland. Bronze Age Studies 7, Galway

Herity, M. 1987. The finds from Irish Court Tombs. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 87c, 5-281.

Herring, . J. 1938. The cairn excavation at Well Glass Spring, Largantea, Co. Londonderry. Ulster Journal of Archaeology 1, 164-88.

O’Brien, W. 2004. Ross Island. Mining, Metal and Society in Early Ireland. Bronze Age Studies 6, Galway.

O’Connell, A. 2009. Excavations at Lismullin, Co. Meath 1. National Roads Authority Report.

O’Regan, C. 2010. A monumental discovery in south Derry Archaeology Ireland 24, No. 3, 22-24

Purcell, A. 2002.  Excavation of Three Neolithic Houses at Corbally, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. Journal of Irish Archaeology 11, 31-75.

Schulting, R., Sheridan, A., Clarke, S. And Ramsey, B. 2008. Largantea and the dating of Irish Wedge Tombs. Journal of Irish Archaeology 17, 1-17.

Waddell, J. 1990. The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland. Galway.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The two burial traditions of the beaker period in Ireland. The Charles Mount Blog, August 11, 2011.

Version 1.1: revised 4/10/2011

Irish Peatland Archaeology in 2011: the Bord na Móna Archaeological Programme

Bronze Age trackway under excavation in Killaderry bog, Co. Galway July 2011

Part of my professional work involves providing archaeological advice to Bord na Móna, where I act as Project Archaeologist. Bord na Móna is the commercial Semi-state body with responsibility for the development of the Irish national peat resource. Bord na Móna owns and manages more than 80,000 ha of lands, the majority of which are peatlands, that contain a wealth of preserved archaeological and palaeoenvironmental material. The archaeological survey of the peatlands in the ownership of Bord na Móna has been a huge task, carried out under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of Ireland and funded by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It has been continuing for two decades and has indentified thousands of archaeological sites that are not only near the bog surface but also quite deeply buried.

The Bord na Móna method of working is to harvest a few centimetres of peat each year from the top of the bogs that are in operation. This slowly reduces the height of the bog and as the work goes on, like an archaeological excavation that stretches across the landscape, the archaeological features close to the top are either excavated or a decision is made to preserve them in situ. Bord na Móna workers attend annual training seminars provided by the National Museum of Ireland and the National Monuments Service and are well aware of the types of features and finds that might be uncovered. The excavation of the archaeological features and the post-excavation and palaeoenvironmental work is funded by Bord na Móna, under a set of principles agreed with Government and is the subject of an annual excavation programme. Today the Bord na Móna archaeological programme is the largest ongoing archaeological excavation project in Ireland.

The Bord na Móna excavation project is let as a single Peatland Archaeological Services contract covering three years of operations. Archaeological Development Services (ADS) have been carrying out the programme since 1998, under the Direction of Operations Manager Jane Whitaker, and to date have carried out more than 250 excavations and surveyed more than 45,000 ha of bog lands.

The current programme, covering the years 2010-13, is focusing on the bogs of Littleton, Derryvella, and Longford Pass, Co. Tipperary; Cloonshanagh, Mountdillon and Edera, Co. Roscommon; and Castlegar, Killaderry and Gowla, Co. Galway. In 2011, investigations of the wooden trackways in Gowla, Killaderry and Castlegar bogs are taking place and ADS are joined by a group of students from the University of Florida at Gainesville lead by Prof. Florin Curta.

Google Earth image indicating the location of Gowla, Killaderry and Castlegar bogs. The River Suck, highlighted with a blue line, crosses the image from north to south.

Gowla, Killaderry and Castlegar bogs are situated just to the west of the River Suck, a tributary of the River Shannon, and in the past would have presented a barrier to anyone trying to cross the river over a substantial stretch between Ballyforan and Clooncoran. The trackways have a wide date range from the Bronze Age right through to the fifteenth century AD. The longer trackways tend to cross the bogs at their narrowest points linking areas of dryland. In a number of cases trackways follow the routes that were established at earlier periods. For example trackway 5 in Killaderry bog, which dates to the period 660-770 AD, probably allowed travel from the area of Ahascragh, Co. Galway to Ballyforan, Co. Roscommon by crossing Killaderry bog at its narrowest point between Killaderry and Cloonshee. The interesting thing is that Killaderry 5 runs parallel to Killaderry 3 which dates from 910-820 BC. An earlier trackway, Killaderry 13, dated to 1380-1210 BC, also runs in a parallel direction a little to the east. There are other alignments of trackway that are being investigated this season that will soon be dated and will provide more detail. At this stage the evidence indicates that this routeway through Killaderry bog was in use for at least two thousand years and is probably the preserved wetland part of an ancient road network that existed in this area. Investigation of the nearby River Suck has the potential to identify ancient fording points and possibly the remains of bridges associated with this ancient routeway.

In nearby Castlegar bog trackway 1 links the lands around the Late Medieval Carmelite Monastery at Eglish, Co. Galway, founded in 1376, to an island of land in Dalysgrove townland next to the River Suck. This trackway dates to the historic period 1410-40 AD and indicates that the construction of wooden trackways continued almost to the post-Medeival period.

The bogs not only contain archaeological features but preserve a wealth of stratified environmental data. This is an integrated archaeological and palaeoenvironmental project with the environmental sampling and analysis work carried out by QUEST and ArchaeoScape. QUEST Quaternary Scientific, is part of the School of Human and Environmental Sciences in the University of Reading under the Direction of Dr. Nicholas Branch. The palaeoenvironmental investigations involve taking samples for pollen, plant macrofossils, insects and peat humification. Dr. Branch’s work focuses on the relationships between human activities, vegetation history and climate change. ArchaeoScape is part of Royal Holloway Geography Department, University of London, and is an environmental archaeological (‘palaeoenvironmental’ and ‘palaeoeconomic’) interpretation facility.

The excavation programme wil be continuing in 2012 and will be followed by post-excavation and palaeoenvironmental analysis and eventual publication of results.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Irish Peatland Archaeology in 2011: the Bord na Móna Archaeological Programme. The Charles Mount Blog, July 14, 2011.