Monday, July 23, 2018

Further new discoveries in the Knock Iveagh landscape


Knock Iveagh is a hill, near Rathfriland, Co. Down. It was chosen as the site of a prehistoric burial cairn around 4,000 BC and continued into later times as the inauguration place of the Magennis chiefs. It has long been known that the hill sits at the centre of a significant ceremonial and ritual landscape. However, it is only now becoming apparent that the area has been significantly under-studied and under-appreciated. I recently contributed a short note on the possible external ditch visible around part of Lisnacroppan Barrow to the south-west of Knock Iveagh [here]. At that time I noted that the aerial photographs that had been made available to me, although very beautiful, were not of much archaeological use as some fields had recently been cropped and there was no vegetation differential that would appear as cropmarks.

The Friends of Knock Iveagh, undeterred, resolved to get a drone out and looking for further potential archaeological features as soon as possible. To be fair to them, they didn’t even have to wait for a drone! A local man, Mr David Ross, took to Google Maps and spotted an intriguing cropmark, approximately 1.1km to the north of the Knock Iveagh hill. He passed it on to the Friends of Knock Iveagh, who then made me aware of it. Although somewhat difficult to make out, it appears to be an oval, ditched enclosure. At a rough estimate, it would appear to measure c.57m (sw-ne), by c.42m. A darker portion of an arc to the north-east may suggest that the site was enclosed by two ditches. Given the size and shape, it's likely that this was a rath or ringfort - a defended homestead of the Early Medieval period. It would also appear that the site was, at some stage, tied into the local field ditch system as linear features can be seen radiating to the north-west and north-east. Other, similar features may exist along the southern portion of the site but are too ill-defined to be certain. This site is not marked on the SMR and appears to be a completely new discovery. About 190m to the north-east there’s an Early Medieval rath in Ballynafern townland (DOW 034:056), while an interesting site lies some 220m to the south-west in Ballybrick townland (DOW 041:015). This site is described in the SMR file as a ‘massive enclosed area’ and quotes the Ordnance Survey report: ‘… in Ballymeilbricktownland [sic.] which is a perfect ellipse. The transverse diameter 630 feet, conjugate 550 feet.’ The SMR file adds that ‘This was probably a very strongly defended large enclosure and must have served as an important ‘Royal’ centre or Assembly site.’ While portions of the enclosure appear in various editions of the OS maps and it appears to account for the curving bend in the road to the south, little if any of it appears to be upstanding today. Although some initial discussion centred on the possibility that our ‘new’ site was actually DOW 041:015, it is now clear that they are two different sites.

Aerial photo of newly discovered possible rath site
DOW 041:015 with several potential sets of ditches showing

In a wonderful example of ‘research in action’ that would do any university proud, the Friends of Knock Iveagh flew a drone in this area later the same day. One of the images they captured is quite remarkable and clearly shows the newly discovered site. The same drone flight went over the area of DOW 041:015 and, though slightly blurry, a still image from the video feed appears to have captured evidence of the large, curving outer ditch mentioned in the SMR (in the south-western portion of the enclosure). Inside this there appears to be evidence for several sets of curving ditches, apparently based on a single focus. Other photography released since, shows these 3-4 ditches quite clearly, with the tantalising possibility of a further rather gigantic ditch enclosing the whole. On this basis we can estimate that the site measured approximately 173m (nw-se), by c.140m – not terribly far off the approximate measurements given in the SMR file.

Overview of DOW 041:015 with several potential sets of ditches visible as cropmarks

That would be fine and lovely – new site confirmed and detail added to known enclosure – except that in that video there was a slight ‘OMFG! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?’ moment. I first noticed a cropmark in the shape of a large, flat-based U-shape to the north-west of DOW 041:015. But that was the least impressive thing to be seen there. This field is awash with cropmarks of various kinds, but it seems clear that we can pick out a coherent sub-rectangular structure with a projecting circular corner. Right now there are several possibilities as to what this dense complex of features could represent. I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of any eventual archaeological excavation nor am I willing give too many hostages to fortune, but I think it should be recorded that the indefatigable Anne Harper has noted that the early 17th century patent rolls note that Sir Art Magennis had ‘a great Irish house’ in the proximity of Ballynafern/Ballybrick townlands. Simply put, this could well be a 'Bawn' or defended settlement and, at the moment and for want of a better term it has been delightfully described as 'Bawnesque'. My initial instincts, although buoyed up with adrenaline and the general thrill of discovery, are to say that finding one historically-recorded structure from cropmarks would seem unlikely. It may even be irresponsible to offer the connection without fuller and more comprehensive proof. But, dash it all, I would really love if it was right!

Video still showing flat-based U-shape feature

The serious point here is that a group of non-specialists, aided and encouraged by a small coterie of professionals and recovering archaeologists, have made some startlingly significant discoveries in this quiet corner of Co Down. As I said at the start of this piece, it is a landscape that has been significantly under-studied and under-appreciated until very recently. I can but hope that this new research and these further discoveries shifts a serious research focus onto the Knock Iveagh landscape and heralds a a new appreciation of this special place.

Field with 'Bawnesque' enclosure. The flat-based U-shape feature is visible at the top of frame

Notes
The Friends of Knock Iveagh continue to campaign against the breaches in planning process that led to a wind turbine being constructed on the top of the hill. I would urge anyone with a love for archaeology and a care for our shared heritage to go to their page, give it a ‘like’ & give it a ‘share’ [here]. These new images are copyright of the Friends of Knock Iveagh and PAK Aerial Media and I am forever in their debt for being given early access to them and for their permission to report on their discoveries here.

Ann Harper is keen to note that the Magennis house idea was a product of several minds within the Friends of Knock Iveagh group. Either way I thank them all, not least for introducing me to the concept of a feature being ‘Bawnesque’.

While I (and others) see a 'sub-rectangular structure with a projecting circular corner', at least one commentator on the internet has suggested that they see a penis shape ... I don't feel able to comment further on this ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Crop marks reveal a little more of Lisnacroppan Barrow, Co Down


I don’t know when I last saw a week as densely populated with stories of interesting and important discoveries in Irish archaeology as this one past. Chief among these has been Ken Williams’ & Anthony Murphy’s series of discoveries in the Boyne Valley (here) as well as other similar discoveries across the UK where the recent drought had revealed some impressive cropmarks associated with sub-surface archaeological features. Being of the mind to never leave a band wagon un-jumped upon, I was delighted when I was offered a collection of photographs of Knock Iveagh and environs, near Rathfriland, Co Down, taken from a drone over the past week or so. This approach has many advantages, not least of which is that no one as uncoordinated and accident prone as I am is allowed to pilot a drone through the skies of Co. Down!

Unfortunately, a number of factors limited the use of these images. In the first instance, a substantial number of fields appear to have had their crops cut by the time of the drone flight and, second, several fields just didn’t seem to have been sufficiently parched to show up crop marks. The Save Knock Iveagh group plant to re-fly this area in the coming weeks in the hope that some differential regrowth on the cut fields will allow features to be spotted. Alternatively, if the drought progresses, it may be possible to see further detail in ostensibly barren fields.


In the meantime, I present the closest thing I have to a ‘new’ discovery. Lisnacroppan Barrow (‘the fort of the hillock’) is comprised of a mound and enclosure ditch and would appear to date to the prehistoric period. In later times it was used as an inauguration site. The HED’s online Sites & Monuments Record notes that ‘It has been ploughed down in the E half, in a line NW-SE, both parts are separated by a fence’. A report by David Bell from 2011 notes that ‘This appears to have occurred between the publication of the 1st and 3rd editions of the relevant OS 6” map, probably in the later half of the 19th century.’ Although slightly difficult to see, the aerial photograph can be seen to show a curving arc running through the missing portion of the site. Initially, I though it may have represented an inner ditch between the mound and the external bank, but the more I look at it, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that it's a previously unrecognised ditch, external to the whole site. Perhaps further flights will reveal more of this site and even some further features, as yet unrecognised, in the surrounding fields.

I am grateful to the Save Knock Iveagh group for the use of their photography. Please support them by giving their page a ‘like’ [here]

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Co Galway: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum

The British Museum holds 47 items identified as coming from Co Galway. A further three are listed as from either Galway or Westmeath, along with one each either from Galway or Fermanagh or Mayo. The majority of these (26) are assigned to the Bronze Age, followed by the Early Medieval period (8) and the Iron Age (6). The most common object type represented are rings (16), followed by pins (6) and socketed axes (4). Only three material types are represented in this assemblage: Metal (45), Stone (6) and Bone (1).


Neolithic/Bronze Age: Stone Items
Galway, Tumulus
axe
18540714.890
Polished stone axe ; broken

Galway
axe
St.131.a
Polished stone axe; flat butt; chipped blade.



Bronze Age: Metal Items
Galway
spear-head
19641201.830
Copper alloy spear-head tip

Galway
spear-head
18620521.100
Copper alloy socketed spear-head, pegged. In two pieces, joined by wood in socket.

Galway
socketed axe
18730602.170
Copper alloy socketed axe; cast, loop damaged.

Galway
dirk
WG.1603
Copper alloy dirk, two rivets in situ.

Galway
socketed axe
18750401.240
Copper alloy socketed axe; cast. Mouth is circular and damaged, rim projects and curves back into the body.

Tuam (near)
socketed axe
18660627.780
Copper alloy socketed axe; cast. Oval mouth, rim rounded at top but is damaged.

Athenry
shield
18880719.100
Well preserved small sheet-bronze shield of round shape, doomed and beaten out of a single disc.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.108
Copper alloy ring.
350 BC - 250 BC (circa)

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.109
Copper alloy ring.
350 BC - 250 BC (circa)

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.110
Copper alloy ring.
350 BC - 250 BC (circa)

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.111
Copper alloy ring.
350 BC - 250 BC (circa)

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.112
Copper alloy ring.
350 BC - 250 BC (circa)

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.113
Copper alloy ring.
350 BC - 250 BC (circa)

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.114
Copper alloy ring.
350 BC - 250 BC (circa)

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.115
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.116
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.117
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.118
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.119
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.120
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.121
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.122
Copper alloy ring.

Ballynakill
ring
18540714.123
Copper alloy ring.

Moore
socketed axe
WG.1584
Copper alloy socketed axe. Body cross-section hexagonal. Mouth slightly bevelled and flared, ridge at base of neck. Three haft ribs extend to the rim.

Meelick; Shannon, River
sword
18540714.281
Copper alloy sword. The tang appears to have been cast on. It has one rivet-hole and unperforated depressions for two more.


Iron Age: Metal Items
Galway (near ?)
horse bridle-bit
18680709.130
Copper alloy horse-bit, two fragments.

Galway (near ?)
horse bridle-bit
18530528.300
Three fragments from bronze horse-bit.

Galway (near ?)
horse bridle-bit
18680709.120
Copper alloy horse-bit, two fragments.

Galway (near ?)
harness-fitting
18530528.500
Copper alloy Y-shaped harness-fitting. The two upper terminals are heavily corroded. The one remaining terminal terminates in a hollow bulbous knob.
300 BC - 100 AD (circa)

Galway (near ?)
harness-fitting
18530528.400
Copper alloy Y-shaped harness-fitting. The two upper terminals are heavily corroded. The one remaining terminal terminates in a hollow bulbous knob.
300 BC - 100 AD (circa)

Athenry
chape
18680709.300
Cast copper alloy openwork chape. Straight bridge at back, plain apart from a tiny 'nipple' projecting inwardly at each corner.


Early Medieval: Metal items
Galway
pin
18680709.430
Copper alloy pin with remains of hooked head; shank of oval section.
5thC-11thC

Galway
pin
18680709.420
Brass pin with T-shaped head of flat section; shank of oval section.
10thC-11thC

Galway
pin
18680709.410
Leaded gun metal mushroom-headed pin with sub-biconical head, decorated with incised vertical lines; shank of oval section.
5thC-10thC

Loughrea Lake
ringed pin
18680709.290
Copper alloy ring-headed pin; ring transversely incised.
9thC-10thC

Clonfert
penannular brooch
18680709.200
Leaded bronze penannular brooch with ribbed hoop; terminals of opposed animal heads with setting; plain pin-head, oval section pin, now separated.
5thC


Viking; Early Medieval: Metal item
Galway
penannular brooch; bossed penannular brooch
18690301.100
Silver bossed penannular brooch, each terminal with five bosses and incised animal interlace decoration. Pin separate.
9thC-10thC


Medieval; Early Medieval: Bone item
Aran Islands
counter
18620301.900
Bone counter with three concentric double-incised circles intersected by five semi-circles forming central circle.
11thC-13thC


Medieval: Metal items
Galway
finger-ring
AF.1822
Finger-ring; gold; slender hoop and oval bezel, both of rough workmanship; the bezel is set with a cabochon amethyst.
13thC-14thC

Athenry
shrine; figure
18800802.135
Cast copper alloy ecclesiastical figure from a shrine, wearing a cloak and girdle and holding a book to his chest; elongated; traces of gilding.
12thC(early)

Tuam
plaque
OA.7485
Plaque; bronze; oval; embossed with crowned woman holding in right arm a child who appears to be munching a biscuit, Virgin and Child; towered buildings in background; two holes at top and bottom; Our Lady of Tuam?.
14thC


Late Medieval: Metal item
Galway
finger-ring
18540714.299
Finger-ring; silver; nielloed; oval bezel with sacred monogram.
15thC


Unknown: Stone items
Galway (said to be)
sculpture
20138017.800
Carved granite sculpture in the form of a head.
1stC-20thC (?)

Galway (said to be)
sculpture
20138017.121
Carved limestone sculpture in the form of a head.
1stC-20thC (?)

Clonfert (said to be)
sculpture
20138017.160
Carved granite sculpture in the form of a head, mounted on a wooden plinth.
1stC-20thC (?)


The following item is listed in the museum catalogue as coming from either Galway or Fermanagh:
Neolithic/Bronze Age: Stone item
Fermanagh/Aran Islands
axe
19080208.100
Large polished stone axe; blade missing; damaged butt.


The following item is listed in the museum catalogue as coming from either Galway or Mayo:
Bronze Age: Metal item
Galway/Mayo
flat axe
19511103.100
Copper-alloy flat axe; with a thin, narrow, rounded butt.


The following items are listed in the museum catalogue as coming from either Galway or Westmeath:
Early Medieval: Metal items
Galway/Athlone?
pin
18680709.460
Leaded bronze pin with moulded 'bead and reel' ribbed decoration on head.
5thC-11thC

Galway/Athlone?
pin
18680709.440
Leaded bronze mushroom-headed pin, with ribbed conical head; shank of rectangular section with lines of punched decoration.
5thC-10thC

Galway/Athlone?
pin
18680709.450
Gun metal polyhedral headed pin; shank of square section, transverse ribbed moulding below.
9thC-10thC