Ancient settlement landscape
In summer 2002 a programme of excavation began in an early settlement landscape in the Barrees valley, north of Castletownbere in the Beara Peninsula of County Cork. This work is part of a wider study into the use of upland environments in late prehistoric Ireland, funded by the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions of the National Development Plan.
The focus of excavation this season was a circular enclosure measuring 17m in diameter, defined by a stone wall, 1.2–1.5m wide, with a single orthostatic entrance. The enclosing element is unusual in that the inner wall face consists of a line of contiguous upright boulders, separated from an outer line of recumbent boulders by a loose stone fill. The wall is generally less than 1m high and is reduced to a line of low boulders in the north-eastern sector.
The removal of 0.2–0.4m of peat from the interior revealed a series of stony sediment spreads dating to both the construction and the use of this monument. No post-holes or other features were uncovered to indicate internal structures, raising some doubt about the use of this site as a settlement.
Radiocarbon dates are not yet available; however, a small number of finds, including dumb-bell glass beads, stone discs and an iron point, suggest activity here in the first millennium AD. The excavation of this site is to conclude in 2003.
Sample excavation was carried out at a number of other sites in the Barrees settlement complex. These include test-pit excavation of two fulachta fiadh, which produced radiocarbon dates of 3280±30 BP and 2820±35 BP. This confirms Middle–Late Bronze Age settlement in this valley, activity that can also be linked to use of a copper mine in Crumpane townland on the adjacent ridge. Finally, four lengths of pre-bog field wall were also trenched to obtain samples for dating and environmental analyses. Further excavation of field walls and associated hut sites is planned for 2003.
William O’Brien, Department of Archaeology, National University of Ireland, Galway.

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