Ancient settlement landscape
02E0914 ext.
Ancient settlement landscape
02E0914 ext.
A second season of excavation was carried out in the Barrees valley, Co. Cork, in the period April–July 2003. Four hut sites (Sites D–G) and a standing stone pair (Site H) were excavated over a 15-week period. The investigation of an Iron Age enclosure (Site A), which commenced in 2002 (Excavations 2002, No. 238), was also completed. Conservation work was carried out at all these sites to ensure their future preservation.
The south-east quadrant and entrance area of Site A, a stone-walled enclosure, were investigated. This revealed a series of stony sediment deposits inside the entrance, but no structural features. A glass bead of early medieval type was found, while radiocarbon dating of peat growth (GrN-28301; 800±30 BP) shows the enclosure to have been abandoned by c. AD 1200. Conservation work was subsequently carried out to restore the enclosing wall and interior ground surface.
Excavation of Site D, a collapsed hut site located on level ground adjacent to a small stream, revealed a substantial house dwelling. This structure has a rectangular outline with rounded corners, measuring 6.7m (east–west) by 5.2m externally. The 1.2–1.9m-wide earthen wall survives to a height of 0.35–0.65m. The exterior is faced with a rough horizontal coursing of field stones, with a 0.4–0.66m-wide entrance opening on the eastern side. The latter is marked by opposing transverse slabs splaying inwards, with the position of a doorpost indicated by an exterior post-hole on the northern side. This entrance leads into an interior room with circular ground plan, measuring 2.35m by 2.15m. The inner wall was faced using contiguous stone slabs set upright to a height of 0.42–0.88m. A horseshoe-shaped annexe to this room on the western side contained a rectangular hearth, measuring 0.82m by 0.44m, built of upright stones with external packing. A slab-lined box in a small pit was discovered adjacent to the hearth opening. This box may have been a baking oven for use with hot stones. Spreads of charcoal-rich sediment on the uneven subsoil floor, extending out through the entrance passage, derive from the use of this hearth. Charcoal from the hearth is radiocarbon dated to 2465±20 BP (GrN-28302), placing this house in the Late Bronze Age. There were no artefact finds. Conservation work was carried out after excavation to restore the exterior wall facing and gravel the inner floor surface.
Site E was a circular hut foundation defined by a 0.8–1.4m-wide collapsed wall of rough field stones with a 0.7m-wide entrance opening on the northern side. This structure has an internal diameter of 2.6m. There were no interior features and the only find is a multi-coloured glass bead of early medieval type. Two small charcoal deposits were found underneath wall stones. One of these is radiocarbon dated to 1380±40 BP (GrN-28303), consistent with a 6th–8th-century AD date range for the bead.
Site F was a D-shaped stone wall enclosure built against the inner face of a large field wall. This structure, measuring 4.8m by 2.7m internally, is defined by a single narrow wall of rough field stones, which was originally up to 0.6m high. Two low transverse slabs on the south-east side mark the position of a 1.2m-wide entrance. There were no interior features, apart from a 30–40mm-thick spread of charcoal over most the floor surface. This charcoal is radiocarbon dated to 895±20 BP (GrN-28304), pointing to the use of this hut shelter in the 11th or 12th centuries AD. There were no finds.
Site G consisted of an oval depression, measuring 4.4m by 3.3m by 0.3 deep, adjacent to a small stream. Excavation revealed a steep-sided pit with a central depth of 0.55m. This contained a waterlogged peaty fill with preserved branches and twigs, overlying a compact layer of charcoal. The latter is radiocarbon dated to 585±20 BP (GrN-28305), suggesting a later medieval context for what may be a charcoal kiln or a large roasting pit. There were no artefacts found.
The excavation of two monoliths, set c. 1m apart on an east–west alignment, took place at Site H. The western stone, measuring 0.98m by 0.56m, stands to its original height of 1.4m above the socket. The eastern example (1.86m by 0.48m) was lying in a recumbent position, having fallen at some stage due to water erosion along this hill slope. Both stones were originally set upright in shallow subsoil pits and held in position with large packing stones. Three small boulders of white quartz had been deliberately placed next to this monolith. Investigation of the fallen eastern stone revealed a stone-lined socket at the western end. A deliberate deposit of white quartz pebbles, overlain by a small slab, sealed a small adjacent pit containing cremated bone and charcoal. A second deposit of cremated bone and charcoal was uncovered on the western side of this socket. Charcoal indicating a fire (or fires) adjacent to the western stone is radiocarbon dated to 2830±30 BP (GrN-28306). This suggests activity here in the Late Bronze Age. Dating of the associated burials must await radiocarbon analysis of the cremated bone. Following excavation, the eastern monolith was re-erected in its original socket position.
William O’Brien, Department of Archaeology, NUI, Galway.

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