Sites 169a1 and 169a2, Shanballyduff
These sites were located in a large pasture field on an east-facing break of slope overlooking lower land that is prone to extensive flooding in the winter months. The sites were identified during pre-development testing by Kara Ward in 2005 on the route of the Cashel to Mitchelstown road improvement scheme (Excavations 2005, No. 1456, 05E0876). Site 169A2 was located across the slope while 169A1 was located 20m downslope to the north-east. The nature of the excavated features was such that both groups of features are considered to form part of a single site.
The topsoil was stripped from the site by a mechanical digger under supervision. Three phases of activity were identified ranging in date from possibly the Bronze Age to relatively modern times. Three hearths and a series of pits and post-holes located in Sites 169A1 and A2 formed the earliest phase (Phase 1). Two parallel roughly linear ditches to the west of these formed Phase 2, while Phase 3 was represented by a number of stake-holes and possible slot-trenches, some of which were dug into one of the Phase 2 infilled ditches.
Phase 1: possible Bronze Age activity
This phase was represented by three hearths, eight pits and a series of post/stake-holes on site 169A1 and a further pit on site 169A2. The pits were arranged in linear fashion adjacent to the hearth and ranged between 0.7 and 2.3m in width and 0.2 and 0.82m in depth. The pits were, in the main, filled with charcoal-enriched soil, heat-fractured stone and clay, reminiscent of burnt-mound material. This might suggest that their function was in some way related to cooking using heated stones. The low-lying ground to the east could be a suitable location for a fulacht fiadh, although no surface trace of such was recorded in the vicinity and none was found during extensive testing in this area.
One large hearth and two smaller examples were recorded. Hearth F78 was located in a shallow depression, 0.24m deep, directly to the west of a line of pits. Seventeen stake-holes located in the base may represent the various locations of racks or spits that once stood within it. It measured 2.8m by 2.1m and was 0.24m deep. The stake-holes were 0.24–0.34m deep.
Two smaller hearths were located to the south of F78. These were 70mm to 0.12m in depth and 0.3–0.7m in width. The fills contained fire-shattered stone and finely comminuted charcoal.
A series of eight pits was recorded to the north and east of the hearth. A line of five to the east was located on the break of slope and they were roughly equidistantly positioned c. 2.75m apart. A further three were located 2.1m to the west of these, north of the hearth. The pits ranged in size from 0.7m by 0.8m to 1m by 2m. The depths ranged from 0.2m to 0.82m. The fills were mainly coarse silty deposits with charcoal staining and heat-fractured stone and were reminiscent of burnt-mound material.
An outlying pit located c. 20m to the north-east (Site 169A1) was linear in plan and of similar character and fill.
Phase 2 was represented by two parallel linear ditches located upslope to the west of the Phase 1 features. Both ditches appeared to have been heavily truncated. F23 measured 0.5–0.7m in width and was 0.3m deep. The fill was a black silty clay with charcoal staining, which contained fragments of modern glazed pottery. F31 measured 1m wide, 0.31m deep and was filled with a mid-grey/orange silty deposit with slight charcoal staining. A sherd of modern glazed pottery was recorded in the base. Both ditches appear to be relatively recent in date and were probably related to agricultural activity.
A number of features, some of which were dug into the infilled ditch F23, represented the final phase of activity on the site. The features were ephemeral in nature and were severely truncated and most appear to represent the remains of planks that had rotted in situ. They appear to be relatively modern in date, as they post-dated the Phase 2 infilled ditch.
Martin Doody, New Road, Portlaoise, Co. Laois on behalf of Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd.
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