Medieval and modern, urban
CRDS Ltd has been retained by Meath County Council to act as the archaeological consultants on the bundled wastewater collection system for County Meath. This project started in 2007 and will continue into 2009. Archaeological works in Athboy town concentrated on the assessment, monitoring and excavation in advance of construction works in Townparks, monitoring and metal detecting construction works at the Athboy River crossing immediately south of the medieval town, and monitoring of network pipe construction in the town centre. Monitoring of the network pipes in the environs of the town and for the wastewater treatment plant to the south of the town were also carried out by Denis Shine under separate licences (see No. 935 above and No. 938 below).
Ministerial consent was obtained to carry out a test excavation of a stretch of the proposed pipe trench in Townparks extending adjacent to the town wall for c. 407 linear metres from Barnes Avenue to the Athboy River and within the c. 25m-wide construction wayleave. This followed a geophysical magnetometer survey of the field by Ian Elliott (licence 07R216), which identified a number of geophysical anomalies characterised as general areas of disturbance and indeterminate archaeological features. The aim of the test excavation was to assess the impact of the proposed pipe route on any subsurface archaeological features such as a town ditch and the town wall, or any other unidentified archaeological features in this area, with the aim of writing an archaeological impact statement and formulating a suitable mitigation strategy. The test-trenches, excavated with the assistance of a mechanical excavator, consisted of a 2m-wide centre trench and off-set trenches every 15m. Test-trenches ranged in depth from 0.45m to 1.2m. Three areas were expanded to assess the nature of the archaeological features. The topsoil from the test-trenches and areas was metal detected (licence 07R209). In addition a visual inspection of the wall to the north of the site, bounding the town, was carried out to identify the presence of any pieces of worked stone which might have been reused during its construction in the post-medieval periods.
Archaeological features and areas identified during the test excavation included large pits of undetermined date which appear to have been used for gravel or sand extraction, modern garden features, paths and flanking ditches, and the modern back-garden refuse deposits of the gatelodge to Danes Court House. Test excavations also identified medieval gravel and sand extraction pits immediately south of the town wall opposite St James’ parish church. Most significantly, a number of flagstone surfaces, a hearth, medieval pottery and a 12th/13th-century dressed-stone window frame fragment, as well as a later wall, were also identified in an expanded area of test excavations, Area 3. This material, also found immediately outside the town wall, is thought to be associated with significant medieval remains, possibly the remains of the Carmelite friary. Adjacent earthworks in the field to the immediate south may be the expression of significant subsurface structural remains. This area and two others were identified as archaeologically significant and were preserved in situ as fenced excluded areas.
The construction methodology of the network pipe in this field was altered; rather than excavate a new pipe trench the existing sewer pipe was renovated. This involved the re-excavation of the existing pipe and its replacement. This, as well as the exclusion zones and the use of a purpose-built c. 0.3m-thick track over the existing c. 0.5m-thick topsoil, was designed to minimise the construction impact on identified and potential subsurface archaeological remains. The construction work was subsequently monitored.
A number of features were identified at the edge of the old sewer pipe cut, including burnt soil, ditch features, deposits of stone and a well. These were exposed as the fill of the original sewer pipe trench, which was wider than the cut of the new sewer, fell away from the old trench edge. Where the new sewer pipe deviated from the line of the existing sewer the line of the trench was stripped in advance under supervision. This resulted in the discovery of a number of ditch features, both modern and medieval, a poorly preserved and as yet undated burial, shallow pit features and a possible hearth. Finds recovered included medieval locally produced pottery, blackware and transfer-printed modern pottery as well as corroded metal objects from both medieval and modern features.
Following the recommendations of an archaeological survey of the Athboy River (07D51/07R197) undertaken by Aisling Collins in December 2007, monitoring and metal detection of construction work where the network pipe crossed the river was undertaken in June, July and August 2008. This involved the monitoring of trench excavation work and metal detecting spoil removed from the riverbed. The spoil was spread on purpose-built concrete platforms positioned on either side of the Athboy River. No archaeological features were observed in the riverbed or riverbank; construction of the old sewer pipe in the 1970s appears to have caused considerable disturbance. A large volume of metal objects was recovered during metal detecting. A considerable quantity of scrap metal, barbed wire and recent objects – mobile phones, late 20th-century coins, tube metal from gates, car parts – was recovered but not retained. A total of 21 identifiable metal objects and 15 ceramic sherds of pottery (small abraded sherds of medieval locally produced glazed earthenware and post-medieval stonewares, pearl ware, transfer printed wares and creamware pottery) were retained. The artefacts recovered included four buttons, two pendants, a copper alloy mount piece, a bullet casing, a copper-alloy strap-end and a number of iron objects which were probably lost from industrial or agricultural machinery. Other finds included a large curved iron piece, possibly part of a horse harness, five lead objects including a seal bearing the stamp ‘KNIGHT B***N’, a selection of iron objects including a spark plug and the bar from a modern padlock. A total of 116 coins were recovered, 69 identifiable as modern foreign coins, including a Dutch 5 cent coin and an American 1 cent coin, Irish and euro coins; 47 were heavily corroded but likely to be euro or Irish coins. The most corroded coins may need to be conserved and cleaned for proper identification. The assemblage could be considered typical for an urban river where material has been dumped, washed in from storm drains and in floods through the post-medieval period with material dating from earlier periods having been washed further downstream or having been removed through disturbance of the river channel.
Monitoring of network pipe construction work in Athboy town centre was also undertaken in 2008. Following the results of the ground-penetrating radar survey on Main Street and Connaught Street (07R210) in 2007, where a large numbers of services and possible town wall and gate features were identified, the developers decided to reroute the sewer pipe to avoid these areas. The new route chosen runs from Connaught Street down Church View, outside the probable line of the town wall. Monitoring of the network pipes along this road revealed nothing of archaeological significance. Monitoring and construction works are continuing in 2009.
Richard Clutterbuck, Cultural Resource Development Services Ltd, Unit 4, Dundrum Business Park, Dundrum, Dublin 14.
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