Excavation was carried out at the site of the flood amelioration project at Clonee Co. Meath, following a programme of monitoring (see No. 943 above, 08E0605). The excavation was carried out in November and December 2008. Five areas (Areas 1–5) of archaeological activity were identified across two large fields representing features from the prehistoric, the medieval and the post-medieval periods.
A possible prehistoric large pit or well, 7.8m in length and 1.6m in depth, was identified in Area 1. A ramp on the western side of the pit allowed access to the base. The basal fill of the pit was dark-blackish-brown silt rich in organic remains, 0.6m in thickness. The remainder of the pit was filled with successive layers of grey and orange silts. A very distinctive layer of charred wood lay within the lowest of these fills, extending across the pit from the southern edge. No artefacts were recovered from the pit. It was surrounded by clusters of pits and post-holes, most of which had been disturbed by root or animal activity. No meaningful pattern could be established from the pits and post-holes identified. Sherds of possible prehistoric pottery were recovered from two of the small pits. A meandering medieval field boundary ditch was identified in the western extent of Area 1. It measured 80m in length, 1.25m in width and was quite shallow at 0.4m in depth. Eight sherds of medieval pottery were recovered from the fills of the ditch. Two medieval drainage features ran into the ditch in the southern end. An isolated extended burial was located 1.3m to the west of the northern terminal of the ditch. The burial was oriented north-east/south-west, with the head to the north-east. The skeletal remains were that of an adult laid in a supine position with the right arm bent at a 40° angle behind their back. A drain truncated the northern end of the grave-cut, removing the cranium completely. No grave goods were recovered and the grave-cut was unlined.
A second large possible prehistoric pit or well was identified in Area 2, located 240m to the north-west of Area 1. It was situated on the south-facing slope of a low gradual natural rise. The pit measured 6.6m in length and 1.65m in depth. The sides of the pit sloped down to a concave base making the pit inaccessible. The basal fill was dark-blackish-brown silt rich in organic remains. The remainder of the pit was filled with successive layers of silty clay. A well-preserved wooden vessel and a split timber were recovered from the basal fill. The vessel was discovered lying on its side; the body of the vessel had an equal length and width of 0.23m. However, considerable distortion may have taken place over time. Two lugs to support a handle were identified with rounded tops and single circular holes. Towards the base of the vessel an internal groove was identified. This groove accommodated the insertion of a base piece. Simple in style, the vessel displayed no obvious signs of decoration. Vessels similar to this type have previously been discovered within wetland contexts. Several post- and stake-holes, representing a four-post structure, an L-shaped structure and several temporary fence lines, were identified at the northern edge of the pit. A possible piece of prehistoric pottery was recovered from one of the post-holes of the L-shaped structure. A central hearth surrounded by a circular structure, 2.7m in diameter, was identified to the north-east of the pit/well. Numerous features, all filled with a similar burnt-stone material, were identified to the north-east of the well/pit including a possible trough and a gully.
A disturbed post-medieval structure, possibly representing the remains of a cottier’s cabin with associated spread of burnt material, was identified in Area 3. A single wall survived, made up of a course of angular unworked limestone blocks. It is possible that it represents a base or foundation for a mud wall. The wall appeared to have been constructed over a backfilled shallow ditch that ran in the same direction for a distance of at least 11.5m. A spread, measuring 3.6m by 4.8m and 0.1m in depth, was located to the south-east of the wall and consisted of a dark-brown, charcoal-rich silty sand with pebble and burnt clay inclusions and frequent inclusions of post-medieval pottery, clay pipe, glass and iron nails. In total, 178 artefacts were recovered from Area 3, all of which dated to the post-medieval period.
A boundary ditch associated with a complex of phased medieval drainage ditches was identified in Area 4. Area 4 was located in the north-west corner of the development, c. 70m from the River Tolka; this was also the lowest point of the field. A large medieval boundary ditch was identified oriented south-west/north-east across the development site. This played an integral role in the drainage system with all the drainage ditches running into it. It is likely that this central ditch then drained into the river. Four phases of drainage works associated with this ditch were present with larger drainage ditches being inserted with each new phase. It is probable that the land was being drained so it could be used for cultivation or left in pasture for cattle. Two hundred and twenty-three sherds of pottery dating from the 12th to 14th centuries were recovered from the layers filling the ditches. A badly disturbed burial of a young adult was identified during monitoring to the immediate north of the boundary ditch in Area 4. The burial was possibly oriented east–west, with just parts of the skull and some long bones present, which were partly disarticulated. No grave-cut was discernible and the remains were situated on the surface of the subsoil. It is possible that a bank existed in this location and that the burial had been placed in or under the bank, being disturbed when it was removed.
Area 5 was situated on the north-west-facing slope of a low rise in the south of the development and was bounded to the north-west by an area of noticeably poorer drainage. It consisted of a complex concentration of archaeological layers and features, with overlying deposits obscuring earlier features. Portions of at least three substantial ditches of probable medieval date were uncovered, but their full extents could not be established due to overlying archaeological material. Three other linear features may represent smaller medieval ditches. As many as three large kilns were identified, as well as two pits and a drainage feature. With the exception of some of the agricultural activity, all the features identified appear to be broadly medieval in date. This significant concentration of medieval remains was assessed, but not archaeologically resolved. The flood amelioration plan was amended in order to have no impact on the archaeological features identified in Area 5 and the topsoil was reinstated.
Ciara McCarthy, Arch-Tech Ltd, 32 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2.
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