A geophysical survey and archaeological testing were conducted on a proposed development site that covered 36 acres of agricultural land in Donacarney Great. The site was mostly in pasture and a north–south-orientated watercourse divided it in half. The western half of the site was situated upon a prominent north–south-orientated natural ridge and the low-lying eastern half of the site was level and poorly drained land.
A total of 28 1.7m-wide trenches were mechanically excavated across the site. The location of two possible enclosures listed on the RMP (ME021–025; ME021–026) within the western part of the proposed development was confirmed by the results of both the geophysical survey (08R0300) and test-trenching. An area (195m north–south by 130–150m) of archaeological significance was also identified around these enclosures where the geophysical survey indicated the presence of six potential subcircular enclosures (C–H), two subrectangular enclosures (J and K) and a series of associated features. The only features identified outside of this area were two shallow undated ditches, which may represent former field boundaries, uncovered to the north-east of the main archaeological complex.
Enclosure A (ME021–025) was c. 16.4m in diameter and was defined by a ditch that varied from 0.58m to 1m wide and was 0.35m deep. Enclosure B (ME021–026) was located c. 50m to the south-east. It had poor expression in the geophysical survey but appeared to be c. 10m in diameter. Its enclosing ditch was 0.8m wide and 0.2m deep with a U-shaped profile. Enclosure C was located c. 20m further south and had a diameter of 30m. The enclosing ditch was 1.7m wide and 0.55m deep and a series of internal pits and post-holes concentrated within the central 5m of the enclosure suggest that it may have been used for domestic occupation. The internal pits had charcoal-rich fills with inclusions of burnt stone and they ranged from 0.12m to 0.92m in diameter. Two struck pieces of flint were observed within the fill of a larger pit that extended beyond the edges of the test-trench.
Enclosures D and E were located c. 14m to the north of Enclosure A and measured 26m and 10m in diameter respectively. Enclosure D was defined by a 2.2m-wide ditch that was 0.6m deep, while the ditch of Enclosure E was between 0.9m and 1.4m wide and just 0.18m deep. Fragments of extremely burnt bone in the fills of these ditches and of a pit within Enclosure D suggest that these may be burial monuments. A small barrow (Enclosure F, c. 4m diameter) was uncovered just 12m to the west of Enclosure D. It was represented by a bank of stone and what appeared to be a flattened mound over an urned cremation burial. These three monuments together with ME021–025 (Enclosure A) are probably part of a Bronze Age burial-ground but there was not enough evidence uncovered in the test-trench excavated across ME021–026 (Enclosure B) to determine whether it had a burial function.
Another subcircular enclosure (Enclosure G) on the northern end of the archaeological area had a diameter of 13m. Two enclosing ditches (0.47m wide by 0.15m deep and 1.1m wide) were uncovered in the test-trench excavated here. A sherd of pottery and a struck chert recovered from one of the ditches suggests that this was an area of prehistoric occupation and three pits uncovered between 1.5m and 26m to the south of the enclosure are a further indication of settlement activity.
The two subrectangular ditched enclosures J and K indicated by the geophysical survey were uncovered on the eastern end of the archaeological area, to the west of and upslope from the river. The survey results give dimensions of c. 35m by 53m for Enclosure J and c. 41m by 53m for Enclosure K. The ditch of Enclosure J was 3m wide and a small section showed that it was 0.7m deep. The southern ditch of Enclosure K was 1.8m wide and it was filled by dark-brown silty clay. A series of internal cut features and deposits were recorded within the ditched enclosures and an inhumation burial within Enclosure K was partially exposed in one of the test-trenches. The upper part of the body extended beyond the northern edge of the trench, indicating that the burial was orientated east–west or north-east/south-west. No finds were recovered from this part of the site and the date of the activity represented here has not been determined. However, the sequence of cuts and deposits suggests at least three phases of activity, while the variation in burial rite on this part of the site indicates that it is probably not contemporary with the Bronze Age cremation burial identified to the west. The activity on this part of the site is probably later and may be Iron Age or early medieval in date.
Melanie McQuade, Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, 27 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.
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