Slievemore from Dugort
|Elevation||671 m (2,201 ft)|
|Prominence||582 m (1,909 ft)|
|Translation||big mountain (Irish)|
|Pronunciation||Irish: [ˈʃliːvmor][dubious ]|
|Location||Mayo, Republic of Ireland|
|Parent range||Achill Island|
|Topo map||OSi Discovery 30|
Achill Archaeological Field School is a fully accredited field school of the National University of Ireland Galway and provides 3, 6 and 9 hours of academic credit to students enrolled in the School's programme of 2, 4 and 6-week courses. The School was founded by Dr. Theresa McDonald in 1991 and is the oldest field school in Ireland. Based at the Archaeology Centre in Dooagh, Achill Island, Co. Mayo, the school specialises in 'hands-on' training for students of archaeology and anthropology in archaeological methods that includes basic and advanced site surveying, excavation, downloading and processing data to produce site plans suitable for publication. The school was for many years involved in a study of the prehistoric and historic landscape at Slievemore, incorporating a research excavation at a number of sites within the world-renowned Deserted Village of Slievemore, made famous by the Nobel Laureate, Heinrich Boll (Irish Journal 1957). Upslope on the mountain above the Deserted Village, excavations were undertaken at two of the best-preserved Bronze Age Roundhouse in Ireland.
The Field School is currently investigating a preFamine village at Keem Bay at the western end of Achill Island and an unusual prehistoric Cromlech Tumulus site on Slievemore Mountain.
Our 2017 summer season commenced on the 22 May with an excavation at Keem Bay—one of Achill’s most beautiful spots, located on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. The Keem Bay project aims to investigate the biography of a cleared late to post-medieval settlement that stood in the Keem valley until the 1850s when it was demolished to make way for an ‘improved’ field system associated with a house occupied by Charles Cunningham Boycott. Circa 1838 some 40 buildings stood in the settlement; today all that remains are the low earthen footprints of some of the demolished houses. Before we began excavating at Keem, one of our major questions centred on the character of the settlement. While the first-edition OS map appears to depict a permanent rundale (cooperative farming?) ‘clachan’, folklore and historical accounts associate Keem with booleying or summer grazing. The house footprints too were quite small begging questions over their form and function.
The first building we excavated—Building 3—turned out to be a small well-built single-room sub-rectangular dwelling. The thick walls were made from drystone with an earthen core. The building measured 8.7m by 4.7m externally, and just 6.6m by 2.8m internally. It had a hearth in the middle of the floor, a single door in its southwest wall, and a cross drain—or lintéar—to collect effluent from the animals who shared the house. The presence of the drain places the building within the byre-house tradition that was common in the west of Ireland, although it represents a very small example of the type. The drain also indicates that the dwelling was probably occupied during the winter months when it would have been necessary to bring cattle indoors.
The second site excavated by AAFS—Building 4—was similar to Building 3, although it was smaller (2.7m by 5.6m internally) and had more rounded corners. It too was a single-room house with dry stone and earth walls and a single door in the southwest wall. There was a small diagonal stone drain running north/south across the floor. Fascinatingly the dwelling had not one, but three hearths. The first was located centrally near the door and the other two were along the northeast long wall. The multiple hearths can be interpreted in different ways. They may indicate episodic occupation of the house or a deliberate reconfiguration of the way the space was used—possibly connected with changes in domestic industry for example. Both buildings yielded a significant assemblage of ceramics largely made up of refined English earthenwares, with smaller quantities of coarse earthenwares. The ceramics indicate occupation in the late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth century.
The current excavation will investigate Building 2, a third footprint in the settlement located immediately northeast of and roughly parallel to Building 3. The building appears to be heel-shaped in plan. It is 2.4m by 4.3m internally, making it smaller than Building 4. It also appears to have an entrance in its northeast wall. Is this an earlier building, representing a booley hut for example, or is its unusual form simply due to the process of demolition and collapse? We hope to find out.
Our second proposed trench is much smaller (2m by 3m) and targets one end of a small dry-stone structure—Building 5— that appears to overlie the other earthworks. Our current theory is that this building is a booley hut of late 19th or early 20th century date. Similar to—or perhaps the very same building—that F.S. Walker depicted at Keem in his sketch entitled ‘A home in Achill’. We hope to expose part of the structure of the building and to recover datable artefacts to test this theory.
Commencing on July 3, 2017 the excavations will move back to Slievemore Mountain to the Cromlech Tumulus site which has been under investigation since 2014. The Cromlech Tumulus (SMR MA042-021002) is a curious site located about 125m west of a well-known court tomb (SMR MA042-021001) at a height of 110m OD on the southern slopes of Slievemore Mountain in Keel East townland on Achill Island. The two sites are connected by a pre-bog field wall known as the Danish Ditch (SMR MA042-003). The site is listed in the SMR as a Megalithic Structure although its exact nature has been much discussed since it was first brought to the attention of archaeological community by the famous Sligo antiquarian William Wood Martin in the 1880’s.
Slievemore is the location of a well preserved Bronze Age agricultural landscape, which occupies a similar altitude on the mountain to the Neolithic sites. The Bronze Age landscape consists of a large stone walled field system and a series of associated roundhouses. A section of this landscape located approximately 2km west of the Cromlech Tumulus site has been intensively studied by Achill Archaeological Field School. Work to date has included a detailed survey of the field system, selective small scale excavation over the field walls and the partial excavation of two of the roundhouses (Rathbone 2008; Bolger & Rathbone 2009; Rathbone & Snyder 2010). Although the western limit of this Bronze Age landscape seems to have been identified its eastern limit is not known at present, and it is not clear if it reaches as far as or even beyond the location of the Cromlech Tumulus and the nearby Megalithic sites.
The work in 2016 confirmed that the overall layout of the Cromlech Tumulus consisted of a Middle Bronze Age building that followed the approximate line that was predicted at the end of the 2015 season. However, what had not been expected was the discovery of the elaborate curving entrance occupying the northern end of Quadrant 5. The curving nature of this entrance passage is without obvious parallel. Excavation of a prehistoric field wall, known locally a the Danish Ditch, that connects the Cromlech Tumulus with a Neolithic Court Tomb, provided one of the most unexpected results of this project to date. If the identification of a terraced road running along the 110m contour line is confirmed through subsequent excavation of this feature it will be a major discovery in its own right. Whilst Middle Bronze Age tracks crossing the bogs of the Irish Midlands have been discovered in tremendous number their dry land equivalents have largely remained stubbornly elusive. In July 2017, we will investigate this most unusual site. Information about the Achill Archaeological Field School programme can be obtained from our website at: https://achill-fieldschool.com