Artefacts uncovered during roadworks give fresh perspective on early Irish life


THE REMAINS of a 9,000-year-old fishing basket uncovered at Clowanstown in Co Meath, a monastic bell-making facility at Clonfad in Co Westmeath and an “exceptional” raised wooden trackway close to the Dromod-Roosky bypass, were described at an archaeology seminar yesterday.

Some of the discoveries challenged knowledge of life and settlement patterns on the island, the annual seminar was told. The seminar deals with artefacts uncovered during national road building programmes.

Details were also provided on those who were described as Ireland’s oldest-known landscapers, the earliest-known wheel and some of the earliest clothes-making techniques.

Archaeologist Dr Farina Sternke said an excavation at Tullahedy in Co Tipperary had uncovered the remains of a palisade encircling a natural mound which had been altered over time via the dumping of several layers of glacial soil. It was, said Dr Sternke, “the first known major Neolithic landscaping project” of its kind in Ireland.

The excavations also uncovered 3,335 lithic finds or stone tools, including 144 polished stone axeheads and fragments.

Archaeologists Caitríona Moore and Chiara Chirotti said excavations at Eldercloon Co Longford as part of the Dromod-Roosky bypass on the N4 had uncovered “an extremely well-preserved complex of wooden trackways and platforms” located in a raised bog.

The structures varied from large multi-phase trackways to small, simple structures built across short stretches of wetlands. Radiocarbon dating suggested there was 4,000 years of activity starting in the Neolithic period.

Also recovered from the complex were the remains of bowls, spears and three wheels, including a portion of an unfinished block wheel which has been dated to the late Bronze Age (2200 BC-600 BC). It is believed to be the oldest wheel found in Ireland.

A later sign of industry was the discovery of a facility to manufacture church bells, at Clonfad Co Westmeath.

Paul Stevens of archeologists Valerie J Keeley Ltd said the excavation produced “one of the largest metalworking assemblages ever recovered from an Irish site of this date and type. A replica of the hand bells manufactured at Clonfad was made and is on view in the Athlone county library.

NRA archaeologist Richard O’Brien suggested that a number of large beads found at excavation sites across the country may be “whorls”. These are short, generally circular perforated objects used to give balance to spindles used to spin textiles. The use of whorls pre-dated the spinning wheel and would have been popular in clothes making for about 3,500 years prior to the 15th or 16th centuries.

Archaeologists Eoin Grogan and Helen Roche told the seminar that new discoveries of prehistoric pottery, for example Late (2900-2500BC) and Final Neolithic period (2500-2200BC) suggested a “more extensive and intensive settlement” than previously envisaged.

In a paper contributed to the seminar the archaeologists said some of the new pottery material, particularly grooved ware and beakers, had “dramatically altered our understanding of the patterning of these types at both a regional and national level”.

Ronan Swan of the NRA told of a fishing trap uncovered at Clowanstown on the route of the M3 near Dunsany. It was made of saplings and was probably 9,000 years old.