Deer Trap Find, Blackstairs Mountains

The Blackstairs Mountains have many secrets and these are slowly coming to light.
Blackstairs Mountains ridgeline from Dranagh Mountain
(Blackstairs Mountain is the first large peak you see protruding over the ridgeline in the centre of the image)
While out walking in June 2011, Mike Monahon, Carlow, noticed some wood fragments poaking out of a peat hag on the summit of Blackstairs Mountain, County Carlow. After removing some of the peat he noticed that some of the pieces appeared to be worked and given it’s location (on top of the second highest peak in the Blackstairs) he deemed it must be archaeological and covered it back up. He returned home and contacted the National Museum of Ireland. 
Peat Hag which contained the find

On the 25th of June 2011, Dr. Andy Halpin, Assistant Keeper of Irish Antiquities travelled to Carlow to identify the reported object. He was accompanied by Mike Monahon, Dermot Mulligan, curator of the County Carlow Museum Ann Murphy and myself. A partial removal of the covering peat confirmed the initial suspicion that the object was a deer trap. It was decided to leave the object in situ until a plan had been put in place for its removal later that summer. The find was covered back with peat to maintain it in its wet environment.

Deer Trap being exposed by Dr. Halpin

Deer Trap in the Peat
Deer Trap in the peat
Mike Monahon beside his find

 On the 27th of July, Dr. Halpin returned to extract the deer trap from the peat. He invited me along and we excavated the deer trap under excellent weather conditions. It had been planned to extract the find with a helicopter time permitting on the same day or on the following day if excavation took too long. This was to protect the object as the descent was rocky, wet and difficult and a fall could have damaged the object. When the find was extracted it was decided to leave the trap on the mountain and return the following day for extraction. The fragmented remains were bagged and covered with sods so as to protect them.

Deer Trap once we removed the top layer of peat to its exposure at the time of finding
Exposed deer trap
View of deer trap
cross piece in previous image indicated by lighter colour in wood
Tool marks
Underside view
The hag after removal

  Thursday 28th of June proved to be a very wet day and the benefit of hindsight proved that the helicopter should have been called in the previous day. The top of the mountain was completely covered in cloud and mist so it would have been far too dangerous to land any helicopter. After waiting for a number of hours to see if the cloud would lift it was decided that the find would have to be carried down. This was done in one go (with a number of breaks!) and the find was brought to Dublin for conservation.

We had to hand lift it all the way down (and given that it was waterlogged in the peat for at least a few hundred years it was very heavy)

Deer traps have been found dating from the Bronze Age through to the medieval period so there was a broad date on our trap. Another example from Carlow was found during the excavation of the M9 in Prumplestown Lower. This was dated 660-810 AD. It backed up evidence for the use of deer traps in the medieval period. A cross in Clonmacnoise depicts a deer with its leg caught in one of these traps.
Prumplestown Trap (photo: Rubicon Archaeology)

Deer traps worked by placing the trap on the ground, the deer would put its foot in the hole and spikes would prevent it from pulling it back up again. 

So excitingly I found out today that the deer trap (which is currently under conservation) was radiocarbon dated. I assumed from previous examples in the museum and elsewhere in Europe that it was probably medieval. But this one returned a date of 2102 ± 33 BP and so probably dates 203-42BC. 
So an example of some lovely and definitely Iron Age activity in the Blackstairs Mountains!!! Nice!

References:
Check out the rubicon blog about the Prumplestown Lower deer trap for more info.
http://rubiconblog.com/2010/11/30/caught-in-a-trap-why-deer-needed-suspicious-minds-in-early-medieval-ireland/

Advertisements

3 comments on “Deer Trap Find, Blackstairs Mountains

  1. Odette says:

    That's so cool!! Great to get an Iron Age date too 🙂 Love your pictures too Seimi.

  2. […] It is also possible that this is an earlier site which was manipulated to suit a later purpose. There is large standing stone (CW025-005) to the north of the site at the old crossroads. Similarly there is Iron Age activity suggested by the Lughnasa gathering, a legend of the pre-Christian deity Cathair Mor at Caher Roe’s Den which overlooks the site as well as absolute proof in the discovery of a deer trap in a peat hag on Blackstairs Mountain in 2011. […]

  3. […] Just as Reek Sunday comes to Croagh Patrick, the last Sunday in July saw “Mountain Sunday” arrive in the Blackstairs, the most celebrated gathering in the region. No less than ten accounts refer to the day in varying degrees of detail and that’s just from the townlands in the immediate foothills. It is one of most heavily described topics with only The Great Famine and the Fuel and Light questionnaire surpassing it in number of responses. The date suggest that it may be the remnants of a Lughnasa tradition carried out since the Iron Age. Interestingly, the only scientifically dated archaeological artefact in the Blackstairs was dated to the Iron Age, found on the summit of Blackstairs Mountain to the northeast of the gathering site (see Blackstairs deer trap post here). […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s