Winter Solstice Moonrise at Brownshill Dolmen, Carlow

This post has nothing to do with uplands. In fact it couldn’t be further from the uplands being set just outside Carlow town. You can see Mount Leinster, the Castlecomer Plateau and the Wicklow Mountains on a clear day from here so that will do as the upland link.

There was a monstrous moon rising over Carlow last night (21st December). It was almost orange in colour and I’ve never seen it the size it was except in films where a wolf is silhouetted against it. Since Brownshill is only out the road from us I thought it might me nice to get some photos of the portal tomb with the large moon so my father and myself headed out to the site.

It was a completely clear night with only wisps of low cloud. It was so clear even the lights from the town made little difference on the night sky. By the time we reached the Dolmen the moon had completely shrank to what it would normally look like. But it wasn’t a wasted journey at all, the moon was rising directly in line with the eastern entrance stone. The mica in the granite capstone and portal stones was sparkling and we had the site completely to ourselves. I’m not sure if anyone else has witnessed this in recent decades or can we make the same claim as O’Kelly at Newgrange in 1967 and be the first to witness it since prehistory ūüėČ

It’s not just the sun that can create a bit of magic this time of year!!!

Brownsehill Dolmen. Entrance stone is the large rectangular stone in middle

Brownsehill Dolmen. Entrance stone is the large rectangular stone in middle

Brownsehill Dolmen with the moon rising to East

Brownsehill Dolmen with the moon rising to East

Brownsehill Dolmen with moon rising to east

Brownsehill Dolmen with moon rising to east

Moon rising from inside the chamber

Moon rising from inside the chamber

Moon rise from inside the chamber

Moon rise from inside the chamber

Moon rise from inside the chamber

Moon rise from inside the chamber

My father Kevin at the Dolmen

My father Kevin at the Dolmen

I’m off to Knockroe Passage Tomb in Kilkenny this afternoon to watch the sunset alignment which worked yesterday. This will be the third year in a row going down after two cloudy years so third time lucky!!!


The Tower, Knockmulgurry

The Tower, Knockmulgurry

Another aerial photograph taken using a kite, this time over a site known as “The Tower” above Knockmulgurry and on the slopes beneath Caher Roe’s Den. The site is located on the side of a disused roadway known as the Tower Road. Above this is the Wexford Road, both of which meet at a site known as “The Meeting Point” where a Lughnasa festival was held at the end of July until recently.
The site is in a ruinous state today but consisted of a two storey rectangular structure aligned North-South with the southern gable still standing. There is a window on the top floor of this wall. There is an additional rectangular room or outhouse on the east side and a the base of a circular tower on the south-western corner. The steep slope was cut away and levelled out to make way for the construction of this structure. The site is situated in an area surrounded by field systems in various states of use. Some of these were used for the cultivation of rye.
It is marked as a roofed structure on the first edition Ordnance Survey maps (1839) but only consists of the main structure and the circular tower. It appears as a ruin on the 25″ series (1890’s) although the circular tower is still shown as being roofed and the eastern room or outhouse has been added in the meantime.

Jack Ryan’s Walls

Jack Ryan's Walls

Kite Aerial Photograph taken in November of a site known as Jack Ryan’s Walls on the eastern slopes of Knockroe Mountain. The site is east of Shannon’s New Fields. Nearby enclosures show signs of ridge and furrow indicating former cultivation, Ruin of this site marked on the first edition 25″ maps (1890’s) but not on first edition 6″ maps (1839). It consists of two structures. There is no sign of a formal fireplace in it’s current state. ¬†The green grassy patch in the small outside enclosure indicates a higher soil fertility possibly from keeping an animal such as a pig on the site.

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 ¬Ī 33 BP and so probably dates 203-42BC. 
So an example of some lovely and definitely Iron Age activity in the Blackstairs Mountains!!! Nice!

Check out the rubicon blog about the Prumplestown Lower deer trap for more info.

Cherrymount Crannog Crisis

I know it’s nothing to do with uplands but this is a very important campaign so it deserves all the publicity it can get.
A crannog in County Fermanagh is in danger of destruction in advance of roadway construction. Few early medieval crann√≥g’s have been excavated in northern Ireland and so this is an extremely important site. So far excavation has revealed medieval leather objects, medieval woven cloth, barbed and tanged arrowheads, a gold pin, a wooden plate and bowl, extensive amounts of wattle walls, a leather shoe and human remains.

Despite the importance of the site from the outset (and as excavation revealed significant and well-preserved finds) it was only decided that 50% of the site should be excavated and only 4-6 weeks given to excavate.
Excavation ceases in wo days time after which the site is handed over for the construction of the roadway. The site will thus be left to destruction and the opportunity to slowly and meticulously excavate this important site and give it the attention it deserves will have been lost forever.

A campaign has been started by members of the archaeological community both North and South of the border to raise public and political awareness and to save this site from destruction.

The Facebook group can be found here:
and the blog can be found here:

Yorkshire Wolds

So Monday, I spent the day on a fieldtrip in the North York Wolds with the Yorkshire and Humber Planning and Conservation Team. We were bussed around to various sites in the Wolds. It was aimed at trying to convince the team that the National Monuments Record and the scheduled lists were no reflection on the amount of or importance of the archaeology in the Wolds. Every year new cropmarks are seen in aerial photography. None of these are scheduled or protected and so continue to be ploughed year after year.

In an attempt to protect the archaeological features, English Heritage are entering into a partnership with landowners. Around the Birdsall Estate (where we were first), the landowners are sympathetic to the archaeology but this is not always the case elsewhere unfortunately. Farmers are offered compensation so as they take the field out of  cultivation and leave it as pasture or sometimes the area around the monument is left uncultivated. Local groups also go out to clear away scrub from some features.

This is one of five Bronze Age round barrows in this field on the Birdsall Estate. The other four have been levelled and are only visible as cropmarks. This one while being preserved has had a water tank built on top, he’s not gonna plough that out.

We also visited Weavethorpe church, a Norman built church which has been protected from closure recently by community intervention and education.

Weaverthorpe Church

We went out to see the Vale of Pickering from the edge of the Wolds where Dominic Powelsland has worked for over 30 years on this landscape through combined aerial remote sensing, geophysics, field survey and excavation. This level of work and detail is unmatched anywhere else in the world and despite the amount of work, new discoveries are still being made all the time indicating the level of use of this landscape in the past. The site of a Mesolithic lake (Star Carr), the lake has dried up over the years and archaeological features are visiblefrom every period  through to the 21st Century.
The Vale of Pickering where 30 years of archaeological research has produced a record to a level of detail unmatched anywhere else in the world

Finally we visited the Rudston Monolith and the Burton Agnes Norman Manor House. The Rudston Monolith is 7.6m (and that’s above ground, imagine whats underneath) tall and dates to the Neolithic period. Four cursus cut through the landscape around it.¬†
The Rudston Monolith

Burton Agnes Norman Manor House
Manor House Undercroft

Just as a side note, today York hosted the Olympic Torch run. Having missed it when it came to Dublin I got a second chance to see it as it ran down towards the Micklegate Bar in York. Another highlight of this trip, Wednesday better not dissapoint between fieldtrips, aerial photography basics and Olympic torches I have very high expectations of York now ūüôā

Trip to York

Tomorrow I set off for two weeks to York on a work placement with English Heritage. Since man’s first flights in Britain, the potential for aerial photograph’s in identifying archaeological features was recognised. Many archived photograph’s taken by the RAF before and after WWII are available and show features which have since been destroyed or have not had the same enhancement in cropmarks since.

In the 1980’s aerial surveys over Yorkshire and Dartmoor highlighted the value of aerial photographs to the archaeological record. Since the 1990’s the National Mapping Programme has aimed to photograph as much of Britain from the air and has thus far achieved a 40% coverage.

My work placement will allow me to see how the York based wing of English Heritage have investigated and are still investigating the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. Monday will be spent in the Yorkshire Wolds with the entire Yorkshire and Humber Planning and Conservation Team. Monday the 25th will involve a fieldtrip to the North York Moors and the rest of the time will be spent getting some first hand experience at mapping and interpretation. Hopefully I’ll even get in the air that week also! This will all be done with another student from Sheffield.

Research doesn’t get much better than this!!!