Prehistoric site uncovered at Waterford beach

by  at Irisharchaeology.ie on February 15, 2016  in Archaeology blogsIrish archaeology blog postsIrish Archaeology Sites

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Archaeologists working on behalf of the National Monuments Service have uncovered the remains of a beautifully preserved wooden trough at Creadon beach in Co. Waterford. Although at an early stage of investigation, it is thought that the trough may represent the remains of a Bronze Age fulacht fiadh/burnt mound. Fashioned out of wooden planks the rectangular shaped trough was revealed by recent winter storms and was subsequently excavated by Julianna O’Donoghue Archaeological Services.

Burnt mounds/fulachta fiadh are a type of archaeological site whose defining characteristic is large quantities of heat shattered stone and an associated trough. They are typically located close to a water source, such as a stream or lake, or simply in low-lying boggy ground. Coastal sites are rarer, although recently troughs have been uncovered at beaches in Spiddal, Co. Galway and Coney Island, Co. Sligo. The general sequence of events observable at these sites is the digging of a pit or pits into the subsoil, which functioned as troughs for holding water, followed by the build up of heat shattered stones and the residues of fires.

Fualcht fiadh waterford

Excavated troughs are generally found to be rectangular or sub-rectangular in shape. As at Creedon beach, some troughs contained a timber lining to keep the sides from collapsing in. A fire was set near to the trough upon which stone was heated and the heated stones were subsequently dropped into the water. The resultant boiling liquid could then be used for a variety of purposes. Once the water heating process was complete the trough was cleaned out and the stones were cast aside giving rise to the characteristic mounds of burnt stones. At Creadon beach it seems likely that the associated mound of burnt stones was washed away by the sea in antiquity.

The most common explanation for the function of burnt mounds is as cooking sites, although a number of other theories have been suggested to explain their nature. It has been demonstrated that they could have been covered by light structures and used as saunas or sweat-houses such as that at Rathpatrick, Co. Waterford (Eogan & Shee Twohig 2012, 179). Industrial uses such as the washing or dyeing of cloths and hides have been postulated (Waddell 1998, 177), and it has also been argued that they were used to brew beer (Quinn & Moore 2009). What is clear is that large quantities of hot or boiling water were produced and the sites often had long periods of use as attested by the large mounds of stone.

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While burnt mounds appear to have been first used during the Neolithic period (4000-2500 BC), the archaeological evidence suggests that the vast majority date from the Bronze Age (c. 2500-700 BC). Specialist analysis of the Creadon trough is currently on-going and hopefully this will reveal further information about the site’s age and original function.

 

Thanks

Thanks to Simon Dowling for the images used in this piece and Catherine McLoughlin for much of the text.

 

References

Catherine McLoughlin, ‘The enigmatic fulacht fiadh or burnt mound‘. Accessed 15-2-2016

Buckley, V. 1990 Burnt Offerings. Wordwell, Dublin.

Eogan, J., & Shee Twohig, E. 2012 Cois tSiuire – Nine Thousand years of Human Activity in the Lower Suir Valley. NRA Scheme Monographs 8, Dublin.

Quinn, B., & Moore, D. 2009 ‘Fulacht fiadh’ and the beer experiment’ in Stanley et al (eds) Dining & Dwelling. NRA Monograph Series No. 6, 43-53, NRA, Dublin.

Waddell, J., 1998 The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland, Galway University Press.

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