Site assessment, field survey and reporting

Following on from the post excavation module, we undertook a module addressing the assessment of archaeological sites, that is the background research and remote investigation methods to assess a site before archaeological excavation is scheduled.

With this module we looked at methodologies to:

  • Identify, locate and use the variety of secondary published sources of archaeological information available including excavation reports, archaeological survey data, geophysical survey data, historical mapping and online databases.
  • Identify, use and interpret the variety of archival sources of archaeological material.
  • Understand and interpret a variety of archaeological remote sensing data including topographical survey, geophysics, aerial photography, satellite imagery, light detection and ranging (LiDAR).
  • Follow up on potential sites identified using the above methods with field inspections, documenting and recording sites appropriately.
  • Design and execute programmes of desk-based and archival investigation with appropriate follow-up inspection of defined study areas.

Using the village of Slane, Co. Meath as our case study, we identified a site of archaeological potential, for which there is no previous archaeological record. Slane village is located to the west of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne. The village is archaeologically and historically significant, and with a wealth of sites of interest in the vicinity. We explored the sources available to us and developed a history of the area. By examining previous archaeological assessments and excavation reports, we identified a hill-top to the east of the village that comprises a number of features of archaeological potential.

Aerial Photo from Ordnance Survey Ireland with site marked in yellow (

We are fortunate in that this area has been subject to an intensive LiDAR survey, and with the aid of Will Megarry of University College Dublin, we were able to use the LiDAR data to create models of the site, compare these to Ordnance Survey Ireland aerial photographic records, and confirm our theory that there is an archaeological monument present.

 Site marked on LiDAR image; LiDAR survey undertaken by the Discovery Programme (

Armed with a level, some planning boards and plenty of long tapes, we sought permission from the land owner and headed up a hill to the location of the site identified.  The site is located on a hill-top with excellent views towards the Brú na Boinne sites of Knowth and Newgrange to the east, and the Hill of Slane, to the north. The hill, names locally as ‘Stanley hill’ is 100m OD and is located in land rising from the Boyne river valley to the south and immediately to the north of the site is a steep decline dropping back down to the level of the village. There is a series of features on the hill suggesting enclosure or delineation of the hill-top; we decided to focus on one particular feature near the summit.

View of our site from the southern boundary, Hill of Slane in the background

Using our level we set up a grid and recorded a plan of the site, and then a profile of the mid-section. We then recorded a written and photographic description of the site.

Lottie using the level (IAFS does not recommend using your level box as a step…!)
Caroline and Lottie planning

The results demonstrated that we had identified a circular enclosure, c.25m in diameter and delineated by a heavily degraded earthen bank with stone that may have been a wall or stone facing.

An initial sketch plan of the site

It has been truncated by a field boundary (C17th/18th, now removed) and there has been some modern quarrying activity. There is no obvious evidence of significant banks or ditches. The land has been used for grazing for decades but at the time of survey, the fields surrounding the hill top were being ploughed for the first time in living memory (we met a local man born and bred in Slane who confirmed this for us)!

Looking south towards the Boyne river valley; fields being ploughed for the first time in decades!

The form and size of this site is consistent with a medieval circular enclosure type (ringfort) that is very frequent elsewhere in Ireland but unusual in this region. At this stage we can only speculate as what period the site may date to, and what it may have been, though we are convinced it is archaeological. The field boundaries in this area date to the late 17th and early 18th centuries and the site pre-dates a (removed) boundary that ran through the site. We hope to schedule some further survey to continue assessment of this very interesting hill top!

Screen shot from showing ringforts in this area of Co. Meath (highlighted in yellow) – the red dots represent archaeological sites recorded in this database


The LiDAR survey was originally commissioned by the Meath County Council; for a detailed GIS-based analysis of the LiDAR dataset, see:
Archaeological Assessment through LiDAR; work at Stanley/Norris/Gallows Hill in Slane, Co. Meath undertaken by Dr. Steve Davis & Dr. Will Megarry, School of Archaeology UCD
Archaeological Survey of Ireland:
Ordnance Survey Ireland:

About Irish Archaeology Field School

The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) is Ireland’s leading provider of university accredited, site based archaeological research and training. Our archaeological and heritage programs include research projects in a number of locations in Ireland, including in Co. Wexford and Co. Offaly (with satellite schools frequently undertaken elsewhere). We provide credited and uncredited programs (and internships) for novice and experienced students, and also specialise in the preparation of purpose-built faculty led programs incorporating excavation, historical research, remote sensing, non-invasive survey, ground investigation, landscape assessment etc. Whilst our programs are excavation-centered and aimed primarily at students of archaeology, anthropology and history, courses are open to all, and are guaranteed to give you an enriching and thoroughly worthwhile study abroad adventure.
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2 Responses to Site assessment, field survey and reporting

  1. Steve Davis says:

    Great work – can I just mention though that the lidar data was commissioned by Meath Co. Council and the work at Stanley/Norris/Gallows Hill is the work of researchers in the School of Archaeology UCD (including Will Megarry and myself), not the Discovery Programme.

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