Finding the edge

We have resigned ourselves to the fact that our search for the church walls will have to wait while we continue through the many burials and layers containing disarticulated human bone within the area of the church.

We had a break through this week as we have finally found possible grave cuts! For those of you who have experience of archaeological excavation you will know how exciting it is to finally find the edge of a feature so you can start to accurately assess the scale, depth and nature of what you are digging. Some of our students had never experienced this joy until the distinct line between some mid-brown pliable clay and a compact orange-brown marly clay appeared – hurrah!

Edges! John & Florice discussing the difference between the material in the grave cuts (brown-ish) and the clay they have been cut into (orange-ish)

These possible grave cuts certainly seem to separate areas of burial, but to be sure we will carry out further excavation to see if the surface expression of these possible cuts does  indeed extend down to define the vertical extents of the burials. The subtlety of soil changes aside, the reason why this is so important is that we finally have secure contexts for the bones in this area, and we may even have complete burials!


Sean in his grave cut

Another significant find this week is wood; thus far we have been coming across plenty of medieval nails, discernible by their flat heads (though mostly quite corroded). We know the nails must have been used to hold something together, and now we have the first indications that that something might indeed have been coffins. The wood identified is in tiny fragments, identifiable by its fibrous nature. We’ll consult with palaeo-environmental archaeologists to find out what type of wood we have found which could tell us more about what it might have come from, and also whether or not we have enough wood fragments for dating purposes.

Wooden coffins are known from earlier contexts in Ireland; at the site of the Early Christian cemetery at *Scotch Street, Armagh (Excavations 1985:08) where a date from the sixth century was obtained from wooden coffins. At *St. Brendan’s Cathedral in Ardfert, Co. Kerry, coffin nails were found in association with 13th century burials (Excavations 1991:062).

We need to do further work in these areas however, if indeed the wood is from coffins, it is probable  that these burials date from the late medieval period. Although we do not have much dating evidence so far, we have recovered a nice piece of Saintonge pottery.  Saintonge pottery, characterised by the white ceramic fabric and green glaze was produced in France from the 13th century. The vessels were used to import wine and other goods from this area.

Saintonge pottery and a large fragment of wood from Cutting 3, area of burials

This pottery would indicate that our burials are likely late medieval or post medieval in date. If we assume that burial in the church was undertaken in the  period post-Dissolution, these burials might date to the late 16th or early 17th century.

The question of the location of a Catholic burial during this post-Dissolution period is something that we are keen to pursue and are hoping that the excavations at Blackfriary might answer this. We can look to similar sites to see how this played out elsewhere in Ireland, such as the site of the **Augustinian Friary at Dunmore in Co. Galway (Excavation 206:793). At Dunmore ‘ (from) the results of the excavations it is clear that the local, much put upon, Catholic population continued to use the Abbeylands cemetery long after the Augustinian Friars had been expelled up until at least the Jacobite war in the 1690′s‘ (Quinn, 2007).


IAI Environmental Sampling Guidelines:

IPMAG Excavation Database 1985-1995:

Read more:

*O’Sullivan, A, McCormick, F, Kerr, T & Harney, L. 2008. Early Medieval Ireland: Archaeological Excavations 1930-2004. [Web published]

 **Quinn, B. 2007. Gunmoney, Dragoons and Gideon of Dunmore. [Web published]


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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