The Big Dig at Caherduggan Castle: Week 2

Our second week in Caherduggan was spent cleaning and recording a number of very large foundations which we believe are part of a castle or tower house that stood on the site during the medieval period around 500 years ago. Our first job was to clean back the walls using trowels and brushes.

Cleaning the Castle Walls

Cleaning the Castle Walls

Once we could clearly see the walls we then needed to draw all of them in order to make a record of how they looked. When archaeologists draw things they sometimes refer to that job as planning.

Planning the Castle Walls

Planning the Castle Walls

We also took photographs of the walls which will also provide a record of what they looked like. To do this we used a remote control helicopter.

Photographing the Castle from the air with a remote control helicopter

Photographing the Castle from the air with a remote control helicopter

When the planning was complete we could see from our drawings that the castle was built on a rectangular plan and was 12.5 m long by  8.5 m wide. The walls were approximately 2 m thick and very well built. While cleaning we found small pieces of window glass and fragments of lead which were used for holding the glass in windows. This tells us that the castle had glass windows. We also think we found part of the stairs in one of the walls and a gap which we believe was the doorway or entrance.

Plan of the Castle

Plan of the Castle

We believe this building was a tower house. This is a type of castle which would have been the house of an important person, possibly an Anglo-Norman lord. Originally it would have stood three of four storeys high. As part of our work we have also looked at old documents which can tell us about some of the people who may have lived in the tower. From these we know that a family called Synons may have built the first castle here and that the castle became the property of the Roches at a later stage.

Castledonovan Castle, Co. Cork- what our tower house may have looked like in the pas

Castledonovan Castle, Co. Cork- what our tower house may have looked like in the past

The tower or castle was surrounded by a big ditch or moat and we will be excavating this over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned to see how we get on!

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The Big Dig at Caherduggan Castle: Find of the Week #1

One of the many great things about digging a moat is that the lower levels tend to be waterlogged. When soil is waterlogged it allows materials such as wood and leather to be preserved because there is very little air in the soil. This is known as an anaerobic environment which your teacher will tell you more about!

The Leather Shoe from Doneraile

The Leather Shoe from Caherduggan

This week we discovered an amazing leather shoe preserved in the wetter soil at the bottom of the moat. We believe this could be up to 600 years old but will need to get a scientist who specializes in medieval shoes to confirm this.

Reproduction of Medieval Shoe (Sara Nylund)

Reproduction of Medieval Shoe (Sara Nylund)

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The Big Dig at Caherduggan Castle: Cracking Castle and Mega Moat

The following blog is the first in a series we are preparing on our excavations of the Castle and Moat at Caherduggan near Doneraile in County Cork. These are being prepared at the request of Cork County Council  (our client) and will be targeted at school children in county Cork. We hope that everyone else will enjoy the series too!

Caherduggan Castle being recorded by archaeologists from Rubicon

Week 1:  October 2011

Why are we digging at Caherduggan Castle?

A new road is being built by Cork County Council between New Twopothouse and Doneraile. When roads are built in Ireland archaeologists are employed to check for archaeology before any construction begins. Back in May Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd were employed by Cork County Council to check the road corridor for archaeology. We removed the topsoil and identified archaeology at a number of locations. One area was particularly rich in archaeology and after some test excavations we realized we had identified the foundations of Caherduggan Castle and its moat.

The castle from the air, taken by remote control helicopter!

What are we doing?

We have two jobs at Caherduggan:

  1. Firstly we will record and preserve the foundations of the castle. Cork County Council recognise that this is a very important site and have decided to move an element of the road in order to allow the castle to be preserved for the future.
  2. A very large ditch or moat once surrounded the castle. The people who lived in the castle dug this to help defend themselves and show everyone else that this was their land. Our second job is to excavate and record a section of this moat before construction begins.

The fully excavated annex ditch

What have we found so far?

Before Caherduggan Castle was built the area was ruled by a local clan called the Duggans. The local townland is called Caherduggan which translates as ‘the fort of the Duggans’. A ringfort which is located next to our site is believed to have been an important site for the Duggans. During our excavations we uncovered the foundations of three buildings which we believe date to the early medieval period (400-1169 AD) when the ringfort was probably occupied by a local chieftain. We also found a kiln which was used to convert limestone in quicklime. Quicklime is spread on fields to make them more fertile.

Archaeologists digging a medieval ditch at Caherduggan

Archaeologists digging a medieval ditch at Caherduggan

We also uncovered the foundations of a stone castle or tower which we believe dates to the later medieval period. The castle is surrounded by a very large defensive ditch or moat. The castle was built by the Normans and possibly by a family called the Roches who are known to have been very important in the area.

The medieval lime kiln

Around the castle and the moat we have found pieces of pottery which we know dates to the 16th century and also animal bone which can tell us the type of animals that were kept by the people living in the castle.

The site and its surroundings, another helicopter shot!

What happens next?

We are now just starting to excavate the moat which surrounds the castle. We hope that we will find out when this was built and what kind of things happened in the castle and the surrounding landscape. This is a very big ditch and it will take us a long time to excavate it. Come back next week to see how we are getting on and to see what we find during the week!

The remote control helicopter in action over the site

For those students or teachers at primary and secondary level who want to find out more about archaeology in Ireland, check out archaeology in the classroom for some online resources!

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Cooking a pig, Bronze Age style! Part 3 – Porky’s Revenge!

Leading on from Cooking a Pig Bronze Age Style Parts 1 and 2 we have stepped up a gear and moved onto pork. Our previous attempt (Part 2) had involved a quarter of a lamb which had been slightly over-cooked. In Part 3 we intended to attempt to reduce the intensity of heat and the cooking time in order to achieve pig-cooking perfection!

The 'Part 2' roasting pit cleaned out and ready for more action...

The Part 3 cooking team consisted of Damian Shiels, Colm Moloney and Louise Baker. We re-used the Part 2 pit in order to avoid excessive energy consumption – a real consideration in the Bronze Age. Again a fire was lit in the base of the pit and stones and charcoal were added – we re-used the stones from the earlier firing of the pit. These are now starting to crack from repeated heating which fits with the archaeological evidence. We used two shoulder joints of pork complete with skin. The skin was scored and seasoned and both joints wrapped in foil before adding to the fire.

A more conservative fire is set in the base of the pit

We sealed the pit with soil – this time we added an extra couple of inches of soil
for insulation against the surface fire. We then built a fire on the surface of
the backfilled pit. Our fire was less intense than the Part 2 fire. We allowed
two and a half hours cooking time. Yams were added to the embers of the surface
fire for about half an hour.

'Porky' is prepped by scoring the skin and seasoning

The meat is added to the fire and surrounded with hot rocks

Following backfilling a fire is built on top of the pit

Result: Very rare (which is not so good for pork!). The core temperature of the meat was only 1400 as opposed to the 1700we achieved with the Part 2 roasting pit. We underestimated the time required and also we were too conservative with the intensity of the surface fire.

Following removal the moment of truth: FAIL!

With a pit roast it is not so easy to ‘pop it back in’ if it is under-cooked so it is essential to get both the timing and the intensity of heat correct. The other point to consider when pit roasting pork is crackling. Our next attempt will involve exposing the pig skin to open flames prior to adding the meat to the pit. You simply can’t have pork without crackling!

Off to the oven to finish off Porky- his reprieve was shortlived...

What next for the Pit Roast Research Committee? The obvious next step is to roast an entire suckling pig. Once we have sourced one, we will go for it. Watch this space.

Posted in Bronze Age Ireland, Faunal Remains, Rubicon Heritage | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cooking a pig, Bronze Age Style! Part 2: A Photo Essay

Leading on from Cooking a pig, Bronze Age Style Part 1, which set out the theory of cooking a pit using Bronze Age technology, Rubicon’s intrepid MD Colm Moloney undertook Part 2 of the experiment; all that was needed was a shoulder of a lamb, a hole in his garden, and enforced child labour. He describes the results in this photo essay…

I spent last Saturday in my garden doing some experimental archaeology in order to get some idea of the types of heat generated and consequently the length of time required to cook a joint of meat. This varied slightly from the theory and I cheated by using tinfoil to wrap the meat (as I still haven’t decided what material to wrap the meat in). We used the front quarter of a lamb instead of pork as this is less likely to end in a case of food poisoning. The meat was donated by Toby and Penny Allen and the ‘pit team’ comprised myself, Louise Baker and Reuben Moloney.

Stage 1: Dig a pit (use of child labour optional) large enough to take your joint and a large quantity of charcoal and stone.

Stage 2: Light a fire in the pit. I used a pile of wood and added a bag of charcoal.

Stage 3: Once the flames have died down, add a pile of stone to the charcoal. I used sandstone as there was some lying around in the garden. I also had a pile of limestone but was concerned that this may become toxic when heated- i.e. quicklime etc.

Stage 4: Prepare the meat. We scored the fat and rubbed in butter, salt and garlic and whatever herbs were growing in the garden.

Stage 5: Wrap the meat. I used tinfoil as the jury is still out on what exactly this may have been. The Maori of New Zealand use banana leaves for instance. I reckon grass, reeds, bark or seaweed would be appropriate for our context but thats the next experiment. We are leaning towards seaweed as we live near the coast.

Stage 6: Place the meat into the hot coals. I made a circle of large stones with charcoal inside. I placed the meat within the stones and then piled charcoal over the top.

Stage 7: Backfill. I placed a sheet of damp cardboard over the meat to give me a level to shovel back down to when the meat is ready to be removed. The cardboard won't burn as there is no oxygen in the pit after backfilling- a piece of wood will also work. Gently backfill the fire and meat with soil. I covered the whole lot with about 3 inches of soil.

Stage 8: Build a surface fire. Build another fire over the backfilled roasting pit and keep at a moderate size for about four hours. We added vegetables to this fire a half an hour before digging up the meat.

Stage 9: Time Check!

Stage 10: Remove the meat. Carefully dig down to the cardboard. Clear around the sides of the meat taking care not to pierce the wrapping- we managed to keep the juices to make gravy! Carefully lift the meat (I used a long-handled shovel for this) and leave to rest for 10 minutes before carefully unwrapping.

Stage 11: The Moment of Truth! We measured the heat of the base of the pit with a meat thermometer immediately on re-excavation. It registered a temperature of 170 degrees centigrade which is the exact temperature required for roasting a joint of lamb. We also measured the temperature of the meat which was at 190 degrees centigrade, indicating it was slightly over-cooked.

Stage 12: Time Check! In future for a similar sized joint we should either reduce the time by half an hour or reduce the intensity of the surface fire.

Stage 13: Feasting! The meat was very succulent and fell off the bones.

Stage 15: The remnants. Judging from this photo I think you can see that overall the experiment was a great success! Our next attempt will be a leg of pork which we intend to wrap with seaweed. Watch this space!

Posted in Bronze Age Ireland, Faunal Remains, Rubicon Heritage | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Digging Through the Downturn

The current issue of Archaeology Ireland carries an article by Christine Baker entitled ‘Digging Through the Downturn’, which offers suggestions and solicits opinions on the future of archaeology in Ireland in the current economic climate. Aside from her own contribution, Christine has included the thoughts of a number of archaeological professionals, including Rubicon Heritage Services Managing Director Colm Moloney. Christine has provided a copy of the article which can be accessed by clicking the link below.

Digging Through the Downturn

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Cooking a pig, Bronze Age style! Part 1

During our excavations on the route of the N9/N10 Carlow Bypass, we came across a Bronze Age settlement in the townland of Tinryland which dated to the middle Bronze Age. This contained the remains of a number of post-built roundhouses together with the usual spread of anomalous pits. It also uncovered one quite amazing elongated feature which was packed with heat cracked stone and was edged with reddened clay, evidence of intense heat. Small amounts of burnt pig bone together with charred hazelnut shells, worked flint and domestic pottery were retrieved from the backfill of the pit. Evidence for a possible windbreak at the southwest side would also seem to indicate that an attempt was made to control the level of oxygen entering the fire pit, as this is the direction of the prevailing wind. This would appear to be a good candidate for a roasting pit backfilled with the detritus that accumulated around it.

Post Excavation shot of the Tinryland Bronze Age pit showing reddening caused by intense heat.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (The River Cottage Meat Book 2004, 384) gives an excellent account of how to build a ‘Maori barbeque’ which bears a striking resemblance to the archaeological remains from the Tinryland site. Here a large pit is excavated suitable for taking large pieces of meat or entire animals. The pit has to be of a sufficient size to hold both the meat and a large quantity of charcoal. A fire is lit in the pit which generates a significant quantity of hot coals. In a Bronze Age context stones would be added to the charcoal rich fire. When the fire has generated sufficient hot coals (or hot stones) they are leveled off and a thin layer of soil is laid over the top. Next comes a layer of banana leaves which in Bronze Age Ireland would have been substituted with some other type of vegetation, possibly large leaves, grass, seaweed or straw. Then the meat is added along with a pile of vegetables. A further layer of leaves is then added to seal the food, which is in turn sealed with another layer of earth. Finally a second fire is lit on the surface so that heat is generated down as well as up. This has the effect of creating a rudimentary oven. Cooking time can be up to 24 hours depending on the size of the meat. Fearnley-Whittingstall mentions that this type of cooking has crossed many cultures and refers to cooking reindeer in Lapland using the same method.

The careful layering of the pit is an important consideration, as is the placement of the meat. It is intended that we will build the experiment up to eventually cook an entire pig (as illustrated).

Our next step is to reconstruct the roasting pit on a smaller scale to see if it works. We hope to do this during the next month or so and will post the results here in Pork Part 2 (if we survive). We intend to wrap a leg of lamb in seaweed, roast for a few hours with some seasonal vegetables and see what happens. Watch this space!

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B(l)og Butter in Galway!

The Bog Butter, as seen by first archaeologist on the scene, Rubicon's Ross MacLeod!

Peat bogs have long been recognised as a source of unusual and remarkably well preserved ancient remains – these include famous Bog Bodies like Ireland’s own Clonycavan Man – who can be viewed in the National Museum along with three other Irish examples.

Most of these poor unfortunates were found to have been dispatched in gruesome and painful ways during the Iron Age, possibly as sacrificial victims, kingship rivals or criminals suffering execution. The high acidity, lack of oxygen (anaerobic conditions) and low temperatures in the water-logged depths of a sphagnum peat bog cause the extreme preservation of organic remains by tanning and encourage the formation of adipocere – a waxy, preserved body fat, formed during the process of anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis.

A less morbid but no less exciting ancient product of peat bogs is Bog Butter, and it was a recent discovery of this type which saw Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd’s Director Ross MacLeod called to Shancloon near Caherlistrane, north Galway to investigate the unexpected discovery of a large timber object by Ray Moylan from Liss, Headford and local contractor Declan McDonagh during peat cutting works.

The first archaeologist on the scene, Ross was able to examine the amazing find and ascertain that it was indeed a large wooden cask filled with approximately 2 stone (28lbs) of Bog Butter, and possibly as old as 2,500 years. Bog butter can consist either of dairy based fats or tallow (animal fat), it is yet to be ascertained what the Shancloon example consists of.

Theories about the origins of Bog Butter deposits are divided between two schools. The first suggests ritual ‘votive offerings’ – the deliberate deposition of the casks in honour of/supplication to a deity. The second school proposes ‘human error’ – accidental deposition either as a result of forgetfulness or the death of the owner. Bogs would have acted as a reliable form of refrigeration for a winter stock of butter surplus and the unfortunate owners of the butter failed to adequately mark the stockpile.

The IPCC (Irish Peatland Conservation Council) lists a reference to a recipe for Bog Butter from an account of Irish food written by Dinely in 1681: ‘Butter, layed up in wicker baskets, mixed with a sort of garlic and buried for some time in a bog to make a provision of an high taste for Lent’.

A full account of the story and quotes from Ross can be read here on the Irish Times website here.

What is your opinion on this divisive subject? Make your mark below for ‘Votive’ or ‘Accidental’!

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The Legion of the Damned…

There are a number of us at Rubicon who, as the years have progressed, have found to our horror that we have become ‘desk bound’. We had once soldiered in the trenches as young, fit and healthy field archaeologists, but nowadays we find ourselves listening to the clack of tapping keyboards and ping of email alerts rather than the ring of mattock on stone and the scrape of trowel on natural. None of us are quite sure how this happened, and unfortunately we have amassed quite a few years where the only wheels we are accustomed to are those on a mouse, rather than the somewhat larger examples to be found on a site barrow.

'Enthusiastic' Legion Members survey the scene with the Site Director

We decided it was long past time we once again entered the fray, and showed the world of archaeology how it should be done. Ignoring the stifled laughter and mocking comments from some of our erstwhile colleagues who remain familiar with the joys of fieldwork, a group of us set off to conquer a Bronze Age burnt mound in Co. Kerry. We felt sure that our combined experience would compensate for any protests our bodies might be inclined to make as a result of this decision. Thus it was that the ‘Legion of the Damned’, consisting of the Managing Director, two Company Directors, Graphics Manager and Survey Manager set off for the front. We were joined by a number of our ‘still in the field’ colleagues, although there were indications that they might have had ulterior motives for joining us. We have no direct evidence to support this, but certain comments such as ‘this is going to be the funniest thing I have ever seen!’ and ‘I can’t wait to see this, you are all going to collapse!’ did raise suspicions amongst some of the more untrusting members of our band.

The Hills around Tralee ablaze: A bad omen for the Legion?

Nerves began to set in on the night of our arrival in Kerry, when, with the surrounding hills engulfed in flames, some took it as a portent of what lay ahead. Things went still further downhill, when, on the advice of the buoyantly optimistic Graphics Manager, we elected to drink Tennents as a preparation for what was to come in the morning. Needless to say this strategy backfired. Despite our headaches we gamely hit the site on the morning of Day 1, as each of the Legion enthusiastically reacquainted themselves with mattock, shovel, wheelbarrow and trowel.

The still jovial Graphics Manager, before his spirits were crushed by barrowload number 6

The first two hours went surprisingly well, after which some murmurings in the ranks suggested a tough time lay ahead. Cries reverberated around site: ‘Thats it, the backs gone now’, ‘my hands are destroyed’ and ‘I’m not so optimistic anymore, I really thought this would be easy’ (the last from the now not so buoyant Graphics Manager). We soldiered on through the pain, and even made some good progress. There was discontent within the Legion when the Survey Manager was selected by the Site Director to excavate the Lime Kiln discovered on site, as this was seen as a plum job. The stirrings of jealously among those of us who remained consigned to mattock and barrow duty receded somewhat as we concentrated on the agony our bodies found themselves in.

The Managing Director at the 'mattock face'

Exhaustion at the end of Day 1 ensured there was no risk of a late night to affect our performance on Day 2. Sitting through the ‘riveting’ Ireland v Macedonia match on television also helped to lull us to sleep. We emerged the next morning resembling a group of octogenarian arthritis sufferers, but, determined to do our duty, we set off for site once more. Even more mattocking, shovelling and barrowing followed as we desperately sought to maintain a dignified showing in front of our ‘still in the field’ colleagues.The jury is still out as to whether or not this was achieved.

The 'Director's Pet', otherwise known as the Survey Manager at work in his Lime Kiln

Happily we pushed through the pain during the weekend and actually managed to get some archaeology done.  Without a doubt the greatest relief for the members this somewhat unique ‘Legion of the Damned’ was when we could traipse/crawl off site for the final time, and retreat to the safety of our desks. We have learned a valuable lesson regarding field archaeology: lack of practice leads to catastrophic body failure. We have decided to make our forays into the field a more regular occurrence, in a desperate effort to at least achieve a level of ‘dig fitness’ that will make the pain more bearable. We will alert you to the Legion’s future forays into the outside world, stay tuned to see if we all make it…

The lime kiln following half-sectioning, the excavation of which caused such division amongst the previously harmonious ranks of the Legion. He did do a pretty good job on it I suppose!

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Catching Cupid’s Disease

Syphilis Medieval

A Post Medieval depiction of the affects of syphilis

Late last week our osteoarchaeologist Carmelita Troy made a gruesome discovery amongst an otherwise unremarkable post medieval skeletal assemblage. One of the individuals displayed signs on her remains that she had been suffering from the advanced stages of a serious infectious disease, an ailment which had a particularly destructive impact on her skeleton. Further analysis revealed that prior to death the unfortunate woman had been enduring the advanced stages of what is sometimes called ‘Cupid’s Disease’- syphilis.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through sexual contact, also known as acquired (venereal) syphilis. Infected mothers with the disease can pass it to their developing foetus in the womb, and this is called congenital syphilis. The origins of the disease remain unclear; one theory suggests that Columbus and his crew transported the disease to Europe on their return from the New World in AD 1492 (Old World versus New World hypotheses).

The pitting on the skull indicates tertiary syphilis, with advanced sclerotic healing

Syphilis has three stages of infection. Primary syphilis includes painless lesions at the site of infection and may go unnoticed, especially if these lesions are located inside the body. The secondary infection sees a rash form on the skin, and other symptoms may include fever, fatigue, aches and pains. The bacteria are then later transported to the site of tertiary infection in the bone via the bloodstream. It is only in its advanced stage that syphilis affects the skeletal structure, as well as causing problems to the heart, brain and nervous system, resulting in attacks of irrational madness.

'Caries Sicca' on the frontal bone of the skull, a sign of syphilis

Syphilis Poster

Syphilis remains a threat but since the discovery of penicillin is now treatable

The pitting visible on the bone is a result of erosive lesions which are followed by new bone being laid down as the body tries to heal itself. In archaeological terms, the presence of the cranial vault scars, termed caries sicca, is important for the diagnosis of acquired syphilis, since they are characteristic of this disease.

Today, syphilis is easily cured if it is treated with antibiotics (penicillin). Unfortunately for our late and post medieval ancestors this treatment was not an option, and as with this woman, their contraction of syphilis proved fatal.

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