A unique Middle Bronze Age cemetery at Oakgrove, Co. Londonderry
A unique Middle Bronze Age cemetery at Oakgrove, Co. LondonderryRobert M Chapple
Dedication: Robert F Chapple (1941-2012) & Billy Dunlop (1920-2011)1st century AD Roman Villa at Hadleigh, Suffolk
Where are we talking about?● PS: I dont care whether you call it Derry or Londonderry
Thornhill (Neolithic) Enagh (Neolithic) Shantallow (Bronze Age) Rough Island (Bronze Age) Ballynashallog (Bronze Age)County as a whole: lots of BA sites & finds, but concentrated in the EBA & LBA. Other than Corrstown, the MBA is largely absent
Mesolithic surface find Early Neolithic sites (2) EBA Burnt Mound Site 19 Early Christian site: Dergbruagh
●Site 7: Late Mesolithic flint●Site 11: Early Neolithic ritual (?) pits●Site 12: Early Neolithic structure (?)●Site 10: Early Bronze Age burnt mound●Site 19: Middle Bronze Age cemetery & Iron Age structure●Remainder: broadly prehistoric, but undated
In advance of construction of Oakgrove Integrated College school buildings, playing fields etc.Monitoring & Excavation:Sites 1-12: June-November 2002 (UJA 67, 2008)Sites 13-17: July 2003 (BAR 521, 2010)Sites 18-20: October 2003-January 2004 (BAR 521, 2010)
● Iron slag in the hearth, adjacent pits etc. ● Interpreted as smithy/secondary workshop14C: 2187±46 BP (385-113 cal BC) from wood charcoal from hearth [old wood?]Traditional ‘Iron Age lull’ …Parallels: Johnstown 1, Co Meath Muckerstown, Site 13b, Co Meath Hardwood 3, Co Meath… but even relative to other aspects of the IA – pretty slim!Should underline the importance of Gransha site.
Pebbled surface ● Small, but important area ● Compact pebbled surface, overlain by out-wash from the enclosing ditch ● Suggests: close to original ground surface & that little truncation has occurred (at least here)
The enclosure ditch Total length: 70.42m Enclosed: c.367m2 Max: 0.79m in width and 0.68m depth Cut through shallow subsoil & into shale bedrock
The enclosure ditch Total length: 70.42m Enclosed: c.367m2 Max: 0.79m in width and 0.68m depth Cut through shallow subsoil & into shale bedrock Excavated in 47 box sections (BSs: A-AV)
BS: A-BLarge post pit, predating ditchContained 1 sherd of BA coarse wareBack-filled with rounded field stones [vs. broken shale in ditch + c. 2.67m3 from post pit] … ritual?14C: 3350±21 BP (1730-1536 cal BC) from wood charcoal in post pipe … beginning of the MBA: oldest phase of Site 19
● Thin shale slabs used as direct post packing
● What would the post have looked like? 1:3 ratio: minimum length of 5m, with 3.75m visible above ground. 1m3 of green oak = 1.07 tonnes => volume of c 0.27m3 & 284.06kg Many caveats but suggests a substantial timber: visible for some considerable distance around such a ‘special’ timber: may have been richly decorated …
One option: Native American Indian style totem polesAlternatives:painted decorationTextileBone/antler/shell
Problem: nothing like this has ever been found in IrelandAlternatives? crude and sexually ambiguous figure from Ralaghan, county Cavan
Problem: nothing like this has ever been found in Ireland Alternatives?a) Ralaghan, Co. Cavanb) Dagenham (Essex) Englandc) Ballachulish (Argyll) Scotlandd) Teigngrace (Devon) Englande) Montbouy (Loiret) France
Problem: nothing like this has ever been found in Ireland Alternatives?Fellbach-Schmiden, Germany: later - La Tene Iron AgeAlso IA: sandstone figure from Holzgerlingen (right) with a copy of the stone knight from Glauberg (left)
Corlea 1, Co. Longford. Trackway dated to 148 BC (Q5631) Anthropomorphic figure carved on the end of a 3m long ash trunkPhotos reproduced by permission from:Raftery, B. 1996 Trackway Excavations in the Mountdillon Bogs, Co. Longford,1985-1991, Dublin.
● By the time of the enclosing ditch, post had been removed & carefully back filled
● Some portions of the ditch (N & NE) faced with slabs. Function? [palisade fence?] Why just here?
BS: AJFind: broken, polishing/grinding stone, with a superficial axe blade endUnusual section: base of ditch ground down – smooth & even
Pottery in the ditch● Identified 17 vessels (1-33 sherds)1: cinerary urn with perforated rim16: plain Bronze Age coarse ware
Cinerary urnParalleled: ring barrow at Mullaghmore, Co Down.But: pre 14C. Dating is problematic: EBA-IA
17 vessels● But all sherds not together● for example:Fragments of vessel 19:10 were discovered in nine different box sections (BSs: I, H, G, E, D, A, AV, AU & W).Seemed to be 3 distinct clusters (BSs: I-G, E-D & A-AU) , + ‘outlier’ in BS: W.Excluding BS: W – 1 vessel distributed over c. 14.37m.
17 vessels● But all sherds not together● for example:vessel 19:02 deposited across 8 box sections (BSs: I-E, AV, AT & AR)Distributed over c. 19.61m
Repeated across majority of vesselsMain concentration: BSs: K-AR (c. 25.28m)Outliers: BSs: W, R & AEPottery: mostly from top of fill. Possible truncation: BSs: AQ- AB
Flint & stone● Even more extremeDistribution: BSs: K- B (c. 9.38m) + outliersEven discounting possible truncation: no pot or flint in the W & NWI suggest: different rituals? Different parts of the ditch have different cultural significance? – required different ritual responses?Perishable materials?: wood, leather, liquids?
Entrance?● Nothing definiteBSs: AI-AJ – ground down smooth – not hackedpolishing/grinding stone, with a superficial axe blade end – only non-flint lithic from ditch● Significant?Broken?Axe-like?Part of a closing ceremony?
The external ditchLargest single feature within thecomplexFunction: enclose/define thefunerary/ritual area of the siteI suggest: relatively late in life cycle ofsite [insufficient charcoal for date]Late date: explains irregularities ofshape – not just concerned with theSW segmented circle & cists: ie – NEsegmented circle.Also: ‘kink’ in E portion of ditch –need to link the large post pit to therest of the site?
Conceived as a response to decay ofthe post and palisade/screen atsegmented inner circle & NE pitcircle.Probably held manifold meanings1) simple: define & protect sacredspace2) complex: social and religioussymbolismSpeculation: Digging heraldedchanges in ritual practice, or evensocial polity?
What did this enclosure look like?narrow ditch (maximum width:0.79m)Some portions – slab lined –possibly for palisade fence – butno direct evidence of posts.Late ritual action: remove posts& backfill – possibly at same timeas deposition of flint & pottery:part of closing ritual?
Inner ditch4 sections: diameter of c 12.2m8 EBA-MBA coarse ware vessels + various flintsMBA 14C date from C19212 3263±24 BP(1613-1461 cal BC)
● Laid our from central stake hole … but on two different circles ishoriginal form: palisaded fence? 1:3 ratio: fence 1.20m with 0.90m projecting.
ishno evidence for planks/posts. Fence didn’t exist? Fence removed? Finds deposited as part of ‘backfilling ritual’?
Central cemeterycontained 44 features.13 pits2 post holes13 stake holes1 possible gully1 depression14 atypical cists
Ranging form a few grains to >70,00012 cists had grain V few wheat (3 cists) – mostly barley: naked & 6-row varieties predominated
A quick note about that grain ...● McClatchie: remains of funeral meals● A large proportion of the charred grain was fragmentary/damaged.● Interpreted as evidence of movement prior to deposition in cists
C1976 – 10 frags of bone (2g)Unidentifiable – comminution?In bag/wrapper?Directly below grain-rich layer Big Problem! F19275 c2,500 charred cereal grains & fragments. 80% subsample of grain (2063 grains): barley (naked & 6- row varieties) + 1 wheat grain. F19276 +5 frags of bone + 608 charred cereal grains
All E-MBA Coarse wares Within segmented inner ditch: 4 coarse ware vessels 1 cordoned urn
LayoutNo particular pattern: clusteringtowards SECentral area kept clear:ritual/ceremonial?What did they look like?Those with capstones werelevel with bedrock – perhapsabove ground markers – smallcairns?Speculation: Unfinishedmacehead & rubbing stonefound near C19192– from sucha marker deposit?Grain + rubbing stone … addedsymbolic value?
Other features producedartefacts (flint & pottery) ofprobable comparable date butdid not have slab-covered sides.All produced grain. Noneproduced cremated bone.Location inside the segmentedcircle does raise questions as totheir ritual significance.Possible: ‘cists’ are cenotaphic& lack of bone may suggestsimilar function to the slab-lined cists.If the ritual here is actuallyabout the deposition of grain –then possibly of equal ritualstatus to the slab-lined cists
Another big post pit ... ● Quartz (top) & flint scrapers from backfill ● 2 charred barley grains from post pipe ● 1:3 ratio: minimum length of 2.04m, with 1.53m visible above ground. ● 1m3 of green oak = 1.07 tonnes => volume of c 0.30m3 & 321.36kg
A quick word about alignmentsCentral stakehole:Functional: used to draw segmented circle: similar to embanked stone circle at Grange, Co.LimerickSpeculation: alignments1) between pit & circle segment via large post (NE)2) along edge of large post inside circle and edge of circle segment (NW)Untested!
The Intermediate features disparate collection of 20 features
10 produced evidence of BA date: various flint & BA Coarse Ware pottery. None had grain or bone
Warning! … wild speculation & conjecture! A second Segmented circle?
Something is happening here, but you dont know what it is ... ● IF these features are actually part of a unit … what would it have looked like? ● Palisaded fence? ● Sockets for orthostats?
● … LBA recumbent circle of 14 stones at Ballycraigy, Co Antrim - ‘flat-rimmed ware’ pottery and cremated bone from an associated ditch … unfortunately not published.
Different circle … different function … Important: no evidence of bone/funerary activity No evidence of charred grain Whatever is going on here is not part of the same form of ritual/ceremonial/funerary activity as the SW segmented circle
Analogy: modern Christian worshipSpeculation: evidence for a demarcation between varying levels of ritual exclusivity:access is controlled between various grades of sanctified space and more public places.
The function of the cistsSmall quantities of bone: suggests only token deposits placed hereContext:mean weight of bone from cremation of an adult male: 2288g (range: 1534g to 3605g)mean weight of bone from cremation of an adult female: 1550g (range 952g to 2278g)Cist C19274 (larger of two deposits): 8g
Comparison:Loughbrickland ExcavationsWith one exception human bone fromprimary burial contexts ranged from12.2g to 1602.7g (mean: 557g)Survival of capstones indicate thatthese were cists (if atypical) – notstone-lined pits/postholesPossible: rituals did not necessarilyinvolve deposition of any humanremainsSpeculation: carbonised grain, flint orpottery acted as a ‘substitute corpse’in token burial or synecdochic cists.
Parallels for Middle Bronze Age burial: the background Cooney and Grogan (Cooney & Grogan 1994; Grogan 2004) argue: continuity between the burials of the EBA to the LBA, through the MBA. Grogan (2004): MBA downturn in climatic conditions => increased votive deposition within wetland areas, + increase in the use of trackways. MBA: coarse domestic vessels introduced into the burial record - replacing the cordoned urn by 1500-1400 cal BC. Emerging trends: 1) general decrease in the proportion of the skeletal remains buried (frequently <1%) Grogan (2004, 69) dates: c 1300-1000 cal BC (burials containing a large % of the cremated individual still occur (eg Loughbrickland) Bone: frequently so heavily processed (comminuted), through crushing or pounding, as to be unidentifiable (<5mm) + pyre material incorporated
Parallels for Middle Bronze Age burial: the background 2) only a small portion of a vessel with the buried remains. Degree of comminution may parallel change from whole to partial vessels. Cooney & Grogan (1994) : portion of cremated remains + sherds may have been used and dispersed as part of an extended or multi-stage (phased) funerary ceremony. => as much emphasis on act of cremation & funeral ritual (+ curation) as in deposition in grave.
Barley as food offeringParallels with formal barrows at:Mitchelstowndown West, Co LimerickLissard-Ballynamona complex: no evidence of any cremated bone. Grogan (2004) suggests: cenotaphiccommemoration without necessity for human remains
Most MBA burials: unaccompanied cremations in unlined pitsSome: stone-lined pits, occasionally covered by small capstonesParallels:Baurnadomeeny, Co Tipperary (O’Kelly 1960)Monknewtown, Co Meath (Sweetman 1976)Lough Gur, Co Limerick (Cleary 1995)Moylisha, Co Wicklow (Ó h-Iceadha 1946)
Closest parallel for the Gransha Site 19: Duntryleague 2, Co LimerickAtypical ring barrow (F1), defined by a ‘gapped trench’
Closest parallel for the Gransha Site 19: Duntryleague 2, Co LimerickAtypical ring barrow (F1), defined by a ‘gapped trench’Enclosed by a curvilinear ditch (F12)
Closest parallel for the Gransha Site 19: Duntryleague 2, Co LimerickAtypical ring barrow (F1), defined by a ‘gapped trench’Enclosed by a curvilinear ditch (F12)Intermediate area: various features including a pit smallquantity of unidentifiable, burnt bone (F11)A quantity of coarse, undecorated pottery was also recovered from the site
Duntryleague 2atwo lengths of concentric, curvilinear ditches (F72 & F73) appeared to enclose a single pit(F71).One ditch (F72) and the pit produced small quantities of unidentifiable, cremated boneDitch: two sherds of coarse ware pottery from two different vessels.
Raheen, Co Limericktwo sets of curvilinear ditches (F1/19 and F2 & F17)produced undecorated coarseware pottery and appeared to enclose a number offeatures (undated).Excavator: argues contemporaneity + similar purpose & range of functions asDuntryleague 2 & 2a
Cooney and Grogan (1994) In Munster distribution pattern for MBA burials:1) on poor soils, along the flood plains of rivers2) in groups, on either sides of rivers => evidence of territoriality where the cemeteries layon the peripheries of land units stretching up from the valley floorNo comparable sites are known from the opposite bank of the FoyleGransha: on a ridge overlooking a river – conforms to pattern.General separation of domestic & funerary spaces: Gransha: Large amount of groundstripped, but no contemporary settlement found
Cooney and Grogan follow Hodder (1982): regard peripheral placement ofcemeteries as parallel to the peripheral/diminished importance of theancestors within society => focus of mortuary practice on the ceremonialtreatment of the cremation process and disposal of the remains not on thecemeteries themselves.Alternative: placement of cemeteries on the edges of putative territorialunits => demonstrates the vitality and power still commanded by theancestral dead in protecting the community from external forces(physical/spiritual).Gransha: the large posts on the brow of a ridge - visible for a considerabledistance?Designed to be seen by other communities? … claim to the land … or as astatement that the Gransha group were actively protected by their dead.
Let’s turn this around …grain in 12 out of 14 cists & bone in only 2 cists … was bone only a minor element?Was the ritual actually about the deposition of charred grain?Speculation: token portion of the grain harvest - symbolically put beyond humanuse by burning - placed in cist-like structures as a means of returning a share ofnature’s bounty back to the earth.
In some cultures (e.g. Hinduism, Jainism & Sikhism) cremation is regarded as botha sanitary means of disposing of a corpse & as a way of allowing the ‘soul’ orspirit to escape and transcend to some form of afterlife.Does charring of the grain work in an analogous manner? … Transferring it to thespirit realm.
Parallels: Christian Harvest Festival: deity is thanked for a successful crop by thepresentation of a token portion within the church.Based on Hebrew tradition (Torah) of presenting burnt offerings: Genesis,Exodus & Leviticus.Compilation of the Torah in written form conventionally dated to BabylonianExile (c.600 BC), but incorporating much older elements.
Obvious parallel: The Wicker Man (1973)Sacrifice of humans, animals & vegetables toensure good harvest after years of famineBased on accounts by Caesar and thegeographer Strabo: mention the wicker man asone of many ways the Druids of Gaul performedsacrifices
Actually a useful way of thinking about this form of archaeology:charred remains/bone would survive … but what about the rest of the ritual?
… but what about the rest of the ritual? Singing
… but what about the rest of the ritual? Dancing
… but what about the rest of the ritual?Processions Trial/initiation
… but what about the rest of the ritual? Dancing around a tall, decorated pole?All these rituals are about forging group unity through shared experiences that connectthem to their past while looking towards the future … but none of this is archaeologicallyrecoverable!
Even in such a ‘grain sacrifice’ thesis is accepted: process involved would not havebeen a simple one.McClatchie: although large portion of the grain was identifiable, significant portionsshowed evidence of abrasion => Unlikely to have occurred if it was charred anddirectly deposited into cists.Suggests: relatively significant period of time from initial charring to eventualdeposition - resulted in partial damage to the grain.
Many possibilities: allowing charred material to be exposed to the elements/collected andstored for a period.Possibility: grain ‘sacrificed’ in this manner was collected and stored until a death in thecommunity & interred with/instead of body in cist. Strong ritual significance -interconnectedness of the community in both death+life, or reality+’afterlife’.Possibility: ceremony & ritual associated with funeral rites was a complex process – part ofa multi-phased activity over a considerable period of time. Period between the initialcremation and the final burial of a token amount of cremated bone - skeletal remains andthe pyre material were curated by the community.would explain: abraded grain - gathered up, packaged and transported.Ritual significance for community? Providing spiritual protection for a settlement/kingroup.Possibly: substantial portion of human remains & pyre material were originally collected &deposited at significant (to the deceased/tribe) points in the landscape.
Brendon Wilkins: pyre at Newford, county Galwayc. 700g of human bone recoveredtoken cremation burials’ feature of the MBA & LBAsuggests: some deposited in cremation pits on the siteremainder for non-funerary contexts.Bone as social artefact’: intended for ceremonial exchange between different groups tocement relationships/bonds of inheritance etc.May help explain anomalies: small amounts of human bone frequently turn up in non-funerary contexts.Interpretive possibilities are endless!
Site Chronology & Phasing Phase Ia c 1730-1536 (1650 cal BC) cal BC, Middle Bronze Age Erection of the large north-eastern post (C1935) and, possibly, the post in pit C1990
Site Chronology & Phasing Phase Ib c 1613-1461 cal BC (1550 cal BC), Middle Bronze Age Setting out of segmented inner ditch, with palisaded fence, based on C19272 central stakehole. Position of site determined by desire for alignments (stellar, lunar, astronomical or landscape?) based on existing posts in pits C1935 and C1990. Old wood? Possibly slightly early
Site Chronology & Phasing Phase Ic c 1442-1268 cal BC (c 1410 cal BC), Middle Bronze Age Token/cenotaphic burial in cists and pits within segmented circle. Laying out of north-eastern pit circle.
Site Chronology & Phasing Phase Id, Middle Bronze Age Working lifetime of ritual site (Phase I), during which time (50-100 years?) timber structures and alignment posts decay. Phase IIa, End of Middle Bronze Age (?) Digging of C1915 ditch to enclose segmented inner circle, north-eastern pit circle and C1935 post-pit behind palisaded fence. Possible removal of palisaded fence from segmented circle and backfilling with redeposited flint and pottery.
Site Chronology & Phasing Phase IIb, End of Middle Bronze Age (?) Working lifetime of ritual site (Phase II), during which time (50-100 years?) palisaded fence decays. Phase IIc, End of Middle Bronze Age (?) Removal of decaying posts from C1915 ditch and careful refilling of ditch with F1916 soil, F1909 shale stones and redeposition of pottery and flint artefacts, including deposition of natural, rounded stone at possible entrance way. Closing ceremony.
Site Chronology & Phasing Phase III c 385-113 cal BC (c 270 cal BC), Iron Age Bronze Age ritual centre no longer visible on ground surface. Partially built over by industrial structure.
Publications:Chapple, R M 2004 ‘A cist is still a cist… the fundamental things apply: an enclosed late Bronze Age cistcemetery’ Archaeology Ireland 18.3, 32-35.Chapple, R M 2008a ‘The excavation of Early Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites at Oakgrove, Gransha,Co. Londonderry’ Ulster Journal of Archaeology 67, 3rd Series, 22-59.Chapple, R M 2008b ‘‘Oakgrove’ cemetery’ Archaeology Ireland 22.4, 39.Chapple, R M 2008c ‘The absolute dating of archaeological excavations in Ulster carried out byNorthern Archaeological Consultancy Ltd., 1998-2007’ Ulster Journal of Archaeology 67, 3rd Series, 153-181.Chapple, R M 2010 The excavation of an Enclosed Middle Bronze Age Cemetery at Gransha, Co.Londonderry, Northern Ireland
www.academia.edu rmchapple.blogspot.com firstname.lastname@example.orgThank you all for listening!!!!