Chapple, R. M. 2012 'Archaeological Excavations at Tullahedy County Tipperary. Neolithic Settlement in North Munster- Review' Blogspot post
Archaeological Excavations at Tullahedy County Tipperary. Neolithic Settlement in North Munster: Review Originally posted online on 19 November 2012 at rmchapple.blogspot.com (http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/archaeological-excavations-at-tullahedy.html)Rose M. Cleary & Hilary Kelleher. The Collins Press, Cork, 2011. xxiv+456pp.ISBN-13: 9781848891333. £34 (via Amazon) or €39.99 (via The Collins Press). Tullahedy, Co. Tipperary, is a site that (it seemsto me, at least) has been hanging around on the edges of knowledge for some time. Theearliest mention of the excavations that I can find in my own library is a brief notein Archaeology Ireland from 1998, noting the richness of the recovered finds and thedepth of stratigraphy there (Anon. 1998). This mention, confined to the bottom of asingle page, related to the initial set of excavations carried out as part of the N7 NenaghBypass. At this time the site was partially excavated and the remainder preserved in situ.When the bypass was upgraded the remainder of the site was opened and investigated.There was a fleeting mention of the site, as part of the grand range of sites investigatedon the N7, in an early edition of Seanda (OKeefe 2007). Seanda magazine followed thisup with a longer, more in-depth, article some time later (Kelleher 2010). The mostrecent paper on the site, that I have seen, is by Sternke (2010) discussing some aspectsof the lithic assemblage of the site. I reviewed the latter paper as part of theNRA’s Creative Minds volume. While I found the assemblage itself of great interest andsignificance, I was unconvinced by the author’s unorthodox interpretation. Myconcluding remark was that the ideas presented are ‘intriguing and deserves further
study’. While I did not state it directly, my feeling at the time was that I would really liketo see a final publication on this remarkable site, to help put these ideas into theircorrect context. Now my wait is over!The National Roads Authority have broken with their usual Monograph Series to joinforces with University College Cork and together have produced this magnificentvolume. Hilary Kelleher pens the Introduction, setting the topographical context andsuccinctly describes the state of knowledge on the site before investigations began.In The Excavation Kelleher goes on to describe the appearance of the site beforeexcavation, lays out the methodology for Cuttings A-H, and provides a summary of thephasing. This is followed by a masterful presentation of the core excavation data. InPhase 1 the site was an enclosed Neolithic settlement complex, which had beenconstructed on a small hillock. Unfortunately, the hillock had been extensively quarriedin the past, leaving only the lower slopes intact. Although now on dry land, the majorityof the site was originally surrounded by the waters of a lake. The main features of thisphase are two rectangular Neolithic houses (Structures 1 & 2), and their associatedhearths which lay within a slight hollow to the south-east of the mound. A thirdNeolithic house (Structure 3) was excavated near the lakeshore. The houses showedevidence that they may have been burnt down. Along the landward approaches, to thenorth-west and west, the site was protected by a palisade fence of oak planking. Alsofrom this period was a cobbled surface along the edge of the lake, as were some 268 pitsof various shapes and sizes, concentrated along the southern and eastern sides of themound. The pits produced a remarkable collection of finds, including various stonetools, polished axeheads, and pottery. Cereals recovered from these features includedthe charred remains of wheat, oats, and barley.Phase 2 relates to the post-occupation activity at the Neolithic houses. Both the pits andthe houses were later covered with charcoal-rich layers. These layers produced polishedstone axeheads, flint arrowheads and scrapers, along with a considerable corpus ofpottery. Organic remains from these layers included charred hazelnut shells and applepips, wheat grains and some barley. During Phase 3 the appearance of the site wasradically altered by the dumping of over 1m of glacial till on the lower slopes of the hill.Along the north-western side of the mound, the redeposited layers were cut through by alater scarping/ditch. At approximately the same time, a new and larger palisade fencewas constructed on the landward side of the site. Phase 5 activity dated to the Medievalperiod and relates to a number of pits and layers, etc. some of which produced residualNeolithic material. Finally, Phase 6, details the modern activity on the site, chiefly atrackway created c. 1905.Be under no illusion, much of this section is highly technical and makes for difficultreading, requiring your full attention at all times. At over 100 pages, it is the singlelongest chapter in the book and represents the primary data on the site.In reviewing Corrstown: A Coastal Community. Excavations of a Bronze Age village inNorthern Ireland, I argued that such a commitment to making this baseline level ofdetail available is crucial to the value of the work for future researchers. While theinterpretations and analysis of the book are of the highest level, scholarship inevitablymoves on. Presenting this relatively ‘raw’ data will allow future students to re-
interrogate and re-evaluate the site, largely unencumbered by layers of interpretation. Icomplimented and congratulated the Corrstown authors (Victoria Ginn & StuartRathbone) on having the courage to take this approach in favour of simply presenting anedited synthesis of the site which omitted this data. Similarly, I congratulate Cleary andKelleher for ensuring that this book will have value and this site will have relevance farinto the future.In The Physical Landscape Anthony Beese places the site in its broader geologicalsetting. He describes the Late-Glacial to Early Holocene and Neolithic landscape, andprovides a useful discussion of the composition of the Phase 3 infill layers. This isfollowed by Kerri Cleary’s description of the Neolithic Landscape of Tullahedy.Cleary skilfully weaves together the disparate threads of evidence for the Neolithic in theTipperary area with broader concepts of the place of such a monument within thelandscape. She draws out the idea that the Tullahedy mound, projecting from the mire,may not have been easily accessible. While it would not have been seen as a ‘centralplace’ in the traditional sense, its very isolation could have been a determining factor inits selection as a meeting place for diverse social groups. She deftly combines theexcavated evidence for deposition of pottery and stone in pits from the N7 road schemeas a whole, with the most recent research on the significance of deliberately returningartefacts to the earth. I was particularly interested in her treatment of ‘mundane stone’in pit fills – it reminded me of some of the, largely inexplicable, features at Ballyloran,near Larne, Co. Antrim (Chapple 2009). A number of the features uncovered there, alsoof Neolithic date, appeared to have been constructed for the express purpose of burying‘ordinary’ stone. I speculated that it may have had important associations to those whocreated the sites and undertook the burials, but that such levels of significance nowelude us. It is heartening, indeed, to see similar excavated remains being seriouslyconsidered in similar ways. Cleary also puts the Neolithic houses within their widercontext. The houses are ‘less regular in plan’ and date to the end of the Early Neolithic.In particular, she parallels both the houses and their settings with the excavatedremains at Lough Gur, Co. Limerick. Other parallels to Lough Gur include the pottery,axe-head assemblages, and (to some extent) the lithics. In this way, she argues the bothLough Gur and Tullahedy functioned as regional centres at the end of the EarlyNeolithic.Rick Schulting presents The Radiocarbon Dates. Eighty-two samples were AMSradiocarbon dated, using only short-lived materials. The returned determinationsconsisted of 69 dates from the Neolithic (Phases 1-3), with the reminder dividedbetween the Early Christian (Phase 4) and Medieval periods (Phase 5). Of these, 71 arenew to the Irish Radiocarbon & Dendrochronological Dates Catalogue [Facebook site],and the remainder provided additional information and the opportunity for datachecking against those already publically available. Despite the quality of the dates,Schulting observes that on their own they ‘provide little sense of finer-grained sequencesof activity at Tullahedy’. To this end, he uses Bayesian statistics to create models ofactivity sequences on the site. His analysis indicates that life of Structure 1 began around3680-3540 cal BC and ended in the period 3640-3480 cal BC. Structure 2 began slightlyearlier, in the period 3795-3385 cal BC, and ended around 3630-3250 cal BC. The datesfor the palisade trench indicate that it was, unsurprisingly, broadly contemporary with
the houses, if not slightly later than their construction. The combination of the EarlyChristian dates indicates activity there in the period from the 8th to 10th centuries AD,and during the Medieval period from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Within these broadperiods, the Bayesian models indicate that activity at either period may have beenrelatively short lived, possibly encompassing only a few years. Schulting’s analysisindicates that, overall, the Neolithic activity at Tullahedy probably began around 3670-3645 cal BC and continued until 3510-3460 cal BC, lasting between 145 and 205 years.Although the structures here fall within McSparron’s ‘House Horizon’, they appear to beslightly later, continuing on into the 35th century BC. As we were already aware,Tullahedy is an important site and an important addition to our knowledge of NeolithicIreland. Beyond that, Schulting’s analysis is a significant use of Bayesian modelling forthis period, and joins such major studies as Corrstown, Gathering Time, andMcSparron’s original work on the ‘House Horizon’. The analysis presented here isexcellent not only in itself, but as an example of how even the best quality dates can bemade to become more than the sum of their parts. I would, reluctantly, point out a smallnumber of typographic errors and inconsistencies in the data presented here. Threedates, in three different places (pp. 147-8), are all given with the laboratory identifier ofUBA-15292 and the returned determination of 4763±31BP. All are from Phase 1 and aredescribed as being derived from two pieces of charred hazelnut. One is given as fromCutting G, while the other two are from Cutting D. The originating context numbers are,respectively, given as C923, C1017, and C124. I suspect that one of these was intended tobe UBA-15249, which is listed on p. 150 in the context of the palisade fence, but not inthe main body of the returned dates. Two different dates are given as UBA-15260 (pp.147-8). One is given as 4802±33BP and described as being from Phase 1, Cutting B,Context C341, and to have dated two pieces of charred hazelnut, while the other is givenas 4733±34BP is reported to have come from Phase 2, Cutting B, Context C426, andhave been returned from two pieces of charred hazelnut. A number of other dates haveapparent discrepancies between the detail published in the appendix to the CreativeMinds volume (Stanley, Danaher & Eogan 2010) and the data given by Schulting in thismonograph. In the case of UBA-11179, Stanley et al. (p. 118) describe the sample as"Charred seed or hazelnut shell from the cut of a posthole in structure 3", whileSchulting (p. 149) gives the source as wheat/barley from the West foundation trench ofStructure 1. Schulting (p. 149) gives the raw determination of UBA-11182 as 4735±33BP,while it is given in Stanley et al. as 4718±33BP. A final example is UBA-15311, which wasgiven as 4750±33BP in one place (p. 149), but as 475±33BP in another (p. 147). As thedate is described as coming from Phase 1, it is clear that the four-digit version is correct.I fully realise that these are, ostensibly, trivial and nit-picking points that only refer tothe presentation of the data. They do not in any way diminish Schulting’s scholarship,nor the vital importance of the Tullahedy monograph. However, as I’ve arguedbefore (and here) the greatest value in radiocarbon dates lies not just in what they cantell us about the individual site that they were commissioned for, but for their reuse infuture research. For this reason, we must be incredibly careful that the dates, and theirassociated meta data, are clearly, consistently and correctly reported at all times. Everytime a date is incorrectly reported, it opens up the possibility that a degree of error ispassed to the next level of analysis, along with a corresponding diminution in theconfidence in which it may be held.
In an effort to resolve this issue and help increase the confidence in the dating, I tookthe relatively unusual step in a book review, of contacting Rick Schulting and asking forhis comments and assistance. Rick has been able to confirm that in his original draft ofthe piece, there is only one reference to UBA-15292, from C923. Similarly, he only hasone reference to UBA-15260, from C341. With regard to the discrepancies in the detailassociated with UBA-11179, Rick checked with Dr Meriel McClatchie, who carried outthe original identifications, and has confirmed that the data given in this volume iscorrect. Schulting is also able to confirm that UBA-15311 is, as I surmised, meant to be4750±33BP, not 475±33BP. In his correspondence with me, Schulting points out (and Iam quick to agree) that these errors, while unfortunate, are errors only in thepresentation and layout of the information in the tables and in no way compromises theintegrity or validity of the Bayesian models.Meriel McClatchie presents her Analysis of Non-Wood Plant Macro-Remains.Some 169 samples were found to contain non-wood plant macro-remains, making it oneof the largest and most important assemblages of its kind from Neolithic Ireland. Duringthe Neolithic at Tullahedy emmer wheat was the dominant cereal crop, thoughoccasional instances of naked barley and flax were also recorded. Large quantities ofcharred hazelnut shells were also recovered, along with crab apple and bramble. Oatsand hulled barley were the dominant cereals in the later Phases, though occasionalinstances of rye and naked wheat were also present. The importance of gatheredfoodstuffs, in particular hazelnuts, appear to have greatly dwindled, thought a largercorpus of arable weeds were present during Phases 4 and 5. For the expert reader,McClatchie provides all of her baseline data in Appendix 6.1: Plant macro-remainsrecorded in all examined deposits. The Wood Remains are introduced anddiscussed by Ellen OCarroll. Some 3,251 charcoal fragments were recovered from 76samples and identified to species. While the Neolithic samples contained a number ofwood types, including elm, pine, ash, etc., the assemblage was overwhelminglydominated by oak (c. 79%). OCarroll argues that the volume of oak was such that it wasreadily available in the surrounding landscape, and in sufficient quantities to be themajor wood type utilised throughout the Neolithic phases of the site’s life. This is incontrast to the charcoal recovered from the later periods, which contained a broaderrange of wood types, suggesting that a more varied landscape existed by this time.Another interesting point noted by OCarroll is large difference between the volumes ofrecovered hazelnut shells and the low incidence of hazel charcoal, indicating that whilethe nuts were sought out as a food resource, the tree does not appear to have beendeliberately selected for firewood. Also, the single pit dominated by pine charcoal isinterpreted in a ceremonial/ritual context, possibly as a totem pole. Again, this chapteris followed by an appendix (Ecological information relating to each wood taxonidentified) aimed at the more specialist reader. The final portion of Chapter 6 is adiscussion of the small quantity of Animal Bones examined by Margaret McCarthy.While the physical condition of the bone was quite poor (c. 96% could not be identified),cattle were clearly the dominant species, indicating the importance of beef in theactivities carried out at Tullahedy. Adult specimens of ovicaprids and pig were alsoidentified. The site is typical of Neolithic assemblages in terms of the proportions of
domesticates. Again, an appendix containing the detail of the Faunal RemainsAssemblage is included for specialist study.Farina Sternke (with contributions by Anthony Beese, Helena Knuttson, and RichardUnit) examines The Stone Tools. Some 105 polished stone axes were recovered fromthe site, across all major features and phases. The majority of examples wereconstructed on sandstone, chert, and siltstone/mudstone. Many were fragmented and ina poor condition, owing to burning, weathering, reworking etc. Despite these apparentdrawbacks, the assemblage is of great regional significance, being one of the largest everrecorded from Munster. The remainder of the stone tool assemblage is equallyimpressive, including 1290 chert flakes, 71 flint flakes, and 10 worked pieces of quartzcrystal etc. As well as the significant Early to Middle Neolithic lithic assemblage, thereare a small number of pieces of Late Mesolithic and Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Agedate, which attest to the longevity of the site as significant place in the landscape.Sternke argues that the majority of chert blanks for the formal tools were createdelsewhere – close to the local outcrops – and only transported to the site for finalmodification. Use-wear analysis indicates that a number of the flakes and blades wereemployed in a number of ways, including plant processing and woodworking. However,the main focus of the stone tool manufacture at Tullahedy was clearly on themanufacture and reworking of leaf/lozenge-shaped arrowheads. This is one of a numberof avenues for further research identified by the author – who was creating andmaintaining these items and why? Who were their enemies and how did they perceivetheir place in the landscape. It is this realisation that while this may represent thepublished version of the ‘Final Report’, it is not the last word on the site. This is why theinclusion of the appendices of raw data is so important for both future interrogation ofthat data and re-evaluation of the site as a whole. The Stone tools chapter containsappendices on the polished stone axe-head assemblage, lithologies of stoneaxe-heads, axe flakes and other stone tools, and the stone tool assemblage –more than enough to keep professional lithics specialist and the dedicated studententhralled.As a minor, and wholly personal, aside, I would note that the use of the term ‘honestone’ (there were 14 in the assemblage) is anathema to me. This is not, in so far as I amaware, for any inexactitude in the term, but more the influence of my late teacher andfriend, Professor Etienne Rynne. Any mention of a ‘hone stone’ in conversation with himbrought the instant and stinging rebuke that ‘hone implies stone … all you are saying is:I found a stone stone.’ After a certain amount of time the Pavlovian reaction set in and,to this day, I am unable to hear or read ‘hone stone’ without inwardly wincing.Rose M Cleary presents The Pottery from the site. Pottery was recovered from allphases of the excavation, but in particular from Phases 1-3. The Medieval activity atTullahedy was responsible for a large amount of redistribution of material into laterfeatures. Portions of vessels recovered from the fill of the house foundations and fromthe palisade trench were quite weather worn and may have been redeposited as packingmaterial from a domestic midden. While this is, ostensibly, a case of recycling refuseCleary notes the possibility that there was a deliberate ritual involved in the process.Nonetheless, there is no clear evidence for the dispersal of individual vessels across
features or indications that pottery was only deposited in specific loci. Overall, thepottery was well made and shows extensive use as cooking vessels. Analysis of theresidue on some of the pieces suggests that they contained animal fats and dairyproducts, presumably milk (see also: here). Interestingly, Cleary argues that althoughgranite cobbles are occasionally found within the esker, they are pretty rare and suggestthat they were sourced to be used as temper for the pottery at some distance from thesite. Similarly, the clay for the pots could not have come from within the surroundingvalley, where the bedrock is of limestone and shale. The chapter also includes acomprehensive catalogue of vessels by feature. Other short pieces includea Petrological Description of Pottery by Richard Unitt and the results ofthe Absorbed Residue Analysis by Lucy J. Cramp and Richard P. Evershed.Additional appendices include Radiocarbon dates associated withpottery, Pottery illustration and context concordance, and Pottery context,Phase, % of assemblage.Kerri Cleary, with petrographic assistance for Richard Unitt, provides an assessment ofthe Stone bead and pendant from the site. The pendant is of steatite and the bead isof siltstone, and it is argued that both are of Neolithic type, despite the bead beingrecovered from the basal fill of the Early Christian ditch. Both are of rare type and areimportant additions to our knowledge of personal ornament in the Irish Neolithic.The final chapter, Discussion, by Rose M Cleary attempts the near-Herculean task orputting the entirety of this important excavation into context, not just of the IrishNeolithic, but beyond drawing parallels with British and European evidence. First andforemost the Tullahedy mound would have been a dramatic, and easily recognisable,topographic feature in a relatively low-lying landscape. While the evidence is clear thatthe site was used for domestic habitation, Cleary points to significant gaps in ourknowledge, including the nature of that settlement: was it a seasonal retreat, or apermanent base. Nonetheless, there is evidence of some degree of mobility in that boththe animal and cereal remains all suggest that the occupants of the site would have hadto draw these resources from beyond the near confines of the site. For example, cerealcultivation implies the presence of enclosed fields, while cattle and sheep would haverequired extensive pasture resources. The presence of exotic materials also implies thatTullahedy acted as a focus for trade and social interaction. All these features: the latedate of the houses, the exotic materials, the enclosure and apparent defence of the siteall indicate that it was an unusual and special place in the landscape. All I can add tothis is that the Tullahedy monograph is an excellent example of high quality academicpublication that still manages to be accessible to the more general reader. If you are nota specialist in any of the archaeological sub-disciplines contained here, there is stillmuch to interest you. Indeed, many of the most technically involved pieces presentexcellent introductions to the speciality as well as the material under review. To anyprofessional archaeologists reading this – in particular those who do specialist analysisand research - I would simply say this: any future work you do related to this portion ofNeolithic Ireland that does not reference and integrate the material from Tullahedy willbe judged to be incomplete and sub-standard. Need I say more?: Go order a copy today!References:
Anon. 1998 ‘News: Neolithic Nenagh’ Archaeology Ireland 12.3, 6.Chapple, R. M. 2009 Excavations at Ballyloran, Larne, county Antrim Ulster Journal ofArchaeology 68, 1-26.Kelleher, H. 2010 ‘An unparalleled Neolithic enclosure and settlement atTullahedy’ Seanda 5, 52-55.OKeefe, P. 2007 ‘Through the valleys and hills: travels on the N7’ Seanda 2, 44-46.Sternke, F. 2010 ‘From boy to man: ‘rights’ of passage and the lithic assemblage from aNeolithic mound in Tullahedy, Co. Tipperary’ in Stanley, M., Danaher, E. & Eogan, J.(eds.) Creative Minds: Proceedings of a public Seminar on Archaeological Discoverieson National Road Schemes, August 2009. Archaeology and The National RoadsAuthority Monograph Series No. 7. Dublin, 1-14.