A day-by-day account of the activities of the Rossnaree Archaeological Project 2010-11

Day 11: The ‘difficult’ third week

Well, it’s hard to believe we’re at this point already. The time is rushing steadily by at a worrying speed. However, today we are joined by some additional volunteers: Gary and Niamh, both of whom are postgrad students in UCD. Their arrival is very timely and is greatly welcomed.

Rossnaree excavation Trench 4

Kieran, Eimear and Deirdre in Trench 4

In Trench 4 Kieran, Eimear and Deirdre put in another amazing day bringing the ditch down. They are beginning to find the bottom of the feature which is comparable in depth to the other two ditches in Trenches 1 and 3, if not a bit bigger. Eimear is almost the full depth of the ditch as it stands at the moment, and there is still a bit to go. There is water at the bottom of this ditch – we did have quite a wet morning after a wet week-end and the water level in the river is noticeably high compared to last week – and we wonder whether this is the level of the water-table or even the level of the water in the river. Given that the material beneath the cultivation soil into which our ditch is cut is almost pure gravel, this is at least possible.

Rossnaree excavation Trench 4

The ditch deepens in Trench 4

There aren’t likely to be any major impermeable barriers between the location of Trench 4 and the river. I am promised that the edges of the ditch will be beautifully sculpted tomorrow and that the bottom will be reached. Hopefully the water levels will fall overnight to facilitate this!

In Trench 3 Matt and Darren continued to explore the fills of the ditch and the bank in that area. As reported on Friday this ditch is more substantial than was anticipated earlier in the dig and now looks as if it will be the same sort of dimensions as the outer enclosure ditch uncovered in Trench 1.

Rossnaree excavation Trench 3

Darren trowelling in Trench 3

We are looking at a ditch up to 4m across at the top with a depth of up to 1m. Work went well here during the day (despite everyone losing an hour or two in the morning because of the misty but persistent rain which prompted an early tea break). The edge had been already established on the west side of the ditch and attention was then focused on the east side of the trench to see if an equivalent edge could be established. During the late morning some very large cobbles were encountered in the cutting leading to suggestions of a possible revetment or wall-like feature on the face of the bank. Further investigation revealed that although these were substantial stones, they were not sitting in courses as we would expect with a wall but they did seem to be sitting on a berm or a shelf on the face of the ditch. Are these a deliberate feature or is this just where some of the stones from further up the bank finally settled. Maybe we’ll find out more when we dig a little more. Because of these stones obscuring a possible edge on the eastern site of the ditch, the lads decided to follow the known edge and peel off the fill from the west side instead. This paid off because early after lunch they found the base of the ditch.

Rossnaree excavation Trench 3

Matt records the find of the rib (lying beside trench to the right)

I know there s a myth about lightning striking twice but it looks as if it struck twice at Rossnaree! Last week we were very lucky to recover a cow’s mandible from the base of the ditch in Trench 1 which is (hopefully) ideal for radiocarbon dating. Well, out of the bottom of the ditch in Trench 2 what did they find but an almost complete cow’s rib. This was in almost exactly the same location in the ditch and the two deposits suggest that their placement was a deliberate action and a feature of the site. It is surely too much of a coincidence to be anything else. I wonder what we’ll find in the base of the ditch in Trench 4. This find is great, again for dating purposes.

Rossnaree excavation Trench 3

Trench 3 ditch section

If it proves possible to get a radiocarbon date from this bone sample, we will have a date for the use (close to initial construction) of the site. It is possible that the various enclosures around the site were constructed at different times so we would have comparative dates telling us how much time elapsed between the construction of the two ditches. Alternatively, the two may have been constructed at the same time which has another set of implications about the planning and possible functions of the site. Are these deliberate deposits or are they just representative of waste disposal practices? So much food for thought.

Rossnaree excavation Trench 1

Niamh and Gary take soil samples in Trench 1

Finally, in Trench 1, Gary and Niamh took the task of taking down the layers filling the ditch in the southern side of the trench. These are being bulk sampled for macrofossil remains. This means that large samples of the soil are being kept (between 5 and 10 litres) for processing at a later date in the hope of retrieving a variety of environmental indicators like seeds, charcoal and other plant material. These will be separated and retrieved from the samples through a technique known as flotation where the soil samples are added to water and the vegetable fraction floats to the surface and can be skimmed off and can be later analysed and identified by specialists giving important information on the environs of the site and how they looked and were managed at the time the site was in use. Not as exciting as finding cattle ribs perhaps. Unfortunately it will take some time before the results of this particular exercise are known.

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