5 Fieldwork and museum collection review

5.1 Introduction

[Please note that part of this chapter has been published in Internet Archaeology]

After the initial review of the literature concerning the early prehistory in the west of Ireland, the research was in two main parts. The first involved five weeks spent in the National Museum undertaking a detailed study of the material culture housed there. This entailed a search in the museum archives and then an examination of all the prehistoric lithics (Mesolithic and post-Mesolithic), ceramics, and organic material that came from non-excavated contexts that are provenanced to the six counties under review. The archives for the adjoining counties were also inspected and a selection of material from these counties was looked at. Due to time constraints it was decided from the onset to only initially review material from non-excavated contexts, but a selection of material from excavated contexts was also looked at; also due to time constraints not all of the axes were examined and also as it was hoped that the Stone Axe Database (2006) would be of help in the review. In addition to the museum work, time was spent tracing Mesolithic material that was apparent in the literature, but that had not been housed in the National Museum.

The second part of the research involved using the information gathered from the museum and literature review to undertake sixteen weeks of fieldwalking. This initially involved formulating a series of case study areas to act as platforms into the landscape to survey. Lough Corrib, Co.’s Galway and Mayo and Lough Urlaur, Co. Mayo were chosen as case studies for the Mesolithic and the Tawin/Maree area, Co. Galway for the Mesolithic and Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. These case study areas were chosen for a number of reasons. The first was the pragmatic reason of their being in proximity to Galway City. This was a key consideration due to the fact that as this survey was to be undertaken as a solo effort, time was limited. The second reason for the case study areas was that these areas had in some instances previous finds going back nearly 150 years but had had no extensive, systematic fieldwalking carried out. It was hoped, therefore, that this survey’s fieldwork could augment the material record, and clarify the character of these areas to a degree not undertaken previously. A third reason for the choice of areas was that both coastal, near coastal, and inland areas could be covered by these three.

The fieldwork for these three focused case study areas was to be undertaken along with visits to, where possible, all of the known findspots of Mesolithic material to ascertain the character of the area and to develop strategies for further, longer term research. This involved site visitations, and, where suitable, fieldwalking was carried out. Fig. 5-1 shows the case study areas as well as the areas where additional fieldwork was carried out, while Fig. 5-2 shows the distribution of possible Mesolithic sites cited in the literature prior to this thesis.

The first section of this chapter will detail the terminology used in this thesis with consideration to the lithics. This is warranted as lithic terminology can be variable between researchers, and it is helpful to outline this thesis’ use in the first instance. This section will also clarify terms that will be used such as the divisions of material between “Mesolithic”, “post-Mesolithic”, and “axes”. The second section will then outline the fieldwork carried out in the three case areas, with the third section dealing with the additional areas where fieldwork was carried out. The last section will deal with the remaining Mesolithic findspots which were subject to fieldwork. This section will also elaborate to a certain extent on the museum research that was undertaken that does not directly relate to the early prehistoric period.

Figure 5-1 Case study areas and additional fieldwork areas

Figure 5-2 Possible Mesolithic findspots cited in previous literature

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5.2 Terminologies and conventions

“To dictate definition is to wield cultural power” (Livingstone 1992, 304).

The following definitions of terminology are not outlined to attempt what the above quote highlights, but rather to state succinctly how the various terms will be used in this thesis. For example, in the literature the Later Mesolithic people in Ireland are characterised by their use of “Bann flakes”. The classic “Bann flake” arrived at its name due to the plethora of broad, leaf-shaped flakes found in the Bann Valley. This term was, and is, often used as a short hand for Later Mesolithic lithics, and used to describe any Later Mesolithic material, whether or not it is a Bann type of flake, or even a flake for that matter (e.g. Fredengren 2002; Gibbons et al. 2006). Therefore, this term often masks the variability of the lithics used. Woodman and Johnson (1996, 173) have suggested that this term should be reserved for “large, leaf- shaped forms, 4cm or more in breadth, where retouch at the proximal end is very light”. Another example pertains to the use of the term “debitage” (e.g. Fredengren 2002; Woodman and Johnson 1996). According to Inizan et al. (1999) “debitage” means the act of knapping, while “debitage products” are the result of knapping, i.e. flakes, blades, and waste products: the waste products are called “debris”. However, Woodman and Johnson (1996) appear to use the terms “debitage” and “debris” interchangeably as meaning the same thing.

What follows are explanations of terms used in describing lithics. Further explanations of the abbreviations used in the catalogue of this survey’s finds appear in the appendices section, before Appendix 1.
Blade: Irish Later Mesolithic lithics are often described as blade-like flakes, as true blades are often meant to be parallel sided. This thesis has used, following Inizan et al. (1999, 130-1) the length: width ratio instead of parallelism to define a blade. Therefore, the term blade is used to denote a flake which has a length at least twice its width.
Debris: this term is used to denote shapeless fragments which cannot be described as flakes or blades, as there are no characteristic fracture marks visible, but none the less do not appear to be “natural” fragments of material (ibid., 138).
Flake: the term flake is used in its widest sense to include any piece that has been removed from a core, except when this can be described as a blade (ibid., 141-2). This analysis of the material has not broken the material down into types of flakes (i.e. preparation flakes, platform rejuvenation flakes etc.).
Ret/wm blade, ret/wm flake, or ret/wm core: “ret/wm” is an abbreviation for “retouch/wear mark” and is a broad category used to describe a piece that has telltale signs of having been retouched or signs of wear marks. As these two different kinds of marks can sometimes be similar, it was decided from the outset to label all lithics with either kind of signature marks under the one category, rather than having a number of categories of degrees of either retouch or wear marks.
Worked piece: this term is used to denote a piece, which cannot be described as either a flake or blade, but has signs of retouch or wear marks on the piece and therefore is not considered to be “debris”.

The conventions used to describe the different types of cores and diagnostic tools follow Woodman and Johnson’s (1996) descriptions of Irish types. When discussing the lithics three broad categories are used; Mesolithic, post-Mesolithic, and axes. When Mesolithic and post-Mesolithic are used, this is to denote diagnostic lithics that can be assigned to either period. With lithics in general, it can be difficult on a piece by piece level to ascertain which category it falls into, as the technique of stone working can invariably produce similar looking lithics, whether it was a Mesolithic or post-Mesolithic person that made them. Rather than strict rules, there are tendencies in the different periods knapping techniques. Therefore, diagnostic pieces are relied on, but these are not as common as undiagnostic flakes and blades. This also applies to cores, which can often be similar, for example between the Early Mesolithic and Neolithic (Woodman, pers. comm.). In terms of the axes, these items, which form a substantial part of the lithics record, were used from the Early Mesolithic into the Bronze Age and later. The difficulty is in figuring out a methodology for ascribing an axe to a particular period (Woodman et al. (1999) has discussed this issue at length). Axes made from, for example, porcellanite, are arguably post-Mesolithic. However, these account for less than 8% of the axes in the west of Ireland, with the clear majority being shale, which was used in the Mesolithic and post-Mesolithic. Therefore, in order to retain the axes as period-spanning objects, of which there are almost 1800 provenanced to the six counties of the west, I have treated them as a separate group.

In the maps that follow, the convention “possible early-type monuments” is used: this is a short hand to describe a group of monuments, namely passage tombs, court tombs, and portal tombs, and also including undiagnostic “megalithic structures” and “megalithic tombs” (as defined by the SMR). These monuments have been included on the maps to give a general sense of the Neolithic transition and how it relates to Mesolithic material in the landscape, so only possible early types of monuments are included. The two latter categories of undiagnostic types could be early or later, but have nevertheless been included. Cairns, which some are possibly early types, have been left off the maps as they are probably for the most part later in date than the Early Neolithic. This probably is a dangerous compromise, as many early type monuments may well be omitted, but if the reader so wishes they may compare the maps presented against the SMR maps.

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5.3 Case studies

5.3.1 Lough Corrib and its environs, Co.'s Galway & Mayo

As the evidence for Mesolithic is predominantly found near waterways it is important to outline as clearly as possible how these areas have changed over the years. It is critical to our understanding of the early prehistoric landscapes to assess how dramatically the landscape has changed, not only in prehistory, but especially in modern times with the series of drainage works undertaken. What we see as a stable landscape, with seasonal flooding, is fundamentally different to how the landscape appeared millennia ago. Indeed, it is fundamentally different to how it appeared a few centuries ago before the drainage works. Of key consideration is the lake levels themselves as these have apparently changed dramatically, which has a serious impact on not only the habitation and use of the landscape in prehistory, but also on the availability of evidence for us to analyse.

The three lakes, the Corrib, Mask, and Carra, lie on the mid-western edge of the central lowlands, with the Connemara and Partry mountains to their west (Fig. 5-1). As part of the lowlands the geology of the lakes is karstified limestone, with igneous and metamorphic rocks on the western edge of Lough Mask and upper Lough Corrib (Aalen et al. 1997, 331). The karstic, or partly karstified, nature of the underlying limestone – which underlies 50% of Ireland (Coxon and Drew 2000, 81) – entails that the drainage pattern of the lakes is complex; the limestone is characterised by underground streams, swallow holes, springs, with turloughs present in many places (Coxon and Coxon 1994). One dramatic example of the karstic landscape apparent on the River Corrib is the phenomena of the river drying in both summer and winter. This is due to an underground river which ran to the east of the over-ground course – the river would change course and flow underground into the sea at Lough Athalia, near the present day railway station in Galway. This underground passage was blocked in 1851 by the Board of Works (Wilde 1867, 13). This drying of the river seemingly occurred periodically as it is noted at least twice in the medieval annals (Rynne 1983-4, 5-6).

The loughs Corrib, Mask, and Carra form the Corrib catchment area, which drains an area of approx. 3100 km² (Connolly and McCarthy 1993, 58) – the Shannon catchment drains about 10400 km² (Cabot 1999, 178) (Fig. 5-3). The Corrib system drains to the sea by the Corrib River, which runs for approx. 6 km. Drainage works over the years have considerably altered the watercourses of the catchment area. For example the Clare River, whose source is close to Lough Urlaur in Co. Mayo and the largest river to flow into Lough Corrib, originally was an underground river for a small section of its lower run – it came out as a spring near the village of Claregalway from where it then shortly entered the lake (OPW maps). Numerous turloughs which had been isolated were channelled to connect to river systems as well (Drew et al. 1998, 56). Moreover, the karstified landscape entails that present day rivers and streams may not have been present in the early prehistoric landscape and vice versa. For example, the Clare River mentioned above may well have originally been an over-ground river for its entire course to the lake.

Figure 5-3 The catchment areas of the Corrib and Shannon systems highlighted

In terms of the River and Lough Corrib themselves, drainage works starting in the 19th century included the building of a weir and system of canals in Galway city (Semple 1984, 80). While the water level of the lake was lowered in the mid-19th century (Wilde 1867, 21), the main effect of the drainage schemes was to stabilise the lake level over the seasonal extremes of low and high levels, allowing access by boats in summer and the mitigation of winter flooding (Semple 1984, 80). However, Mooney (1990, 115) has suggested that there are contradictions in the 19th century literature as to what exactly happened to the lake levels at the time. The Corrib River was channelled, and earlier a new exit point, the Friar’s Cut, was created from the lake, bypassing the old river course which lies 2 km to the west. On the original 19th OS, and older, maps another river emptied the lake to the east and came out at Menlough – this has since almost completely closed over (see Fig. 5-4 & Fig. 5-5).

Figure 5-4 Map of Corrib River with old water courses highlighted

Figure 5-5 River Corrib area's present water courses

As noted in the previous chapter, some mushroom stones are apparent on the east side of the lake and the River Corrib. These are suggested as evidence of the lake levels in post-glacial times. One of the questions about the stones is the timing of the dropping of the water: did this happen synchronically across Ireland, and was the cause a dropping of the water table, or isostatic uplift (Dunne and Feehan 2003, 7)? If a similar timing can be posited for the Corrib as at Lough Boora, we can estimate that in the Early Mesolithic the level of the lake and river were some meters higher, meaning that much of today’s river would have been a part of the lake and that much of present day Galway City would have been under water, with the few higher tips as islands. Research by Mooney (1990, 118) (who analysed cores from the area) has shown that after the initial post-glacial high level of the lake, at some stage later the lake level fell to a much lower level than at present. Then, prior to c. 6100 BP the lake level began to rise once again. From this we can see that the landscape of the lake and river changed dramatically over the course of the early prehistoric period.

In terms of the changes of the river course in the modern period, it is clear from a perusal of the earliest maps of the River Corrib, while allowing for differing cartographic conventions and accuracies, that the river course had changed substantially in last few hundred years (Fig. 5-4 & Fig. 5-5). Moving downstream towards the bay, through what is today the weir and a series of canals, would also have presented itself as clusters of islands in the early prehistoric period.

PhD work by Bingham, Dept. Botany, NUI,Galway, on the palaeoenvironment of the Lower Corrib basin is currently being undertaken, with the raised bog beside the lake and Clare River being cored (pers. comm.). This project also involves pollen analysis from a core from the main lake itself – these are the first pollen cores to be taken in the area, and will give both a regional and local picture of the flora, as well as hopefully a more detailed picture of the extent of the palaeolake.

Previously, the closest core taken to Lough Corrib was at Mayo Abbey which lies 15km to the northeast of Lough Mask (Fuller and O’Connell 1998). The authors commented that this core’s early Holocene data suggested a typical succession of grasses and shrubs for the period. Hazel, pine, oak and elm then expanded to form a mixed woodland of tall canopy trees; elm was represented to a greater degree in comparison with other west of Ireland cores with the authors suggesting that the fertile soils in the area probably account for this (ibid., 45). Later, the woodland composition was dominated by alder, hazel and oak. This was followed by the elm decline, and indications of Neolithic pastoral farming (ibid.).

How this relates to the woodland around Lough Corrib is uncertain, especially considering that given the size and topography of the area around the lake a variety of ecological niches which would have had a varied vegetation history. Furthermore, Currie (1996, 48) has noted that the relatively thin soils in the eastern part of the area may not have provided enough anchorage for dense oak woodland. Today, the largely treeless landscape around the lake is dominated by pasture, with blanket bog on the hills to the west and an expanse of raised bog defining the east shore of the lower lake, where the Clare River enters. The greatest expanses of trees, besides the plantations of conifers, are the pockets of woodlands usually centred on the old estates. The difference in topography between the east and west of the lake is stark as can be seen from the two photographs (PL. 5-1 & PL. 5-2) – as one walks northwards on the upper part of the lake the Connemara Mountains begin to rise in the distance, while behind to the south and east is the vast undulating land stretching into the midlands.

Plate 5-1 Looking northwest over Lough Corrib towards the Connemara mountains

Plate 5-2 Looking southeast over Lough Corrib and the Central lowlands

Top of Page Previous research/finds

As mentioned in chapter 2, the reputed hundreds of Mesolithic finds from the River Corrib were reported in various papers since the 1980’s by Gibbons and Higgins (Higgins and Gibbons 1988; Gibbons et al. 2004; Gibbons et al. 2005). These finds had been recovered by divers in the 1980’s from the river bed from around the bend of the river just north of Menlough Castle, down to Jordan’s Island. The authors have called this a Mesolithic ‘hyper-site’ (ibid., 51), and “potentially…one of the most extensive Stone Age sites in Ireland” (Higgins 2006, 3) and commented that this material had never been assessed.[1] After extensive searching I found out that this material had never made it to the National Museum even though it had been given a museum registration number, as reported by Rynne (1983-4, 9). The staff of the National Museum, in particular Mary Cahill, have been of considerable help in trying to trace this material, and I am grateful for their assistance. As this collection material has had a complicated history, and has been described as a substantial body of material, I will take time to try and set the record straight as to what the collection contains as it stands at present. This will then be followed by a discussion on the Mesolithic, post-Mesolithic, and axe finds from the area.

River Corrib divers collection
After discovering that this material was not in the National Museum, I contacted O’Dowd who was one of the divers at the time, and who Gibbons and Higgins had referenced (as a personal communication) in their article. O’Dowd (pers. comm.) maintains that the authors misrepresented him about the nature of the material – not all the material was lithics and what the ‘hundreds’ consisted of as well was pieces of organic material. Therefore, from the outset the amount of lithics was overestimated.

With the help of J. Higgins (one of the aforementioned authors) I traced some of the lithics to the Galway City Museum, where they were found in a plastic bag after I had put in a request to look for them. This amounted to a few items: 10 axes and 9 lithics, 2 hammerstones, and 1 triangular piece of stone. J. Higgins (pers. comm.) maintains this is all that was ever received by the Galway Museum. I contacted Gibbons (the second author) and he maintains that he saw a “sack full” of material that came from the river (pers. comm.). In talking with Professor Woodman, Gibbons said to him that he saw polished stone axes in the ‘sack’ (Woodman, pers. comm.). However, when I later pressed Gibbons as to the exact details of what he saw in the sack, he simply stated “stone artefacts” (Gibbons, pers. comm.). It is indeed extremely unclear what was actually seen at the time.

I have been in touch with another of the divers, N. Higgins, who presented me with some of the lithics found at the time – he was eventually giving these to the new Galway City Museum when it opened. He says that unfortunately some material has been lost, and that some of the divers gave some of the lithics away, especially the more ‘eye-pleasing’ Neolithic arrowheads – but what he gave me was the bulk of the lithic finds (N. Higgins, pers. comm.).

From photographs taken of material at the time a number of the axes can be identified as missing. In a photocopy of a photograph in the National Museum archives, which shows 24 items, 8 are positively identified as being presently in the museum – the whereabouts of the remainder are unknown. From this photocopy 5 axes, two round stones, 1 core, and 8 possible lithics are apparent but unaccounted for. The identified items are from both the collection that came from the Galway Museum once I had requested the material, and from N. Higgins, highlighting that these two collections were once all together. Therefore, we can say that at the very least, 16 items are missing. What has been traced of the material is listed in Appendix 1.

While it is clear that this material, for various reasons, was not appropriately catalogued and secured at the time, it would seem that the actual quantity was misconstrued in the 1988 Higgins and Gibbons article, and that the lithics did not run into the many hundreds that they have written about: from this they repeated this misunderstanding in their more recent articles. Clearly, this is more of a hyperbolic site, than a hyper-site. Indeed, since the authors have mentioned Lough Gara which has produced thousands of Mesolithic artefacts, it is unclear why they have not called the findspots there ‘hyper-sites’. To state that this is potentially Ireland’s most extensive Stone Age site seems to be foolhardy – the area may well hold unseen evidence for extensive prehistoric occupation, but holding that line of argument would mean that any area in Ireland with a few recorded finds could be Ireland’s most extensive Stone Age site.

Mesolithic finds
The Mesolithic material from the River and Lough Corrib comes from four areas (Fig. 5-6) (Appendix 2). A ground (slate or mudstone) point was found while digging in a garden close to the eastern shore of the upper lake[2] at Ballycurrin Demesne, Co. Mayo. Almost directly across the lake on the western shore a fragment of a flint distally trimmed flake was found on River Island, Co. Galway at the mouth of the Owenriff River; a fragment of a flint butt trimmed flake was found in Townparks, Galway City, from beside the River Corrib. The diagnostically Mesolithic lithics from the divers’ collection are a siltstone bar form, a chert butt trimmed flake, a flint butt trimmed blade, and a flint end of blade scraper. From around the same area a ground stone point is one of the 19th century river finds from Menlough.

Figure 5-6 Lough Corrib Survey area and previous finds. Please note the dots do not necessarily represent single finds

Post-Mesolithic finds
There have been few post-Mesolithic lithics recorded for the area (Fig. 5-6) (Appendix 3) – two arrowheads from the east side of the lake, a fragment of an undiagnostic quartz point from the western shore, and a sandstone spearhead was found in the river along with axes in the nineteenth century. A flint scraper and a “piece of waste worked flint” were found on River Island on the west shore, and in Galway City one possibly “worked” piece of chert was found close to the river (Gibbons et al. 2004, 5-6). Other possible post-Mesolithic material includes some of the undiagnostic blades and flakes, and two undiagnostic cores collected by the divers from the river. As mentioned, these three latter findspots had Mesolithic material. A small number of undiagnostic flakes were also uncovered during excavations in Galway city (McCarton et al. 2004, 535).

The first early prehistoric finds date back to the 19th century drainage works near Menlough and these were predominantly axes. From the proximity of the lake – proximity being a relative term taken here to mean about 2km – there are 30 axes recorded[3], while there have been 46 axes found in proximity to the River Corrib (see Appendices 1 & 4). As well as the finds mentioned and shown on the map (Fig. 5-6), 2 axes have been found while digging on the east side of the lake near Annaghdown (Newman, pers. comm.), and another axe has been found on the surface uphill from the Corrib River’s east bank near Menlough Castle (Kelly 2006, 35). There are also reports that a good number of axes have been found at Menlough graveyard, beside the River Corrib, over the years, and these are in private possession (Bergh, pers. comm.). Three axes were also uncovered during excavations in Galway city (McCarton et al. 2004, 532).

Material Quantity Material Quantity
Unidentified 26 Jadite 1
Shale 25 Dolerite 1
Clay ironstone 7 Rhyolite 1
Mudstone 2 Basalt 1
Pelite 1 Igneous type 1
Schist 1 Chert 2
Porcellanite 7

Table 5-1 Material of axes from near Lough and River Corrib[4]

Material Quantity Material Quantity
Unknown 30 Drainage 8
Divers 20 Surface 4
Digging[5] 7 Tillage 2
Bog 5

Table 5-2 Find contexts for Corrib axes

In terms of the finds from further away, along the rivers flowing into the Corrib, a distinct pattern emerges of axes found in townlands adjacent to the Clare and its tributaries, as can be seen in Fig. 5-7. About 30% of the axes found along these rivers were retrieved out of bogs. However, it should be noted that a bias in the distribution of this material may be at play here. The home of Costello, the antiquarian mentioned earlier, was Tuam, and a good number of these finds are related to his collection. Moreover, even if some of these finds are later than his collecting, having someone in an area who had raised an awareness of prehistoric material, and an awareness of reporting these to the museum, invariably means that these areas will produce more finds recorded in the museum archives. While this will not account for all the noted findspots it certainly adds to the perceived density in an area.

Figure 5-7 Distribution of axes with the River Clare and tributaries highlighted

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The fieldwalking of the Lough Corrib area was undertaken by walking the shoreline and intensively examining the exposed shoreline, covering where possible at least 60-70% of the shore, and with an aim at covering 100% at all times. Rather than aiming for a sample of a smaller percentage of a wider area, it was decided that a more intensive search would be better approach considering that the Mesolithic findspots can often be characterised by single finds. Therefore the chosen shorelines were walked in a number of passes, depending on how wide the particular exposed shoreline was. If exposed shorelines were particularly wide, the amount covered was reduced to about 60-70%, but for the most part the exposed shoreline around the Corrib was not extensive, entailing that full coverage was achieved. Whereas in some surveys the approach is to examine an area, then walk a few paces, and then examine another, this approach was not used here, and all ground was intensively searched. As well as examining the exposed shoreline, all erosion scars near the shore and in adjacent fields were also examined for material.

The main criteria for the choice of where to fieldwalk was accessibility and shoreline visibility: with much of the shore covered in reeds, marsh, or bog, many places were inaccessible. This was especially the case for the mouths of rivers, usually seen as areas where Mesolithic evidence is apparent. Numerous river mouths were visited, but these proved futile areas to attempt to survey due to the lack of shoreline accessibility. Therefore, this survey was biased towards areas with rocky, gravelly, or sandy shores, as well as areas which had pasture extending to the lake, and biased against areas which have since prehistory become engulfed with bog, reeds, and fen. A second criterion was to examine areas around the previous findspots to ascertain whether there was more material apparent in these locations. Areas with no previous finds were also chosen to assess the general distribution of the material.


Approximately 70 km of the lake and river shoreline was surveyed (Fig. 5-6). The only area where lithics were found was on the east bank of the River Corrib (Fig. 5-8) (Appendix 5). Here a retouched chert blade was found in cattle poached ground close to the river bank near Menlough graveyard (the northerly of the three findspots on the map); an axe – possibly shale – was found on the grounds of Menlough Castle again by the river bank (the middle of the three findspots), and the main lithic scatter of 30 lithics was found eroding from a small ridge (c. 2m high) about 10m from the river bank parallel to Jordan’s Island: the erosion scar runs intermittently for approx. 30m. It is uncertain if this latter material is being eroded out from an in situ context, but it would seem possible. This scatter consisted of undiagnostic lithics, mostly small flakes of chert and flint with the notable exception of a quartzite flake[6] – the quartzite is provenanced to the Connemara Mountains. The 5 pieces of flint exhibited 3 different types of patination, white, grey, and orange, possibly suggesting different sources for the flint.

Figure 5-8 River Corrib area survey

Top of Page Discussion

The survey work carried out on the lake and river unfortunately did not identify any diagnostic Mesolithic material in the area. Indeed, the intensive fieldwalking did not find evidence for material from any period, apart from along the river. One of the difficulties in tackling Ireland’s second largest lake single-handed is that invariably only a small portion can be surveyed: at 70 km of shoreline surveyed, this is only the beginning of a full survey of the lake and environs, which should be continued, especially to include fieldwork on the multitude of islands on the lake, which were not investigated, apart from River Island, where one of the previous Mesolithic finds is from. Nevertheless the lack of finds in the areas surveyed is a result in its own way. It is possibly suggesting that the low level of visibility has to do with the lake level itself. Without more recent drainage schemes exposing the foreshore, material is possibly being masked. It is possible that when the level was dropped 150 years ago, a survey may have produced different results. However, as noted, it is unclear to what extent the lake level dropped at that time. Another possible reason for the lack of finds may have to do with the extent to which the shoreline’s stones are very often encrusted with marl, which could mean that lithics are being rendered invisible.

N. Higgins (pers. comm.), one of the divers who collected the material from the river, noted that some of the material collected was from a stretch of raised river bed in the middle of the river which the dredger’s bucket had missed and left behind intact. If the interpretation of the lake as having been lower in the Later Mesolithic is correct, this would make sense as possibly being signs that the river ran along a number of channels with islands in the middle of the river. Indeed, even if the lake level was not so much lower, this may have been a dry spot in the river during summer months at the time. What this does suggest is that a close inspection of the remaining terrace under the river is undoubtedly of importance. Other areas such as the stretch of river bed of the old river course at the head of the river are also critical areas to survey as these have not been dived to the extent that the lower stretch of the river has (N. Higgins, pers. comm.). As a result of the querying of this material Mary Cahill (pers. comm.) of the National Museum has put in a request to the Dept. of the Environment for an underwater survey of the river bed. With the possibility of retrieving prehistoric organic remains along with lithics this will hopefully add to our understandings of the locale.

While all of the finds were from the east bank of the river it is unclear to what extent alluvium is masking more material there. Commenting on their Bally Lough Survey, Zvelebil et al. (1996, 36) caution “against interpreting low frequencies of artefact recovery in a riparian context simply as reflecting an archaeologically ‘empty’ landscape and underlines the necessity of incorporating vertical investigations with the traditional surface-based field survey in an alleviated landscape”. This suggests that a useful project would be to investigate selected areas of the river in a similar manner to develop our understandings of the area.

The Tables 5-3 & 5-4, of this thesis’ collection and the divers’ collection from the river, show that chert accounts for ¾’s of the lithics, and flint accounts for almost 1/5, with 1 quartzite and 3 siltstone lithics. As noted previously, the Mesolithic finds from River Island and Townparks were also flint. The source of the chert is more than likely local, with, contra Higgins (2006, 4), an abundance of high quality chert in the area (see Section 5.3.3). The source of the flint is more problematic, with the traditional idea that all flint is Northern flint debatable. McCarton et al. (2004, 535) has commented on the flints that have been excavated from various sites in Galway City, suggesting that a glacially deposited source may be out in the bay with some material being washed up. However, this thesis’ fieldwork on the Inner Galway Bay area produced 800 chert lithics and only 1 flint, suggesting that either this source was not used at all by the communities there, or else it was not readily available (see Section 5.3.3). Therefore it seems likely that the flint was brought in from elsewhere outside of the region. However, the different types of patination on the small flints collected in this survey may indicate the use of beach flint (Bergh, pers. comm.).

Table 5-3 Material of axes from near Lough and River Corrib

Table 5-4 Materials from Divers' collection

The use of siltstone in the Mesolithic is a recurring pattern, with a number of areas producing evidence for this: Ferriter’s Cove (Woodman et al. 1999), Lough Allen and Lough Gara (see below, Sections 5.4.1 & 5.5.10), and Belderrig (Warren, pers. comm.). The siltstone from the River Corrib has been identified as being sourced from the Lough Mask area, but the glacial movement of material creates a problem in saying that the actual Mesolithic source was there. However, in the case of the Belderrig siltstone, the source of the raw material does not make sense as a glacially moved material (as the glaciers did not move in that direction) (Warren, pers. comm.), so one can argue that either the raw material was brought there, or else a finished lithic was brought there. Therefore one could argue that the glacial movement of material does not have to account for the Corrib siltstone and that Mesolithic communities were involved in this, through actual movement of people or exchange relations between communities in the area. In terms of the undiagnostic quartzite flake collected, the evidence for glacial or human movement is equivocal: but human movement of the material does not need to be discounted.

Plate 5-3 River Corrib, looking upstream at Jordan's Island on left, and erosion scar marked with arrow

Plate 5-4 Siltstone bar form found by divers in River Corrib

Plate 5-5 Flint butt trimmed blade found in River Corrib

Plate 5-6 C05:1:802; Axe, Menlough

Plate 5-7 C05:1:804-5;810;814; flakes, Terryland

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5.3.2 Lough Urlaur and its environs, Co. Mayo

Lough Urlaur lies towards the northwestern end of the central lowlands, and the topography is characterised by eskers and long, low drumlins with limestone as the underlying bedrock (Meehan 2003, 38-9). The glacial deposits are thicker here in comparison to a much of the Lough Corrib region, with outcrop rare, apart from the summit of the Boleyboy escarpment which lies a few km to the southeast of the lake (ibid). Today, the landscape is divided between pasture on the upper slopes and summits of the drumlins and eskers and raised bog in the troughs in between.

Lough Urlaur and its two adjoining lakes, Roe and Nanoge, are one of the sources of the Shannon and are situated within 3 km of a number of rivers and lakes that are the sources for: 1) the Moy River which meets the ocean at Killala Bay on the north coast of Mayo; 2) the Clare River which flows into Lough Corrib and Galway Bay (Fig. 5.1). These three water systems, the Shannon, the Moy, and the Corrib are the main systems in the west marking out this area as an interesting vantage point for movement in the region. Indeed, there is a marked concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites on the hills 2 km to the southwest of Lough Urlaur: these hills are at the centre of the sources of these three watercourses.

Unlike the previous case study area this area has not been the focus of palaeoenvironmental research. However, the Mayo Abbey pollen core described in the previous section is probably more generally applicable to this area than to the Corrib area. Again, there would have been a distinct difference in the vegetation between the peaks and troughs of the drumlins and eskers. The drainage operations that were undertaken on the Shannon that lowered the levels of Lough Gara which lies about 16km downstream did not reach up as far as Lough Urlaur, but stopped short of these lakes (OPW maps).

Figure 5-9 Lough Urlaur area and previous finds

Top of Page Previous research/finds

The first Mesolithic find from this area was discovered in the 1940’s. This was a tanged flint flake discovered while clearing stones in a tilled field. While Fredengren (2002, 114) and Gibbons et al. (2005, 44) have stated that this find was from the lake itself, the MNI files make it clear that the flake came from a mile from the lake on the eastern edge of the townland of Urlaur but not from Lough Urlaur itself (MNI file 1948:307) (Appendix 6). The finder gives accurate distances to two separate points, which suggests that the findspot mentioned is accurate. The eastern edge of Urlaur is defined by a small stream – as mentioned previously with the growth and encroachment of bog this may well have been a more substantial river in the Mesolithic. Little else has been found in the surrounding area (Appendix 6). The closest finds are from a few kilometres away – these are some axes and Bronze Age arrowheads, and no survey work appears to have been carried out in the area. The lack of finds stands in contrast to the extensive evidence of prehistoric monuments in the area.

Plate 5-8 Flint tanged flake from Urlaur (MNI 1948:307).

Top of Page Survey

The same methodology was used at these lakes as in the Lough Corrib survey area, of intensive fieldwalking the lakeshores and examination of adjacent erosion scars.

The lakes Urlaur, Nanoge, Roe, and Cloonagh were surveyed (Fig. 5.9). As the previous Mesolithic item was found away from the lake, the general area of the findspot – the eastern end of the townland – was also fieldwalked. There, a sand quarry extending for many hectares is currently being worked. This has created a lengthy scar for examination, but produced no finds. As parts of this scar were 15m high not all of it could be examined.

During the survey 5 lithics were collected, all from Lough Urlaur (Table 5-5; Appendix 7). The first two findspots from were from the north side of the lake, to the east of Urlaur Priory. These came from an erosion scar from the base of an esker a few metres from the shoreline – at this point the esker runs close to the shore. The second find was from the eastern end of the lake, towards the river outlet. This was found on gravelly mud amongst thinly growing reeds. These five finds consisted of undiagnostic lithics. The survey of the rest of the lake and other lakes did not produce any finds. Not all of Loughs Nanoge, Roe, or Cloonagh were walked as parts of these were bog fringed with no exposed shore.

Figure 5-10 Lough Urlaur Survey finds

Class Material Total
Single platform core Chert 1
Blade Chert? 1
Flake Chert 2
Debris Flint 1

Table 5-5 Urlaur survey finds

Top of Page Discussion

It is over sixty years since a Mesolithic presence was noted here, but unfortunately this survey did not help in developing the evidence any more, beyond one possible Mesolithic, but undiagnostic, chert blade. What is possibly of significance is that the original single find of the tanged flake would seem to be quite different to the lithics from the large collection of Mesolithic material from downstream at Lough Gara (Section 5.5.10), and also from the lithics collected during this survey at Lough Allen (Section 5.4.1). In these two areas there was no signs of heavily tanged flakes like the Urlaur find – Woodman (1978, 84) has commented that the tanged type of flake is earlier in the Newferry sequence.

As was the case at Lough Corrib, a lack of lowered lake levels may be a reason for the difficulty in identifying finds. Again, what is needed is further survey work, especially in order to carefully comb the erosion scars of the surrounding fields, especially higher up on the hills, more than time allowed in this survey. This, along with geophysical surveying and test pitting is needed if we wish to move beyond the faint signs we have of the Mesolithic presence in this area.

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5.3.3 Tawin/Maree area, Co. Galway

The Tawin/Maree area, in the Parish of Ballynacourty, lies on the eastern end of Galway Bay on a headland between Oranmore and Clarinbridge, and the parish covers just over 2500 ha. The western end of the parish consists of a collection of islands, the largest being Tawin Island which is separated from the mainland by a 70m stretch of sea at high tide. The southern end of the parish is defined by Dunbulcaun Bay into which the Clarinbridge and Kilcolgan Rivers flow. The parish is a continuation of the Irish central lowlands, which continues eastwards to the Irish Sea; the land is low lying, with the highest peaks being approx. 25m OD, with the topography being formed by glacial movement into drumlinised ribbed moraines.

From most vantage points the Burren hills to the southwest dominate the horizon; looking east from the highest peaks the horizon is the expanse of the lowlands. There are no substantial rivers running through the parish, with only a few small rivers and streams, and with two turloughs in the adjacent parish to the east. The underlying bedrock is limestone and in many places the karstic bedrock crops out. The present landscape is dominated by pasture interspersed with tillage, with a small stand of woods on an estate close to the sea.

Plate 5-9 Looking southwest to the Burren at low tide from Ballynacourty

Plate 5-10 Looking north over Dunbulcaun Bay towards Ballynacourty Parish from Stradbally West, with the Kilcolgan River outlet to right

Top of Page Tawin/Maree area, Co. Galway

Starting from the 1930’s, 139 axes were reported to the National Museum from this parish, which accounts for about 33% of the axes for Co. Galway from an area that is only a miniscule fraction of Co. Galway’s landmass (for list of axes see Appendix 8). However, no other lithics were recorded from the area. What follows is an extended discussion of the history of the reporting of the axes, as this highlights perspicuously how parts of the collection in the National Museum has been built over the years, thus revealing how biases in the collecting and reporting of finds can considerably alter our perceptions of prehistoric habitation of the landscape.

The first axe to be reported to the National Museum from this area was in 1931, with a find from Mweeloon. The local school teacher, Ua Ríoghardaín, whose school was in Maree (which is not a townland or parish name but the general area’s name), was one of the locals involved in the reporting to the museum of the finds. This seems to have started when the Ordnance Survey was in the area, and O’Shea of the Ordnance Survey was shown the axes and presumably encouraged the locals to report them to the National Museum. The axes were being recovered during tillage, mostly from potato plots. This piqued the interest of Mahr, the Director of the National Museum from 1933, as it was apparent that this was what was called a ‘Riverford Culture’ type axe. Mahr was in the midst of formulating ideas on these types of artefacts, and he eventually outlined these thoughts in his presidential address to the Prehistoric Society (1937).

Fig. 5-11 Tawin/Maree survey area with previous axe finds highlighted

Over the next few years there was a flurry of activity with dozens of axes found and sent up from the area. The initial price given for an axe was 15 shillings. So many axes were being discovered from this area that (S.P.) O’Roirdain was sent down by Mahr from the museum to investigate the area in 1933. In a letter about the impending visit, Ua Ríoghardaín, the school teacher, wrote to Mahr outlining his views on the axes:
“There is no doubt that there were primitive colonists in large numbers here and they did not go far inland as they confined themselves to the head of Galway Bay where this parish is situated…I have had at least a dozen of those small broken stone-axes from time to time. Of course they are of very little importance and I give them away to any interested antiquarians, only keeping three or four to show the children. Personally I am of the opinion that we will get very little in the way of ‘finds’ and at the same time I must confess that the area has not been scientifically studied…Of course I shall be only too happy to show your assistant (Mr. O’Riordain) any thing that he thinks will yield a ‘find’. I wish that all credit for the local stone-axes be given to Mr. John Brady of Mweeloon who gave J. O’Shea [of the Ordnance Survey] a splendid stone axe three years ago…Mr. Brady tells me that he has a splendid specimen buried in the ground in front of his house ‘lest he be tempted to give it away’ but he would not be opposed to getting it dug up again if we approach him properly...Yours very sincerely,
Domhnall Ua Ríoghardaín.” (MNI File 1933:1275).

It was suggested at the time that there may have been an axe factory there, akin to Fisherstreet, Co. Clare (MNI File 1933:583). O’Riordain visited the area, and in a hand drawn map by him, he showed where axes had been dumped into the sea before it was realised what they were – and that people in Dublin paid good money for them. Soon after the visit another letter arrived to Mahr from Ua Ríoghardaín on behalf of a finder. Here he commented that the finder “would have dumped it into the sea with the other stones but had heard that the school-master was sending them away and getting money for them”; Ua Ríoghardaín further commented “please remember us to Mr. S.P. O’Riordain, who taught us a very nice German song and ‘Heil Hitler’” (MNI FILE 1933:1275). This should be remembered in light of Mahr’s membership of the Nazi party, and reputed spying activities in the lead up to World War II (Evans 1996, 216-7).

However, by 1939 the museum had grown weary of the Tawin axes and a sender received the following reply from the museum:
“Dear Mr. Holland,
As you are probably aware, I have practically given up collecting these stone axes from your district which repeat themselves with such monotony and have long ago ceased to be of any scientific or archaeological interest except that, naturally, they continue to be of some purely local interest” (MNI File 1939:158).

Not surprisingly, the flow of axes dries up for the most part after this point. So we can see that the museum actively discouraged further axes being sent, and the true number of axes is under recorded. In another correspondence Mahr chides them for sending mere stones, and tells them to stop wasting their money and his time sending stones unless they are absolutely sure they are axes; he mentions that there is a big pile of stones somewhere in Dublin where all the dubious ones were dumped (MNI File 1939: 158). An interesting horde for future archaeologists. So, the axes had begun to lose their initial appeal by the mid 30’s, and the price dropped down to 5 shillings. Clearly outraged, by the price drop and the lack of interest, in Mahr received the following letter:
“Dear Dr. Mahr,
I was shocked to receive the stone axe back and according to your letter you abuse it very badly. There can be no doubt it is not (sic) an axe as I have the decision of experts on the matter. I am afraid my interest is beginning to fade away… Even though you are not an Irishman, or personal owner of the museum I would like you to treat me better. I do not endeavour to undervalue you but as I myself am just as much entitled to be co-operator as anyone else” (MNI File 1936:1972).

I think he meant to say that it was an axe, and the last sentence I think possibly means that he has as much a right to the museum as a foreigner has.

Therefore we have a third of Co. Galway’s axes coming from here which is quite a concentration considering the size of the area. As mentioned, nothing else was recovered from the area, except for one clay pipe and a grindstone. I would suggest that a strong possibility as to why nothing else was found has got to do with visibility. The area around Tawin is covered in chert, a lot of it high quality, dark-blue to black chert. With so much background noise of chert as it were it would not be surprising that any worked pieces were over-looked. Moreover, when the axes were found it was in the process of clearing stones, and therefore the only ones they were picking up were the larger ones they had to clear. The axes tend to jump out at you when walking the ploughed fields, and smaller items would be ignored, especially if you are not actively looking for worked chert. So the material was there, but there was no clear direction in the 1930’s from the National Museum towards walking the fields when so much was under tillage – and there was apparently no mention in the correspondence at the time of looking for material other than axes, such as chert.

From this we can see bluntly some of the biases at play in the distribution of material. As mentioned about the concentration of material around the Tuam area (p.136), if you have a person in the locality out looking for this material and raising an awareness of it, not to mention the value of it, you are going to find greater concentrations in these areas. And of course you have the other side of the coin – after a while the National Museum discouraged the sending of more axes to the museum.

After the initial reporting of the axes in the 1930’s, over the years there have been some more sporadic finds from the area, and since I began my fieldwork in the area, J. Higgins (pers. comm.) has informed me that in past years he has walked ploughed fields in the area, but did not find any material. However, he did not mention this in his recent articles where he mentions the Tawin/Maree collection.

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The Tawin/Maree area was chosen as the third case study to be used as a case study to look at the Mesolithic and Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. In this small, well-defined area there were a number of possible early-type megalithic tombs and an abundance of axes some of which Woodman et al. (1999, 78) had suggested may be Mesolithic, but with no other finds reported. As the fieldwalking strategy changed in this area, both will be described in sequence.

Initial fieldwalking Methodology

Initially, the area was to be surveyed in a similar fashion to the previous two case study areas: the difference being that this was a coastal location as opposed to a  lakescape. Therefore, the initial phase of fieldwalking involved an intensive, systematic inspection of the eroding cliff faces, which was to be carried out along with an examination of erosion scars in adjoining fields.

Initial fieldwork
The initial survey started on Tawin Island with an inspection of the eroding clifffaces. Here, I immediately found a chert bipolar core eroding out of a low cliffface in Tawin West on the extreme western end of the island. Over the next few hundred metres a further five flakes were found eroding from the cliffface which oscillated from about 1m in height to over 10m in height. I then spent a number of days walking the shores of various townlands carefully inspecting all of the clifffaces, but with no other finds apparent. However, in many places the clifffaces were quite high, making them impossible to inspect. Initially it was decided to fieldwalk various areas inland, examining all erosion scars available. However, as there were ploughed fields available in the area, it was decided to change strategies and to focus on various fields where the land was under tillage, and to walk these areas systematically.

Fig. 5-12 Cliffface finds from Tawin West

Ploughed fields fieldwalking methodology

Regional surveys such as the Bally Lough Project (Zvelebil et al. 1992) and the Lough Swilly Survey (Kimball 2000A) have surveyed large areas, with the latter sampling an area of 300 km2 (which entailed walking 430ha). The Bally Lough Project states that they “as a rule” (Zvelebil et al. 1992, 201) walked in 5m intervals, and “approximately” 5m intervals” (Zvelebil et al. 1992, 208), suggesting that they had a coverage of 40% for each field walked. However, they do not explicitly state this. The Lough Swilly Survey – designed to compare results with the former – states clearly that they maintained a coverage of 20%, using the traverse and stint method, implying that they invariably covered more than 20% when a possible sizable scatter was found (Kimball 2000A, 15). For both surveys, one of the reasons for the regional scale was to look at differing geomorphological locations, and to sample these for comparative purposes.

However, this thesis’ aims were different – the main aim was to ascertain whether the axes that had been found over the years were the sole type of find in the area or was a more varied range of types there at the time but overlooked; a second aim was to ascertain whether a Mesolithic and an Early Neolithic presence could be detected. As I was the sole surveyor involved, by necessity the area covered would be comparatively small. The parish of Ballynacourty is a little less than 23 km2, with a small percentage of the land under tillage. This had previously been a much greater part of farming life here, but has become all but uneconomic in the last generation. It was decided to survey the fields to a greater degree than the previously mentioned surveys – most fields were walked at a coverage of 66.6%, with three walked at 100% coverage as a sample. Arguably, a lesser coverage could have been chosen, and more fields walked, but it was decided to look at a smaller area more carefully as the main issue was lithic visibility as opposed to deducing socio-economic-ecologic positioning in the landscape.

That being said, the choice of fields was also decided on to look at a range of topographical locations, such as hilltops, lowlands, and fields that were directly coastal and estuarine. However, the choice of fields is in the first instance dictated by the land under tillage in any given year. The choice of fields to survey was also decided by first targeting townlands which had previous finds of axes; secondly, two townlands with no previous finds were chosen to be surveyed: Knockawuddy, and Stradbally West. Stradbally West is a townland in a neighbouring parish which lies to the south across the bay overlooking Ballynacourty Parish (see Pl. 5-10); the choice of this townland was also because the field was in an estuarine location, as a good candidate for Mesolithic evidence.

The finds were not located precisely in each field, but rather collected together, with the field divided into separate strips, depending on the size of the field. Any concentrated clusterings of material were to be noted on a sketch map.

In the following descriptions of the fieldwalking, a number of relative terms are used:
Clustering: an ambiguous, relative term, used to denote how the lithics were noted in a particular field. A “cluster” of lithics consisted of five or more than finds collected within a diameter of approximately 10m.
“Moderately stony”, “stony”, “very stony”, “extremely stony”: again, a relative term depending on what part of the country you are in: the stony, grey fields of Monaghan are different from a stony field in Laois. Here, this term is used to describe the ratio of soil to stone visible – a “stony” field means that stones appear as often as soil, “very stony” means that stones appear to dominate in comparison to the soil”, and “extremely stony” means that the soil is minimal in comparison to the stones. “Moderately stony” means not as stony as “stony”. The description of the stoniness of the field is included as this invariably affects how easy it is to spot lithics.

Each field surveyed was given an individual field number. At the beginning of each of the following descriptions of the fields, the following information is provided: 1) the field number, 2) the field’s owner, 3) size of the field, 4) the survey coverage of the field (i.e. either 66% or 100%), 5) the total finds from the field, 6) the average amount of finds per hectare, and 7) if the field was walked at 100% coverage, an average finds per hectare adjusted to 66% for comparative purposes between all the fields. A second table accompanies each field listing the finds types and quantities per field. A description of the adjoining fields is given, along with the inter-visibility of other fields and landscape features. A complete catalogue of the finds appears in Appendix 9. Table 5-6 lists the townlands of Ballynacourty Parish with those with previous axe finds indicated.

Table 5-6 Townlands of Ballynacourty Parish. *indicates townlands with previous finds of axes


Townland: Ballynacloghy
Field number: BCY1
Owner: Eamon Finn
Field size: 0.75 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 22
Av. finds per ha: 29.33

Table 5-7 BCY1 finds

In Ballynacloghy I walked 2 fields which were 400 m apart. Field BCY1 (Fig. 5-13) was on the crest of a low lying hill (15m to 20m OD), which sloped gently to moderately to the south and southwest; the peak of the hill (25m OD) is 400m to the northeast. To the north, the ploughed field of Prospecthill (PL) was visible, as was the portal tomb which lay in the valley basin between the hills of Ballynacloghy and Prospecthill; to the west, Field 2 of Ballynacloghy (BCY2) was visible, with the Clare Hills in the background. To the south, the land undulated down to Dunbulcaun Bay into which the Clarinbridge and Kilcolgan Rivers flow. The field was bordered by a road on the south and west sides, and pasture on the north and east. The field was very to extremely stony, with chert in abundance – in places chert was the dominant stone visible. There was no sense of clustering of lithics in the field.

Figure 5-13 Highlighted fields: MW1, MW2, PL, BCY1, BCY2

Townland: Ballynacloghy
Field number: BCY2
Owner: Eamon Finn
Field size: 1 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 33
Av. finds per ha: 33

Table 5-8 BCY2 finds

BCY2 is on the crest of a hill (15m to 19m OD) which undulates gently to the south and more sharply to the north after the boundary wall (Fig. 5-13). To the east, BCY1 of Ballynacloghy is visible, as is the portal tomb and the ploughed field of Prospecthill (PL); to the northwest the house which sits beside the fields of Mweeloon (MW1 & MW2) is visible, and to the west one looks over Tawin Island. To the south the land gently undulates down to Loughnahulla Bay and Duncalbaun Bay beyond. The Clare Hills again dominate the view to the south and southwest. Field BCY2 is bordered on all sides by pasture. The ploughed field was not in furrows, and was moderately stony, with less chert than in previous fields. No sense of clustering.

Townland: Mweeloon
Field number: MW1
Owner: James Grealy
Field size: 1 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 91
Av. finds per ha: 91

Table 5-9 MW1 finds

I walked two adjacent fields in Mweeloon (MW1 & MW2), (both 3m to 10m OD). The top of MW1 was relatively flat, and then quickly sloped moderately to steeply and then levelled out towards the bottom of the field to the sea, sloping west and northwest – the shore was 10 m away (Fig. 5-13). From the top of the field, Tawin Island lay ahead to the west, and the skyline was dominated by the Clare Hills to the southwest, and to the north by Galway City and environs and the Connemara Mountains behind. This sub-rectangular field was bordered to the east by pasture, to the south by a modern house, to the west by marshy intertidal flats, and to the north by Field MW2. Field MW1 was stony, and in places very stony, with chert in abundance. The field had three clusters: in the middle; 10 m from the top of the hill; and on the north end towards the middle.

Townland: Mweeloon
Field number: MW2
Owner: James Grealy
Field size: 1.1 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 84
Av. finds per ha: 76.4

Table 5-10 MW2 finds

Field MW2 lay directly to the north of Field MW1 and sloped in a similar fashion, this time to the shore to the northwest (Fig. 5-13). To the east it is bordered by a ploughed field, to the west by intertidal flats, to the west by shoreline, and to the south by Field MW1. This was also stony to very stony with chert in abundance. Field MW2 had a cluster towards the west corner.

Townland: Prospecthill
Field number: PL
Owner: Michael Irwin
Field size: 2.3 ha
Coverage: 100%
Total finds: 175
Av. finds per ha: 76.1
(Adjusted av.): (50.7)

Table 5-11 PL finds

This field lies on the crest of a low hill (12m to16m OD) in undulating land, and slopes gently westwards, and more steeply to the north and south (Fig. 5-13). From this field one overlooks, 200 m to the south, a portal tomb in the valley basin, with the high tide mark about 200 m from the tomb. The two fields of Ballynacloghy (BCY1 & BCY2) are visible to the south and southwest. To the north the shoreline is 500 m away. Looking south and west, the skyline is dominated by the Clare hills across the bay. This sub-rectangular field has a ruined farmhouse in the southwest corner; the southern border of the field is defined by a road – the other bordering fields are pasture, with a modern house in the field to the west. The field was stony to very stony with chert in abundance. The only sense of clustering in this field was on the south slope 20 m from east wall, and 30 m from south wall in an area about 30 m by 30 m. Otherwise it appeared as an even spread over the field.

Townland: Ballynacourty
Field number: BTY1
Owner: David Ford
Field size: 2 ha
Total finds: 35
Av. finds per ha: 17.5

Table 5-12 BTY1 finds

The two fields in Ballynacourty (BTY1 & BTY2) are 1 km apart. Field BTY1 is a long, thin rectangular field (13m to 18m OD), which undulates gently, sloping north, then rising, then sloping more sharply north again (Fig. 5-14). The field of Knockawuddy (KW) is visible to the north. The field is bordered to the north by a road, and by pasture on the other three sides. There is a standing stone in the adjacent field to the west. The first 30m of the northern end of the field turned up lithics, with nothing for another 100m; a second collection continued sporadically for the next 70m. The field continued for another 300m northwards but due to bad weather I did not finish the field. In all the field would have been 5 ha, but I walked 2 ha of this. The field was stony with a lot of chert.

Figure 5-14 Highlighted fields: KW, BW, BTY1, BTY2, SW1, SW2, SW3

Townland: Ballynacourty
Field number: BTY2
Owner: David Ford
Field size: 2.5 ha
Total finds: 60
Av. finds per ha: 24

Table 5-13 BTY finds

Field BTY2 is squarish field, with a bulge on the west side and with a farm building in the northeast corner (Fig. 5-14). The field (9m to 20m OD) is steeply to moderately to gently undulating southwards, and ends at the cliff on the shore of Duncalbaun Bay. Across the Bay to the south the fields of Stradbally West (SW1-3) are visible, and to the east the estuaries of the Kilcolgan and Clarinbridge Rivers, with the Clare Hills to the southwest. The field is surrounded by pasture, except for the south which is the sea. Along the southern border a shell midden (predominantly, it would seem, oyster) is being eroded out of the cliff face. This is a registered monument (GA103:38). The shell midden is at places approx. 60cm thick, and it lies approx. 80-90cm below the topsoil at the point where I checked it. At the bottom of the ploughed field some shell is apparent, but it would seem that the ploughing has either not gone deep enough to disturb it, or else the ploughing has not gone close enough to the edge. It is unclear how far in the midden extends, or indeed how much has been eroded away. According to the SMR map, the midden extends for c. 600m along the cliff, but as ivy etc. covers much of it now, it was unclear as to its extent.

Townland: Ballynamanagh West
Field number: BW
Owner: James Grealy
Field size: 1 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 16
Av. finds per ha: 16

Table 5-14 BW finds

The field in Ballynamanagh West (10m OD) is gently undulating, sloping northwest, with a well in the northwest corner (Fig. 5-14). From the south end one looks over fields towards Dunbulcaun Bay and Stradbally to the southwest, with the Clare Hills on the horizon. To the west and north the land undulates towards the west end of the parish. The field is surrounded by pasture and also tillage fields to the north, with a stream a short distance to the east.

Townland: Knockawuddy
Field number: KW
Owner: James Grealy
Field size: 2 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 28
Av. finds per ha: 14

Table 5-15 KW finds

This field (10m to 23m OD) sloped moderately to steeply to the south, and levelled out towards the end of the field (Fig. 5-14). To the south, Field BTY1 of Ballynacourty is visible on the horizon, with the Clare Hills in the background. The north of the field is bordered by a road, to the east a modern house is in the field, to the west is pasture, and to the south is another ploughed field. The field was stony, with a lot of the stones having a dark greyish-blackish, pungent residue on them. Chert is not as common as in other fields.

Townland: Tawin West
Field number: TW1
Owner: Paddy Cunniffe
Field size: 1.2 ha
Coverage: 100%
Total finds: 23.3
Av. finds per ha: 14
(Adjusted av.): (15.5)

Table 5-16 TW1 finds

I walked two fields (TW1 & TW3) (both 1m to 3m OD), which were 60 m from each other. Field TW1 was a long, narrow rectangular field, and was flat to gently undulating, and terminated on the southern end close at the intertidal flats (Fig. 5-15). Between TW1 and TW3 was a ploughed field (TW2), and a lane to the north separated them from more pasture. The skyline was dominated by the Clare Hills to the south. The field was stony with chert in abundance. No sense of clustering.

Figure 5-15 Highlighted fields: TW1, TW2, TW3

Note: TW1 was initially walked by Stefan Bergh, Archaeology Dept., NUI,Galway, and myself during the first season, this has been labelled TW1(1). We walked one furrow each and collected 18 finds. TW2 (0.5 ha) was also walked that day, again a furrow each, collecting 20 finds.

Table 5-17 TW1(1) finds

Table 5-18 TW2 finds

Townland: Tawin West
Field number: TW3
Owner: Paddy Cunniffe
Field size: 0.5 ha
Coverage: 100%
Total finds: 38
Av. finds per ha: 76
(Adjusted av.): (50.6)

Table 5-19 TW3 finds

Field TW3 was wider and shorter than TW1, and was flat to gently undulating, and terminated on the southern end close at the intertidal flats. Between these fields was a ploughed field (TW2). The skyline was dominated by the Clare Hills to the south. Both fields were stony with chert in abundance. No sense of clustering.

Townland: Treanlaur
Field number: TR1
Owner: Eamon Finn
Field size: 1.2 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 14
Av. finds per ha: 11.6

Table 5-20 TR1 finds

The two fields in Treanlaur (TR1 & TR2) are 100m apart. Field TR1 is a sub-rectangular field on a gently to moderately undulating south slope (10m to 13m OD) (Fig. 5-16). On all sides it is bordered by pasture, with a modern house in the filed to the east and a farmhouse to the southwest. The land slopes gently towards a small bay t the south. TR was ploughed roughly, with the sod barely turned in palces, with patches unturned altogether. The ground was stony, with abundant chert, slightly different to the black siliceous chert in other fields visited. No sense of clustering.

Figure 5-16 Highlighted fields: TR1, TR2

Townland: Treanlaur
Field number: TR2
Owner: Eamon Finn
Field size: 2 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 49
Av. finds per ha: 24.5

Table 5-21 TR2 finds

Field TR2 is a trapezoidal-shaped field (18m to 22m OD), sitting on the crest of a flat-topped hill (22.15m OD) overlooking Field TR1 which lies to the south (Fig. 5-16). Much of the field, which sits on the crest of the hill, is flat, and at the eastern end the field slopes steeply southwards; from the middle of the field, the field slopes gently westwards. The crest of the hill gives views eastwards across the undulating lands towards the central lowlands of Ireland, to the north over the bay to Galway City, to the west and southwest over the bay to Clare, and to the south, the destroyed megaliths of Prospecthill and over the Parish of Ballynacourty in general. The ploughing was rough here, with some sod barely turned. A clear cluster of material was apparent in the southwest corner, about 25-30m from the extreme southwest corner, in an area of steep sloping.

Townland: Stradbally West
Field number: SW1
Owner: Donal Fordham
Field size: 1.4 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 37
Av. finds per ha: 26.4

Table 5-22 SW1 finds

These two adjacent fields (SW1 & SW2) (both 7m to 13m OD) lie across Duncalbaun Bay from the Parish of Ballynacourty, close to the estuary of the Kilcolgan River. Field SW1 slopes moderately to the sea to the north (Fig. 5-14). To the south, the field is bordered by a c. 4 ha ploughed field (SW3) which sits on the crest of a wide flat-topped hill which has a cairn (modern?) in the middle of it. To the west lies more pasture, with Galway Bay and the Clare Hills beyond. To the north, the field is bordered by the sea, and across the Duncalbaun Bay, Field BTY2 of Ballynacourty is visible, and to the east, the estuaries of the Clarinbridge and Kilcolgan Rivers. Field SW1 is bordered to the east by Field SW2. Field SW1 was stony, with a lot of chert. No sense of clustering.

Townland: Stradbally West
Field number: SW2
Owner: Donal Fordham
Field size: 3 ha
Coverage: 66%
Total finds: 39
Av. finds per ha: 13

Table 5-23 SW2 finds

Field SW2 (Fig. 5-14) slopes gently to moderately north and east, with similar views, and is bordered to the south by pasture, to the north by a strip of land adjacent to the sea, to the west by field SW1 and to the east by pasture. Field SW2 was stony, to very stony, with a lot of chert as well. No sense of clustering.

Townland: Stradbally West
Field number: SW3
Owner: Donal Fordham
Total finds: 39

Table 5-24 SW3 finds

This field was at the time of survey covered in a thin spread of slurry, making it impossible to survey (Fig. 5-14). After my survey, Carleton Jones, Archaeology Dept. NUI,Galway, who lives in the area, presented me with some lithics he found in SW3 while out walking. He also found some lithics in SW2, and I have simply added these to my finds collection for that field.

Plate 5-11 C05:1:246-59; retouched flakes Mweeloon (MW1)

Plate 5-12 Stone walls with chert, Tawin Island

Plate 5-13 C05:1:502; retouched point Prospecthill (PL)

Plate 5-14 C05:1:776; arrowhead Treanlaur (TR2).

Plate 5-15 C05:1:786; scraper Treanlaur (TR2)

Plate 5-16 C05:1:18; scraper Ballynacloghy (BCY1)

Plate 5-17 C05:1:129; scraper Ballynacourty (BTY2)

Plate 5-18 C05:1:198; bipolar core Mweeloon (MW1)

Plate 5-19 C05:1:150; multiplatform core Ballynamanagh West (BW)

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In total 24.4 ha were surveyed, with 795 lithics collected (Appendix 9). A further six were collected in the initial survey of the eroding cliffs along the coast. One diagnostic Later Mesolithic retouched point was recovered in Prospecthill (PL); a few other flakes may well be Later Mesolithic, but are not diagnostic. The lithics do not suggest much signs of Early or Middle Neolithic activity. None of Woodman’s early-type Neolithic lithics are present, and the classic Middle Neolithic Irish hollow scraper is conspicuous by its absence. The assemblage is broadly comparable with an assemblage excavated a few miles to the northeast at Oranmore; here Finlay (n.d.) suggested a Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date for the material. Jones, Archaeology Dept., NUI,Galway, had a brief look at a sample of the material collected during this survey, and suggested that it was comparable to the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age lithics he has excavated from Roughan Hill in Co. Clare (Jones, pers. comm.).

The lithics were almost exclusively chert, apart for one flint scraper, one possible quartz core, and 3 shale axes. The chert used was for the most part a high quality dark blue to black chert. This chert can be seen imbedded in the limestone in the field walls in the area, and also in many places on the beach, especially the shores of Tawin Island. Some of the flakes exhibited signs that material from the beach may have been used, but it would seem likely that the majority was not. What was taken as signs of beach chert being used may also indicate the use of glacially rolled chunks of chert. Whether the other material had been quarried from an outcrop in the area is unanswered. Our understandings of lithic quarries are weak at present, with the first (non-axe) Neolithic quarry site only recently being identified. This site is on the slopes of Knocknarea, Co. Sligo (Bergh, pers. comm.).

The average finds per ha was 29 at 66.6% coverage. In comparison, the Lough Swilly Survey had an average of 5 finds per ha at an adjusted rate of 66.6% coverage. The lowest average per ha was 11.6 in Treanlaur (TR1) and 12 in Ballynamanagh West (BW), while the fields with the highest number per ha were the adjoining fields of Mweeloon which had 91 (MW1) and 76.4 per ha (MW2).

From Fig. 5-17 you can see that almost half the finds were unmodified flakes, with the ratio of flakes to retouch/wearmark flakes being almost 3:1. The majority of the flakes were small, ranging between 2 and 3 cm long; while the retouched flakes were similar in length, a larger ratio of them tended to be over 3cm in length in comparison to the unmodified flakes. The assemblage is dominated by flakes, with only 15 blades present, of which 33% had retouch/wearmarks. The three main core types were single platform, multiplatform and bipolar cores (Fig. 5-18). The technique used was a hard hammer technique, with no signs of platform preparation on the flakes– all the platforms were flat, with no signs of facetting.

Figure 5-17 Breakdown of lithics from Tawin/Maree survey

Figure 5-18 Breakdown of core types from Tawin/Maree survey

The two fields in Mweeloon showed the greatest concentration of material. The graph below (Fig. 5-19) highlights that while MW1 had slightly less cores it had more debris, and while it had more flakes than MW2 it had less retouched flakes, scrapers, and worked pieces. As these fields were adjacent the assemblages from both could probably be considered as a single group.

Figure 5-19 Mweeloon fields MW1 & MW2

Fig. 5-20 considers the two Mweeloon fields (MW1 & MW2) as a unit, which together have an average of 81 finds per ha. Fig. 5-21 shows the lithics from Prospecthill (PL), a field slightly larger (2.3 ha) than the Mweeloon unit (2.1 ha), and surveyed at 100% coverage, with an adjusted average of 51 finds per ha. What is apparent is that while the Mweeloon has slightly more cores than Prospecthill, Prospecthill has a far greater amount of unmodified flakes, and slightly more debris. It also has a greater range of types, such as retouch/wear mark blades, concave scrapers, and axes, as well as the Later Mesolithic retouched point. However this wider range of types may be down to the fact that this field was walked at 100%, therefore creating a better chance of selecting the range in the field at the time.

Figure 5-20 Mweeloon types

Figure 5-21 Prospecthill types

This survey of the ploughed fields in the Tawin/Maree area set out to answer two questions:

1. Was there more material than axes in the landscape?

2. Was there any diagnostic Mesolithic and Early Neolithic material?

The first question can be answered with an unequivocal yes. In all fields surveyed, prehistoric activity was in evidence, with some fields showing extensive evidence. The second question is more equivocal. On the one hand a diagnostic Later Mesolithic retouched point was found, highlighting a Mesolithic presence, but this was a single find from a number of fields in different locations. The fields of Stradbally West were chosen as probable good candidates for Later Mesolithic activity, but these did not return any evidence of such. These fields were within metres of the sea, and close to the estuary of two rivers. However, in the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic it would seem likely that a lower relative sea level would entail that this was not an estuarine locale, but riverine. In terms of the Early Neolithic presence, no material was found indicating a presence in the Early of Middle Neolithic. The difficulty is of course that the majority of the material is undiagnostic flakes, with many of the scrapers being undiagnostic as well.

From this a number of questions can be asked. How are we to understand the early-type monuments in the landscape here, if the lithics do not appear early? Are these early-type monuments not as early as suspected? How can the chronologies of monuments and lithics be understood together? Is the apparent Late Neolithic appearance of the assemblage masking a much older history of Neolithic activity in the area? Were the fields chosen representative of the prehistoric use of the landscape in the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic, or did the survey miss out on key evidence.

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5.4 Further fieldwork

The fieldwork in the three case study areas was undertaken along with further fieldwork investigating areas with previous Mesolithic finds, to assess whether they were conducive for further more intensive fieldwalking (Fig. 5-2). Two areas with no previous Mesolithic finds were also fieldwalked. Lough Inchquin, Co. Clare was surveyed by Lynch (2002); however, he had recovered no finds and appeared not to have surveyed the entire lake so it was decided to fieldwalk this area, as well as another nearby lake, Lough Atedaun. A section of Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, was also surveyed. Warren (pers. comm.) informed me that a UCD student had found some possible lithics on Lough Conn, which is connected to Lough Cullin; it was decided to fieldwalk a section of Lough Cullin to assess the conditions of the lakeshore. What follows is a description of the fieldwalking undertaken in each area. In these areas a full survey was not undertaken as in the previous case studies. In other words, adjacent erosion scars were not investigated, but rather the survey was limited to an intensive survey of the findspots, and lakeshores. The extent walked for each area is outlined in the individual area’s descriptions below.

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5.4.1 Lough Allen, Co.'s Leitrim & Roscommon

After Lough Gara, the biggest grouping of Mesolithic material in the west of Ireland comes from Lough Allen, Co.’s Leitrim and Roscommon. In the literature two Lough Allen findspots are usually mentioned (e.g. Fredengren 2002, 114; Gibbons et al. 2004, 5; O’Sullivan 1998, 55), while there are in fact six findspots recorded in the museum archives. Similarly to Lough Gara, Lough Allen’s lake level was dropped. Raftery, who surveyed Lough Gara at the time, also did a quick survey of Lough Allen and noted 20 examples of the crannogs or platforms, what were described as metalling sites (O’Sullivan 1998, 54). Raftery did not appear to examine these sites in any detail, and it is uncertain as to whether any lithics were apparent on these as on some in Lough Gara.

Figure 5-22 Lough Allen townlands and previous findspots

Today, the low level of the lake exposes large areas of submerged forests, presumably of early prehistoric date. The tree trunks from this submerged forest are visible at nearly all spots of the lake visited, except where the shore is stony. In a number of places, possible traces of stone platforms are visible, but these did not appear to contain any lithics. In the southwest section of the lake, a cut away bog shows the growth of trees at various levels in the bog’s history.

The initial fieldwork agenda to be carried out at Lough Allen was to visit the old findspots to ascertain whether more material was apparent. The first two days of fieldwalking was undertaken with the help of Dag Hammar. With positive results it was decided to extend the survey of the lake by a few days to include stretches of the shore with no previous finds. Only the shoreline itself was fieldwalked, with no examination of the surrounding fields, except when they were passed through for access, at which time any erosion scars were checked. It is important to also note that not all of the shorelines walked were examined fully. In places the summer water level exposes up to 140m of shoreline from the winter level, making it impossible to survey these areas fully with the limited time available. The strategy in these places was to either crisscross an area to search both the lower and upper shoreline, or else to look out for patches that might hold material. This therefore is a random, ad hoc random strategy, done to quickly scan the shoreline. However, this unsystematic approach is justifiable as this survey should be taken as a preliminary research guide for further more extensive and intensive survey work of the area.

Note: For this survey a scatter was considered to be 2 or more lithics within 10m of each other. This is of course an arbitrary decision on what constitutes a scatter, and is used in order to simplify the grouping of the material as opposed to implying a close spatial relationship between them.

Annagh Lower
Previous finds/research:
Mitchell found a number of lithics on the river bed of the Shannon during a very dry summer in 1968 (MNI 1984: 194-7) (For all previous Lough Allen finds see Appendix 10). These were a fragment of a flint core, a retouched leaf-shaped flake, and three flakes. Besides the flint, the rest may be chert. It is unclear where the exact findspot was as Mitchell only provenanced these lithics to the townland.
As the river was high no other lithics were noted along the stretch of river walked (Fig. 5-23).

Figure 5-23 Kilgarriff finds, with Ross More, Ross Beg Glebe, and Annagh Lr.

Previous Research/finds: No previous finds
A short stretch of the east bank of the River Shannon was walked along Annagh Lower, giving access to Kilgarriff, and the top of Lough Allen (Fig. 5-23). The summer level of the lake exposed a flat, sandy, gravely, muddy expanse of a few ha – evidence of submerged tree trunks were visible throughout. A few lithics were found at the beginning of the lake near the river, with scattered spots of fire cracked stones, plus an old trackway/pier also apparent (for all Lough Allen survey finds, see Appendix 11). A small wooded island lies a short distance due south.

Table 5-25 Kilgarriff finds

Previous Research/finds: No previous finds
Survey: On the north east shore, we quickly checked the area at the north mouth of the river, by the graveyard (Fig.5-24). This was a large expanse of a stony, gravelly shoreline. Two flakes were from further north near the grassy higher, winter  shoreline. As these finds gave a positive indication of prehistoric activity in the area, the area was not examined more extensively.

Table 5-26 Fahy finds

Figure 5-24 Fahy finds, with Cleighran More, Cornamuck

Cleighran More & Cornamuck
Previous Research/finds: No previous finds
Survey: A few km south of Fahy a c. 2km stretch of shoreline of two townlands was surveyed (Fig.5-24). However, this area produced no finds: however a possible stone platform was noted in Cornamuck. Much of this stretch of shore was rocky.

Previous Research/finds:
A group consisting of 2 cores, 1 flake axe, 1 retouched flake, and 6 flakes were found on the shore (MNI 1978: 48-57). The lithics are heavily patinated to a chocolate brown colour, making the identification of the material difficult. Of the lithics that could be identified these were tuff, with one possible chert.
The survey started at the pier at the southern end of the townland (Fig. 5-25). At this point the shoreline was a gravely stretch, with the lower levels exposing 30-40m of shoreline. The first section to the bend at Guberusheen had frequent isolated finds, with a possible platform feature consisting of a circular spread of white stones a few metres in diameter. At the bend at Guberrusheen, there was a break in the finds for c. 100m, with more isolated finds starting up again, and with 1 scatter of 4 lithics found close to the water.
The isolated finds continued until reaching the sandy stretch of the shore. Here, the low water level exposed a shore of c. 50-60m. At this point – close to the outlet of a small stream with a sand bank and cluster of willow trees – was the densest concentration of material. This outlet was overlooked from the southeast by a bluff. Here, 51 of the 92 finds from the townland were collected. However, one reason for this density in collecting is that a possible Early Mesolithic core axe and some possible Early Mesolithic cores were collected, leading us to investigate the area closely for microliths. That being said, this area nevertheless a clear concentration of material.

Table 5-27 Cormongan finds

Figure 5-25 Cormongan and Cornashamsoge finds

Previous research/finds: No previous finds.
The shoreline of Cornashamsoge is a southern continuation of the shoreline from Cormongan (Fig. 5-25). Two scatters were from close to the start of the survey, with an isolated find c. 80m away, and another c. 200m away. The shoreline then became rocky and there was a break of c. 500m until the next finds. This next group was a series of six scatters close to each other, with the last being close to a small stream.
After this small stream, the shoreline opened up to a large boggy, gravely expanse which connected to a rocky winter island. Here, two scatters and four isolated finds were spread out over a large area.

Table 5-28 Cornashamsoge finds

Previous research/finds:
A flake was found on the lake bed near the shore by fishermen (MNI 1942:1). This was the first reported find from Lough Allen. In the Lough Gara collection a number of items are also provenanced to Lough Allen: Raftery found one worked stone in Mahanagh (MNI E20:3758), while another flake is provenanced to Lough Allen, but no townland is mentioned (MNI E20:3676). A collection of 1 distally trimmed flake, 2 butt trimmed flakes, 17 flakes, and 2 stones was handed to Raftery by the Shannon navigation workers (E20:3824): while this is not provenanced to a townland it would seem that this material came from beside Mahanagh as this is where they were working. The material of these lithics is unidentified.
The survey started at the outlet of the Shannon River on the east bank at the weir (Fig. 5-26). Here, there is a small peninsula with the Shannon running along the west, and Lough Allen continuing southwards on the east. The peninsula is a low hill of c. 150 m wide, with the shoreline stony and gravelly. The beginning of the survey found a few small pieces, up to an area with fire cracked rocks and charcoal. After the fire cracked rocks area, began a dense cluster of worked chert, with hundreds of lithics. A few sample pieces were collected. At this point the lithics can be seen to be eroding out of the grassy winter level shoreline.
The lithic scatter was less dense once we rounded the bend of the peninsula, but with a definite sense of clustering. On the east side of the peninsula, the quantity of lithics picked up with scattered smaller clusters, but these were not as great as on the west side. The scatters picked up again in quantity and density towards the end of the peninsula; these continued for a few hundred metres with the distance between the scatters becoming greater. After the peninsula the fields close to the shoreline become boggier and flatter. A possible stone platform was noted on the southwest end of the survey.

Table 5-29 Mahanagh finds

Figure 5-26 Mahanagh and Derrynadoey finds

Previous research/finds: No previous finds.
Derrynadoey is on the western shore of the Shannon and Allen, opposite to Mahanagh (Fig. 5-26). Here, the land is low lying and boggy beside the river and start of the lake, and northwards the townland juts out eastwards into the lake forming a narrow, humped, tree covered peninsula. The first c. 500m surveyed produced no finds, with two scatters close by near a rise in the land at the southwestern start of the peninsula. There was another break of c. 600m until the next series of an isolated find and two scatters, one of which was on the southeastern tip of the peninsula.
Around the bend of the peninsula the shore was rocky, with no finds for c. 600m until an isolated find which was c. 80m due north of the previous series on the opposite side of the peninsula. The remaining c. 800m of shoreline produced no finds.

Table 5-30 Derrynadoey finds

Curraghs South & Mullaghfadda
Previous research/finds: Two large pick-like implements were found on the shoreline of Curraghs South (MNI 1968:226-227).
The shorelines of the adjacent townlands of Curraghs South and Mullaghfadda on the west shore of Lough Allen were walked together (Fig. 5-27). For the most part the shoreline was rocky, with a gravelly, sandy, boggy patch towards to the south of Mullaghfadda. In all c. 2km of the shoreline was walked with only two isolated finds noted, with both of these in Mullaghfadda.

Table 5-31 Mullaghfadda finds

Figure 5-27 Derrynahinch and Mullaghfadda finds, and Curraghs South

Previous research/finds: No previous finds.
From the harbour we walked southwest towards Corry Island – connected to the mainland during the summer – with no finds until we neared the island (Fig. 5-27). On the island there was a circle of stones which produced two finds, with three more close by. Another scatter was to the west on the southwest shore of the island.

Table 5-32 Derrynahinch finds

Drummans Lower & Drummans Upper
Previous research/finds: A blade was found on the dried lake bed of Drummans Lower (MNI 1984:110), and Mitchell collected in the same townland 41 lithics consisting of 2 cores, 1 butt trimmed flake and flakes and blades, of which 10 are retouched (E114:3-34). Mitchell only provenanced this material to the townland. The material used was tuff, chert, and flint, with most of them not identifiable.
Drummans Lower and Drummans Upper are on the northwestern corner of Lough Allen, with the Owengar River’s inlet to the lake forming the northern boundary of Drummans Lower (Fig. 5-28). Drummans Island is connected to the mainland during the summer by a grassy, gravely strip, creating a peninsula of the wooded island.
The shore at the top of the lake was a gravely, muddy expanse, with the two largest scatters in the area starting c. 100m southeast from the river mouth. Further scatters and isolated finds were collected close to the water, along the north side of the seasonal peninsula. The perimeter of the peninsula (island) was walked with no finds for c. 500m until we came back on the south side close to the previous finds. The southern shore was then walked with no finds for c. 400m. At this point the summer shore is a c. 90m muddy expanse. A further c. 1.3km of shoreline was walked southwards with no finds, with much of this shoreline rocky.

Table 5-33 Drumman's Lr. finds

Figure 5-28 Drummans Lr. and Derrinvorey finds, and Drummans Upper

Derrinvorey Lower
Previous research/finds: No previous finds
Derrinvorey Lower is the western portion of Lough Allen’s northern shore, with Drummans Lower adjacent to the south, separated by the Owengar River (Fig. 5-28). Here, the exposed shore was at a maximum c. 140m wide, narrowing in places to c. 50m. This shore was rocky in pockets, but mostly muddy, and sandy and gravely towards the higher shoreline. The first finds were three isolated finds from a stony patch towards the higher shoreline near the car park. The next c. 1km of shore produced no finds. The next group produced five isolated finds and one scatter. These were all found within c. 70m of each other, and were c. 130m from the river mouth.

Table 5-34 Derrinvorey Lr. finds

Ross More & Ross Beg Glebe
Previous research/finds: No previous finds. Woodman has informed me that he and Fredengren walked a stretch of this shore, but with no lithics found (pers. comm.).
These adjoining townlands are on the opposite bank of the Shannon and Allen to Kilgariff (Fig. 5-23). A c. 2.5km stretch of the shore was walked, but with no finds. Approximately half of the shoreline is rocky.

Plate 5-20 C05:1:922 Cormongan, single platform core

Plate 5-21 C05:1:920 Cormongan, single platform core

Plate 5-22 C05:1:1034 Mahanagh, dual opposed core

Plate 5-23 C05:1:1007 Mahanagh, single platform core

Plate 5-24 C05:1:1032 Mahanagh, single platform core

Plate 5-25 C05:1:965 Cornashamsoge, single platform core

Plate 5-26 C05:1:982 Cornashamsoge, scraper

Plate 5-27 C05:1:918,945,954 Cormongan, blades

Plate 5-28 C05:1:985 Cormongan, blade

Plate 5-29 C05:1:968 Cornashamsoge, butt trimmed flake

Plate 5-30 C05:1:1085 Mahanagh, ret/wm blade

Plate 5-31 C05:1:1075,1076,1081,1083 Mahanagh, blades

Plate 5-32 C05:1:872 Cormongan, core axe

Plate 5-33 C05:1:1110,1151,1152 Mahanagh, flakes


The survey of Lough Allen collected a total of 436 lithics along eleven stretches of the lake, with two of these stretches producing no finds. 51 of these finds were isolated finds, with a further 46 scatters recorded. Half of these scatter were scatters of two to three lithics, while a quarter were scatters of four to nine. The largest scatters were found in Mahanagh. For some of these scatters only a sample of the lithics was collected due to the extensive nature of them. While the overall count for Derrynadoey, beside Mahanagh, was not great, the size of the scatters there would seem more extensive than in other areas surveyed.

Areas of rocky shoreline tended to produce no finds – whether this is because it is harder to see lithics in between the rocks or whether the lithics could be found higher up and parallel to the rocky shoreline, under what is now grass or trees and bushes, is uncertain, but would seem to be a distinct pattern.

The lack of finds from Ross More and Ross Beg Glebe is peculiar as, while half the shore was rocky, the remainder is the type of shore where other lithics have been found – muddy, gravelly, sandy – including finds from Kilgariff, which is just across the river. Therefore this blank spot in finds stands out, all the more as this area had previously been walked by Woodman and Fredengren with no finds, suggesting a pattern beyond bad luck on the day.

In comparison to the lithics collected during the Tawin/Maree survey the assemblage from Lough Allen contains a substantially higher ratio of blades to flakes. In the Tawin/Maree assemblage there were only 15 blades and over 500 flakes, whereas at Lough Allen the ratio was 1:3 blades to flakes. Overall the flakes and blades tended to be larger than the Tawin/Maree assemblage, being for the most part between 3cm and 6cm in length.
In terms of the cores what is apparent in comparison with the Tawin/Maree survey is the lack of the bipolar technique being used in the cores collected. The single platform technique is more prevalent with some of these single platform cores being examples of the classic Later Mesolithic uniplane core. However, the Ferriter’s Cove excavations (Woodman et al. 1999) highlighted that a lack of classic uniplane cores does not imply post-Mesolithic activity, and that the uniplane core is an artefact of the flint rich northeast, as opposed to a strict template to be followed.

Figure 5-29 Core types for Lough Allen survey

As mentioned, three possible Early Mesolithic cores (C05:1:919, 921-2) were collected in Cormongan, along with a possible Early Mesolithic core axe (C05:1:872). Another possible Early Mesolithic core was collected on the north shore at Derrinvorey Lower (C05:1:1274). One of these cores was a single platform core, while the other three are dual opposed cores. The difficulty with identifying these as Early Mesolithic is that in the Neolithic they also worked cores in a similar fashion. Therefore these remain questionable until further work can assess whether there is indeed an Early Mesolithic presence.

The clear majority of the assemblage appears to be Later Mesolithic in date. As mentioned in the last paragraph a few of the cores may be Neolithic, as well as some others (e.g. C05:1:1226). A bifacially retouched flint flake can be considered post-Mesolithic (C05:1:859), as probably can the two scrapers (C05:1:867 C05:1:982). As the majority of the lithics are undiagnostic, the post-Mesolithic element may be slightly more substantial.

The graph above shows the survey’s finds, excluding unmodified flakes, blades, cores and debris. The amount of retouched types is considerably smaller than the Tawin/Maree collection, but given the water rolled nature of the material this is not surprising.

Figure 5-30 Lough Allen finds, excluding unmodified flakes, blades, cores, and debris

In terms of the raw materials used one of the difficulties has been identifying the material. In the collection of material in the National museum the lithics were all called chert, apart from the flint. However, it is apparent that they are not all chert. Parkes, geologist at the Natural History Museum, has looked at some of the Lough Gara lithics in the museum for me and has identified some as tuff. A selection of this survey’s lithics has been examined by Williams, Geology Dept., NUI,Galway, and this has again shown the use of tuff, other unspecific volcanic types, siltstone/mudstone, as well as non-carboniferous chert, flint, and chert; an axe of shale and one of basalt were also identified. Unfortunately half of the survey’s collection remains unidentified, and this may well highlight other raw materials, but a pattern does emerge of the predominance of chert, followed by tuff and other volcanic material.

While the diagnostic post-Mesolithic collection is small, what is apparent is that the use of raw materials seems to be more restricted than in the Later Mesolithic, with the lithics only in either flint or chert. This pattern is also apparent in the Lough Gara collection, where in the Later Mesolithic a range of materials was used, with again only chert or flint used later (apart from the materials for axes). Of course, in the Neolithic and Bronze Age they used other materials such as quartz, jasper, mudstone, and soapstone, but nevertheless this pattern seems to hold for these two areas and also seems apparent in the collection of material from the Bally Lough Project (Kador, pers. comm.).

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5.4.2 Tully, Co. Leitrim

Previous finds/research
Three flakes, three retouched flakes, and an axe were found on the banks of the Shannon (MNI 1974:19-25). More recently, surveyors for the Discovery Programme looking at the crannogs in the area collected 32 lithics, including a core and two retouched flakes, the rest being flakes and blades (these have been assessed by Woodman (n.d)). These were found from around the same area as the finds in the 1970’s, along the north shore of the Shannon, but over a wider area (Appendix 12).

As the Discovery programme’s finds had not made it to the museum at the time of this survey I was unaware of this collection of material. Therefore, this survey’s intention was to visit the original findspot, and to assess the area for further work. The original findspot at Tully is at a point in the Shannon where the river widens dramatically to become in effect a lake (Fig. 5-31). The river then travels east, snaking around a hill, and then continues southwards. Three discreet scatters were found: the first was as we started walking about 100m south of the weir; we continued downstream and the next scatter was about 150m away as we neared the bend in the river and the open out onto the lake; the third scatter was about 250m around the bend (Appendix 13). With these positive results of a number of finds, and the recognition of this as a suitable venue for further more extensive survey, we did not continue the survey further along the shore that evening.

Table 5-35 Tully finds

Figure 5-31 Tully finds

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5.4.3 Lough Inchquin & Lough Atedaun, Co. Clare

Previous finds/research:
43 axes have been found on the shores of Inchquin, with the majority of these being shale – one is dolerite and another is porcellanite. 12 other axes have been found within 2km of the lake, again nearly all shale. A chert flake was found 1km south on the banks of the Fergus, and a local reported to me that he found a chert arrowhead on Lough Inchquin at the outlet of the Fergus (Appendix 14).[7] As mentioned, Lynch (2002) surveyed part of Lough Inchquin as part of his thesis. However, as he appeared to have not surveyed the whole shore of the lake it was decided to survey the shore of the lake, as well as Lough Atedaun (an area with no previous finds), into which the River Fergus flows after leaving Lough Inchquin.

The whole shore of the Inchquin was surveyed, including some erosion scars in the adjacent fields (Fig. 5-32). Three of the axes found were on the lake shore itself, while the fourth was in cattle poached ground about 15m from the southern shore. The flint core and chert flake were found in cattle poached ground on the grounds of the castle on the eastern shore; the former about 80m from the lake and the latter on a ridge 15m from the lake (Appendix 15).

The shore of Lough Atedaun was also surveyed but with no finds. Much of this lake’s shore is bleached white with marl, which encrusts the surface almost entirely. As well as this the lake surface is carpeted thickly in dried vegetation, which masks the shoreline entirely. This was also apparent on Inchquin, but to a lesser extent. Indeed, the axe found on the shore near the castle at Lough Inchquin was almost completely covered in marl, making it a fortuitous find.

Table 5-36 Lough Inchquin finds

Figure 5-32 Lough Inchquin and Lough Atedaun survey

The core and flake found at Inchquin are unfortunately undiagnostic and therefore do not help us identify a Mesolithic presence in the Burren. That being said they are finds none the less in an area that is for the most part devoid of surface finds altogether. One aspect of Lynch’s (2002) research that was noted was that he suggested that no chert from the area was big enough to be used for large flakes. While surveying around Lough Inchquin a number of large pieces of what seemed like good quality chert that would have been suitable were noted. This would seem to suggest that chert was present in the area.

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5.4.4 Streamstown, Co. Galway

Previous finds/research:
A small flint flake and a flint butt trimmed blade (2002:225-6) (Appendix 16) were found after topsoil was removed ahead of the construction of a farm building – the top soil was removed a few miles away to a garden, and the two lithics were noticed while spreading the topsoil. Gibbons et al. (2005) mentioned this blade but did not mention the flake accompanying it. While the flake is undiagnostic, the raw material for both of the lithics is identical, so we can surmise that the flake is also Mesolithic. There are no other prehistoric finds recorded for the area, apart from two shale axes from a few km west along the north shore of the bay in Cushatrough td.

The original Mesolithic findspot was located on a terrace overlooking the long, narrow Streamstown Bay to the south. The terrace is close to the present day shore (approx. 20m OD). The ground falls sharply to the sea from the terrace; behind the terrace, the hill rises very steeply to a peak of 78m OD, and then dipping and further rising to a peak of 200m OD about 2km away to the NE. As one moves west along the north and south shore of the bay, the hills lessen in height; 3km from the mouth, the bay narrows to a strait, and at the mouth of the bay, the bay is approx. 100m wide, while at the widest, close to the findspot, it is almost 1km wide. A number of small streams drain into the bay, with one stream flowing into the bay about 300m to the east of the findspot; this stream drains a number of small lakes to the east.

The site was visited and the erosion scars, both at the site and on the way to the site, were checked for further material. No finds were noted - but there is a large shed where the probable findspot is! The land in the area is not conducive to simple field survey – bog and rough grazing, therefore not much further research can be carried out, apart from with more elaborate techniques such as test pitting. Along the north side of the bay a series of similar terraces sit above the water, and these may well be good places to investigate. Excavated lithic assemblages from Connemara are few and far between, and there have been few prehistoric stray finds; some of these have been flint (i.e. MNI Cleggan 1966:103; MNI Errisbeg West 2002:203). Considering the dearth of stray finds, it is highly fortuitous that Mesolithic material was noticed in the area. One nagging question with this findspot concerns the use of quartz. The visit to the site made it clear that quartz is abundant in the area; it seems likely that this raw material had been used. The difficulty is that while the two flints found probably stood out while spreading the topsoil, possible quartz lithics would have blended into the background noise of stones, therefore being overlooked.

Figure 5-33 Streamstown

Plate 5-34 Looking south over findspot (under shed), with Streamstown Bay below

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5.4.5 Big Island, Co. Galway

Previous finds/research
Across the Shannon in Lehinch, Tipperary, a ground slate point was found on the banks of the Shannon (MNI 1999:79). In the 1930’s ESB works dug up three flint scrapers on Big Island. Close by, 6 axes were found during drainage works in the nineteenth century and in the 1930’s – these included porcellanite and IPC Group VI tuff polished axes (Appendix 16).

The banks of the Shannon around Big Island were surveyed with no finds noted (Fig. 5-34).

Figure 5-34 Skehanagh and Big Island

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5.4.6 Skehanagh, Co. Galway

Previous finds/research: no previous finds
On the way to Big Island, I drove past numerous ploughed fields. I briefly walked one at random to see whether any material was present (Fig. 5-34). I walked two furrows for approx. 100m and found a chert bipolar core and a chert flake (Appendix 17). This part of Galway has no recorded prehistoric lithic finds, the nearest being 6 km away (a barbed and tanged arrowhead: MNI 1943: 312) (Appendix 16). This rapid 20 minute survey highlights the pressing need for more surveying of ploughed fields in the west.

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5.4.7 Clonnaragh, Co. Roscommon

Previous finds/research:
A group of lithics were collected during ploughing in fields a few hundred metres apart and the finder marked the exact fields on a map (MNI 1968:208-12) (Appendix 16). The Mesolithic items were a volcanic ash butt trimmed flake and a ground stone point. Along with these were one flint and one porcellanite axe, a flint lancehead, a spearhead, and a burnisher. Another axe in private possession is provenanced to close by.

The findspot is near to a small stream that runs down to Lough Derg to the east (Fig. 5-35). The fields where the finds were recorded to were visited but the area is under pasture, with no erosion scars present, hence no finds noted.

Figure 5-35 Clonnaragh

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5.4.8 Turloughnaroyey, Co. Galway

Previous finds/research:
Gibbons et al. (2005) have recorded a ‘chert Bann flake’ from beside a turlough which was found after the construction of a bird hide on a small knoll over looking the turlough (Appendix 16). Unfortunately this item is missing and therefore the veracity of their statement can not be verified. One of the only Early Neolithic lithics identified in this thesis’ research that has been reported as a non-excavated find in the National Museum comes from the neighbouring townland of Claretuam (MNI 1962:261) (Appendix 16). Here a flint leaf shaped arrowhead was found while digging in a sand pit. This was discovered along with cremated human remains in a short-cist (SMR 043:40). As this was found in a cist it is uncertain if the arrowhead is in fact not an early type, or was an inclusion of a relic in a later burial. However, the arrowhead would appear to be an Early Neolithic type (Bergh, pers. comm.).

Turloughnaroyey lies approx. 3 km to the west of the Clare River, and falls in the shadow of the sister hill to Knockmaa (Fig. 5-36). These two hills are the highest peaks in an otherwise undulating landscape. Knockmaa has a series of cairns on its summit, with the possibility that some of these may be passage tombs (Dowling 2001, 44). The turlough was visited and the erosion scars present were searched, however no further finds were noted.

Figure 5-36 Turloughnaroyey

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5.4.9 Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo

Previous finds/research: No previous finds.

Approximately 2km of the northeast shoreline of Lough Cullin was fieldwalked (Fig. 5-1). This did not produce any finds.

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5.5 Museum research

5.5.1 Introduction

The museum research consisted of a thorough search of the topographical files, followed by an examination of all the prehistoric lithics, ceramics, and organic material which came from non-excavated contexts for the six counties under review. This search and examination also involved looking the files and material which came from the counties that are bordered by the Shannon River, with a focus on possible Mesolithic finds. There were two main reasons for this extensive search of the archives and material. The first was to examine and assess the collection for Mesolithic and Early Neolithic material, and to look for any material that had not been mentioned in the previous literature. The second reason was to familiarise myself with prehistoric material culture that is provenanced to the west of Ireland.

As part of the museum work, further work was undertaken in tracking down material that had been mentioned in the literature, but was not housed in the National Museum. This proved a hard, exhaustive task, considering it only related to a few finds. Nevertheless, the tracing of this material was felt to have been important in order to have a considered review of the evidence for the Mesolithic in the west.

This section will detail the remaining Mesolithic findspots in the west that were not visited, but noted in the museum’s collection or in the previous literature. This will be followed by a brief discussion on the research of the post-Mesolithic material.

Figure 5-37 Locations covered in section 5.5.2-5.5.12

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5.5.2 Burrishoole Parish, Co. Mayo

Burrishoole is located on the north-east corner of Clew Bay, close to the L. Feagh and Furness river system (Fig. 5-37). Gibbons et al. have stated that “a Bann flake has been found close to the tidal reaches of this important river and lake system” (2004, 5, emphasis added). This seems to imply that a lithic has been found some time in the somewhat recent past, near the tide marks. However, the relevant files for this flake contradict what Gibbons et al. have stated: the retouched flint flake in question (MNI 1935:421) was given to the museum in the 1930’s as part of a bigger collection of lithics (13 other flints which included flakes, scrapers, one arrowhead, and an axe (MNI 1933:571-7; 1935:417-22)) that had been used previously as charms, for healing people and animals (Appendix 16). This would seem a common occurrence for lithics and should be treated as part of the life history of these items. Arguably, it is important when discussing finds to state the actual circumstances in which they were discovered, as well as what else was discovered with them. Context would seem to be the key.

The authors fail to mention the context of this find and it is unclear how they can state that it was found near the tide mark, as there is no mention of this in the MNI files. Indeed, the files state clearly that the lithics in question had been used for generations as charms and originally came from somewhere in the parish of Burrishoole, not the townland.

Plate 5-35 MNI 1935:421 Burrishoole Parish retouched flake

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5.5.3 Mallaranny, Co. Mayo

In relation to the Burrishoole Parish find, there is another find of a flint butt trimmed flake from Mallaranny, which the authors fail to mention (MNI 1943:190); Mallaranny is 12 kilometres due west of Burrishoole along Clew Bay (Fig. 5-37). Again, this find had been used for healing purposes, and was given to the museum as part of a collection of healing stones, which included flint and chert flakes and a stone axe (MNI 1943:191-194) (Appendix 16). Therefore, while we can say that these two Mesolithic artefacts possibly came from the vicinity of mid-west Mayo, we definitely cannot pin one of them down to the tidal reaches of a river system.

Plate 5-36 MNI Mallaranny 1943:190 butt trimmed flake

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5.5.4 Lough Lannagh, Co. Mayo

Gibbons et al. (2005) have stated that a “Bann flake”, of unknown material, was seen by the authors in a newspaper photograph some years ago. However, when pressed on the details of this find, they were unable to give me more specifics. I have been unable to trace the photograph, so this artefact and findspot therefore remains unverified (Fig. 5-37) (Appendix 16).

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5.5.5 O'Briensbridge, Co. Clare

A ground slate point (MNI 1945:152) was recovered from a bog near the Shannon (Fig. 5-37) (Appendix 16). This is one of the few non-excavated lithics from the area besides the axes. Hundreds of axes have been found along this stretch of the Shannon, with the vast majority coming from drainage works at Killaloe, but with a number also having been found on land while digging and ploughing or in bogs. Recently the extensive Mesolithic activity in the area has been confirmed during excavations a few km to the south at Hermitage which have been discussed in chapter 3.

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5.5.6 Inishmore Island, Lough Arrow, Co. Sligo

A ground stone point (MNI 1999:14) was discovered on the shore of Inishmore Island in Lough Arrow, which drains via the Unshin River to Ballysadare Bay (Fig. 5-37) (Appendix 16). This is the first discovery of Mesolithic material in Sligo that is not connected to the Shannon system; Lough Arrow lies to northeast of Lough Gara and is less than 3 km from Lough Key, one of the Shannon lakes.

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5.5.7 Oranmore, Co. Galway

Gibbons et al. have stated that a “half of a butt trimmed honey flint Bann flake” was discovered during excavations (by one of the authors) during the Oranmore sewerage scheme (2005) (Fig. 5-37). However, this would seem to have been misidentified – the flake in question (98E0375:0:0:226) is not butt trimmed, indeed its butt is not present as it is a distal fragment of a flint flake. This flake is an undiagnostic fragment, and has been taken as so by the lithics specialist who prepared the report on the excavation’s assemblage (Finlay n.d., 19). Therefore this find can be discounted.

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5.5.8 Belderrig , Co. Mayo

Excavations have been under way on a Mesolithic quartz scatter over the last few years on the north coast of Mayo (Fig. 5-37). This was the first research excavation of a Mesolithic site in the west of Ireland, and as mentioned in chapter 2, this site has uncovered a Mesolithic site with predominantly quartz lithics, as well as organic remains.

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5.5.9 Leedaun , Co. Mayo

Contract excavations which uncovered a Bronze Age site also found a fragment of a butt trimmed flint flake (Walsh, pers. comm.) (Fig. 5-37) (Appendix 16). There have been no non-excavated finds, Mesolithic or post-Mesolithic, from close to this area apart from a gabbro polished axe (MNI 1940:850) found near by and a polished shale axe (MNI 1973:200) from a few km to the east.

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5.5.10 Lough Gara, Co.'s Sligo & Roscommon

The Lough Gara collection is the largest Mesolithic assemblage in the west of Ireland and Fredengren (2002) has covered a number of aspects about this material. In describing the material, Fredengren used the generic term “Bann flake”; she presumably did this due to the fact that as this material was collected in the 1950’s that was the term used to loosely describe flakes, and appears regularly in the archives of the material. However, it was apparent that many of the Lough Gara lithics described as “Bann flakes” do not fall into that category, and that Bann flakes – sensu Woodman and Johnson (1996) – make up only a small fraction of the Mesolithic finds.

Figure 5-38 Lough Gara townlands and areas with finds on lake and river

It also became apparent that no one had assessed this collection in its entirety since it had arrived in the museum, beginning in the 1950’s. This thesis therefore decided to do a preliminary assessment of the lithics, with the aim of doing a straightforward headcount, and assessing the Post-Mesolithic lithics presence in the collection. The lithics that came from the excavations were not examined, so this only includes non-excavated finds.

As Fredengren (ibid.) only looked at a small sample of the material, she underestimated the size of the collection. For example, while she states that “over 300 lithics” came from Tawnymucklagh and Lomcloon and “over 100 lithics” from Inch, in fact the final count for these townlands according to this assessment is 729 and 199 respectively (ibid., 123-4).

There were a number of obstacles to be overcome in attempting to assess the Lough Gara collection. One of these was the fact that a number of the files are not present in the museum: E22, which is one of Raftery’s non-excavated finds collection prefixes does not have any paperwork with it, and these lithics were noted in the drawers, but not in the initial archive search. In September 2006, I noted that Fredengren’s appendix III (which is not in the book but on the accompanying CD-ROM), which lists some of the finds from Lough Gara has completely different provenances for the E22 material in comparison to what is written on the labels of the lithics in the museum. Presumably Fredengren had access to the E22 files, and they have gone missing in the mean time.

Another difficulty was that E21 is Raftery’s excavation prefix, but some of the excavated material is under E20, which was supposed to be a non-excavated finds prefix. Another issue concerns the numbering related to the E119 (Mitchell) collection: Fredengren (ibid., 124, 301) noted that this collection was provenance to Inch Island but she saw that some of the lithics in the box had Tawnymucklagh tags on them. What apparently happened is that the E119 collection number was used for both the Inch Island and Tawnymucklagh collections, therefore creating this confusion.

Another difficulty with the material that was only noted at a very late stage in this thesis was that axes recorded by the Irish Stone Axe Database appeared to have more detailed provenances than the files which I had access to in the museum. For example thirteen axes provenanced to “Lough Gara” generally were provenanced to a townland in the axe database. I made contact with Emmet Byrnes who had examined the axes from Lough Gara, and he explained (pers. comm.) that he also noted this at the time, and the more detailed files were in the personal possession of Prof. Raftery. Unfortunately there was no time to review these other files, so some material provenanced to “Lough Gara” may well have more specific provenances.

Another issue with the provenance of the material lies in the inaccurate reporting of the findspots: in the files for Emlagh (MNI 1955: 139-155) the finder recorded the material as coming from a particular spot, but the museum wrote back querying the findspot with the finder then admitting that he had been wrong. In this instance the museum spotted the inaccuracy, but in others they may not have been as cognisant of the error. In another instance (noted by Fredengren (2002, 153)) a series of arrowheads and a scraper were provenanced to a crannog in Tawnymucklagh, but this finder stored finds from different places in a jar together so the provenance is more than likely dubious (these, however, are provenanced to the townland only in the museum archives). This finder’s collection totalled 350 lithics, all provenanced to Tawnymucklagh; therefore this townland’s count of material may be overrepresented.

As for the Corrib River and lake, one of the considerations of this area is to what extent the lake and river levels rose and fell during the early prehistoric period. From Fig 3-3 in chapter 3 which shows the postulated post-glacial lake levels, the lake was clearly substantially higher, but it is unclear as to whether the Lough Gara experienced a considerable fall in levels witnessed at Lough Corrib.

In total, 2955 lithics from non-excavated contexts are contained in the Lough Gara collection (Fig. 5-39) (Appendices 18, 19 & 20). Of these 66 are stone discs which are possibly medieval in date, while 53 of the lithics are diagnostically Neolithic or Bronze Age. 157 are stone axes, which date to the Mesolithic or later; 3 other axes have come from a couple of km away from the lake, as well as an axe from the Drumanone portal tomb excavations. Of these 161 axes, the raw material for 77 of them is unidentified; of the identified axes, over 80% are shale or mudstone.

Figure 5-39 Lough Gara townland totals

Table 5-37 L. Gara axe material

2679 of these lithics are possible Mesolithic, with some of these probably also being post-Mesolithic, but for the most part the lithics are characteristic of Later Mesolithic stone working; added to these, is the butt trimmed flint flake that was uncovered during the excavation of the Drumanone portal tomb; this was in the top soil a few metres away from the monument. Of the 2679, just over 2000 are unmodified flakes and blades[8], but the amount of retouched pieces (265) may be underestimated due to the degradation of the material from being in water. As well being water rolled and degraded, many have an iron encrustation on their edges, masking possible retouching. There are 48 cores in this collection which gives a ratio of about 1:37 of cores to flakes and blades, suggesting that cores are underrepresented. As mentioned previously, this thesis’ collection of material from Lough Allen collected 65 cores compared to 374 flakes and blades, giving a ratio of almost 1:6. While Fredengren’s (2002, 125-6) suggestion that the movement of different parts of debitage products around the lake by communities in prehistory has created this incongruence in the distribution of material is perfectly valid and probably correct to a degree, I would suggest that one cannot assess this idea based on stray finds collected by different people over different years. This incongruence probably has more to do with the collection strategies of the finders. Indeed, a more likely explanation has to do with material recognition as opposed to collecting strategies, as flakes and blades are more immediately recognisable than cores. In the case of this thesis’ collection, I was actively looking for cores as well as flakes at Lough Allen, which invariably meant that I found them in greater numbers than the collectors at Lough Gara.

Another example of the incongruence in the collecting can be seen if one compares the findspots for the hammerstones compared to the cores, which in an ideal world would usually go together. There are 18 reputed hammerstones in the collection. From the map below (Fig. 5-40) you can see that almost half of them were found close together in a small section of the now river, and again nearly half of them were provenanced to crannogs, suggesting that when found these were called hammerstones to explain their presence there.

Figure 5-40 Lough Gara cores and hammerstones

The clear majority of the lithics are of chert. A geologist who looked at material for Fredengren (2002, 123) noted that the range of cherts assessed by him are available locally. Fredengren (ibid.) has used colour to determine different types of chert, but a problem with this is that an apparently brown chert can be shown to be black or dark grey if a fresh break is available on the piece, as the exterior colour is often a patination. Therefore, the colour coding of the material is fraught with difficulties. It was apparent from viewing the material that there seemed to be other rock types used, but these had been labelled chert in the archives. Parkes, the geologist mentioned previously, examined a selection of the lithics, and from this he noted turbiditic greywacke (51), siltstone (18), sandstone (5), mudstone (1), limestone (6), jasper (1), rhyolite (2), volcanic types (6), and schist (10). As well as these, there was one possible quartz lithic as well as 65 flint (this does not include the diagnostically post-Mesolithic material). Unfortunately, only a small amount of lithics were examined so what remains labelled as chert in appendix 18 probably also contains a range of different material as well. As noted previously, the diagnostically post-Mesolithic items are invariably made from either chert or flint as was the case in Lough Allen.

One jasper blade was noted in the collection. For the prehistoric lithics generally from the west only two other collections contained jasper. A single find of a barbed and tanged jasper arrowhead was found in Laurelea, Co. Mayo (MNI 1938:8561), and a collection of scrapers, flakes, and a bipolar core from Glennagevlagh, Co. Galway, which is near Killary Harbour (MNI 1929:1230-85).[9] However, while looking material from east of the Shannon, at the assemblage from Lough Kinale (see above p. 67), a jasper core was noted that had been found as a surface find after the drainage works there. These two items, which are clearly quite rare in the Museum collection at least, suggest some sort of relations between these two lakes which are 70 km apart as the crow flies, and about double this length by water along the Shannon system.

The turbiditic greywacke is also sourced from the area around Lough Kinale, or more specifically the Longford-Down hills to the northeast of Kinale. This again suggests a movement of material between these two areas. Of course, as mentioned earlier, one always has the spectre of the glacial movement of material to contend with when attempting to assess the movement of material. It is unclear if the turbiditic greywacke type of stone was used more frequently in early prehistory; firstly because so few sites are known, and secondly because as in the case of Lough Gara they may have been labelled chert. The one project that has examined the petrology of lithics, the Irish Stone Axe Project (2006), noted numerous examples of greywackes: this may suggest that this material was used more extensively for non-axe lithics than previously reported.
Organic material
There are a number of finds of bone pins and points, as well as boar tusks which would need to be dated to ascertain as to whether they date to the Mesolithic.

As noted by Fredengren, hundreds of crannogs were revealed when the Gara lake levels were dropped: these were mapped by various people, with numbers ranging from 145 to 360 (Fredengren 2002, 77). At the time, one of the questions was to what extent some of these represented Stone Age crannogs. While much of Raftery’s collections are provenanced to specific locations, Mitchell generally only provenanced material to the townland (as he did in the case of Lough Allen and other places). Therefore, to what extent Mitchell’s material also derived from crannogs is unknown.

58 individual crannogs produced evidence for lithics (Fig- 5.41), with further groups of crannogs also mentioned, such as “crannogs 128-137” (Drumanone) to which 21 lithics are provenanced, “crannogs 114-126” (Tivannagh) to which 40 are provenanced, and “crannogs 38-41” (Derrymaquirk) to which 1 mudstone axe is provenanced. This suggests that up to 24 other crannogs may have held lithics (another large group of material is provenanced to either “crannog 61 or Ardsorreen”). Of the 58 individual crannogs listed, 22 of these produced only 1 lithic find, with five of these being single axe finds, while 9 crannogs had 10 or more lithics found on them. Only one crannog (crannog 141, Drumanone) produced a post-Mesolithic find but no Mesolithic finds as well.[10] 42 of these 58 crannogs are along the stretch of river leading out of Lough Gara. The two crannogs with the largest collection of material were crannogs 7 & 9 in Coolnagranshy, which are about 130m apart (Fig. 5-42). Crannog 7 produced 503 possible Mesolithic lithics, 10 post-Mesolithic lithics, 4 axes, and a bone pin, while crannog 9 produced 127 lithics, but no axes or diagnostically post-Mesolithic lithics. However, while crannog 7 produced hundreds of lithics, from retouched pieces down to debris, only two cores were collected. This would seem to go against my surmising earlier about the non-recognition of cores, as it would seem that all material was collected from here, including debris. However, an added difficulty is that part of the Coolnagranshy assemblage was collected by Mitchell, and this included four cores (half of the cores provenanced to the townland). As mentioned, Mitchell did not provenance material to specific areas, so it remains unknown where these came from.

Figure 5-41 Lough Gara material provenanced to crannogs

Figure 5-42 Lough Gara material provenanced to crannogs along R. Boyle

Places around the lake
From Fig. 5-39, the general distribution of the material can be seen to fall into three general areas: the first on the stretch of river leading out of the lake; the second around the outlet and Inch Island; and the third at the townlands of Lomcloon and Tawnymucklagh.

The first group begins on the Boyle River and is spread out for about 4km to the mouth of Lough Gara, and includes the townlands of Ardsallagh, Tinacarra, Drumanone, Coolnagranshy, Tivannagh, Kiltybrannock, and Derrymaquirk: about half of the Lough Gara collection comes from this 4km stretch. This stretch takes in the small lake at Coolnagranshy, and the pre-drainage shoreline highlights that this stretch of the river was once substantially wider, with the lake here having been twice its present size: 2/3’s of this stretch’s material came from the lake at Coolnagranshy itself.

The second group’s finds are for the most part from Inch Island. There are few finds from the north shore at the outlet, and very few from the entire north part of the lake. Only once you get down to Sroove, close to Tawnymucklagh, on the southwest of the lake do the lithics become more apparent.

The adjoining townlands of Lomcloon and Tawnymucklagh on the southern shore of the main lake have the largest amount of lithics provenanced to them after Coolnagranshy: excluding diagnostic post-Mesolithic material and axes, Lomcloon has 256 lithics, Tawnymucklagh has 436 lithics, while Coolnagranshy has 823 lithics. There are eight cores assigned to Coolnagranshy, two to Lomcloon and nineteen to Tawnymucklagh. Therefore, while the ratio of cores to non-cores is roughly similar for Coolnagranshy and Lomcloon (about 1:103-1-1:125), the ratio for Tawnymucklagh is drastically different (1:22). A possible explanation for this is that twelve of these cores are part of the Tawnymucklagh collection mentioned above, which the finder may have mixed up and given an after the fact provenance to the material. A peculiar aspect of the Lomcloon assemblage is that it is the only area with a substantial amount of lithics that had no axes present. However, as 20% of the axes from the lake are unprovenanced to a townland, some may well be from Lomcloon.

Fredengren has suggested that the positioning of the lithics represent signatures of movement, in that most can be shown to represent a movement upstream, and that the material can be interpreted from a “journey perspective” (2002, 119). One of the difficulties with this interpretation is that it treats movement on the waters like a conveyor belt: the supposed movement on the waters is unidirectional, with no comments on how people returned, or what they did with lithics on their way back. What would seem to be more apparent is that there is a distinct difference in the quantity of lithics and axes between the north and south shores of both the lakes and rivers, with much less material from shores that faces southwards: the material tends to be of shores facing north. While Fredengren (2002, 154) noted this pattern in terms of the axes, she did not relate this to the other lithics. As she has suggested that these axes are Neolithic, and therefore saw this in relation to the distribution of monuments, she did not see that the patterns of distribution of the lithics and axes are remarkably similar, even allowing for the post-depositional movement of the material. However, it is arguable that these are not solely Neolithic, and also, the Mesolithic material would seem to follow this pattern as well. What this is telling us about the Mesolithic communities is unclear. However, it would suggest that it is more than a pattern of unidirectional movement upstream.

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5.5.11 Lough Scur, Co. Leitrim

While Lough Scur is not a part of the Shannon system I have included these finds as they are in Co. Leitrim, and this collection has been overlooked as they were part of Raftery’s Lough Gara collection number – Fredengren (2002, 114) did not include these finds on her map showing Mesolithic material. Lough Scur is part of the Erne system, and lies 6 km southeast of Lough Allen. Here, five flakes (MNI E20:3794) were found along with a polished shale axe (MNI E20:3793), a dolerite axe roughout (MNI E20:3792), and a piece of leather under a dugout canoe (Appendix 16). While in the archives two of the flakes are labelled butt trimmed, all five are unmodified flakes, but would appear to be Mesolithic. This is one of the few non-excavated Mesolithic finds that has been found with organic remains, and it would be useful to have the leather and the canoe dated to ascertain as to whether they are also Mesolithic in date.

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5.5.12 Discussion

The examination of the material culture in the National Museum and the tracing of material elsewhere have shown that Gibbons et al. (2005) have made some arguably erroneous statements about the Mesolithic material. According to the museum archives, they appear to have no grounds for stating that the Burrishoole Parish find came from the tidal reaches of the Furness River, and they failed to mention that this lithic had been used for generations as a healing charm. They also failed to mention a similar find from nearby at Mallaranny. Their reported find from L. Lannagh remains a mystery, as it never made it to the museum, and they never actually carried out a detailed inspected of the lithic in question. In relation to the lithic from the Oranmore excavation, they ignored the analysis of the lithic specialist and called it a half of a butt trimmed Bann flake even though the butt was not even present, as it is a distal flake fragment. The Mesolithic finds from Mallaranny, Lough Arrow, and Lough Scur are three areas where findspots had not been mentioned in the previous literature, and the Lough Gara collection has shown to be larger than had been noted by Fredengren. One of the difficulties with the Lough Gara material has been with the archives – some of the archives are missing from the museum, and it was noted at a very late stage that the archives in the museum are not as detailed as those viewed by the Stone Axe Database researchers, which are located in Raftery’s house.

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5.5.13 Post-Mesolithic material

In order to ascertain the extent of the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic material housed in the National Museum, all of the prehistoric finds from non-excavated contexts was examined. As well as this, most of the finds from excavations that are housed in the museum were also examined. A large collection (the Triton Collection) was being archived during this thesis – I did not inspect the material itself, but only the archives. This collection is mainly from Sligo, and includes material from middens collected over the years by the Sligo field Club. In the proceeding map, the finds from this collection are not included. As the main purpose of this assessment of the material was to identify Mesolithic and Early Neolithic, a detailed examination of the hundreds of post-Mesolithic material was not conducted, beyond a cursory assessment and a recording of the details. For instance, the categories given on the labels, such as javelin head or spearhead, were retained as given. Only in some cases where a category was clearly incorrect, was the category changed. Of note in this context are the examples of bipolar cores and flakes that had been labelled otherwise, as the bipolar technique was not noted at the time as a reduction strategy.

There are a few hundred findspots of material from non-excavated contexts provenanced to the six counties, with most of these being single finds (Fig. 5-43). While on a sheer quantity basis there is more Mesolithic material in the area, the post-Mesolithic material shows a much wider distribution; while the post-Mesolithic material are found away from the waters edge to a greater degree than the Mesolithic material, they are almost all located within 2 km of water. While excavations in the west reveal that chert was the dominant material used in the area, it is more common for flint artefacts than chert to be noted and sent to the museum; Fig. 5-44 shows the finds identified as chert of flint, while other material types (as well as where it is unclear whether they are chert of flint) have been excluded. As mentioned in the section 5.5.10, two findspots have produced jasper lithics. Other material in the collection includes quartz, greenstone, and sandstone, with a number of lithics’ material not identified. These materials other than chert and flint are very few. This would seem to have more to do with modern identification of lithics of other material as opposed to a lack of such use in prehistory. In terms of organic material, there are a number of bone needles and points, as well as a wooden dagger, a wooden spearhead, and a bone spearhead, and there is very little pottery recorded.

The majority of the lithics recorded are projectiles – arrowheads, javelin heads and so forth – with the next largest type being scrapers. Few flakes, blades, cores, or debris are recorded. This would probably be down to the fact that these are more recognisable than flakes and cores. As mentioned, there is very little Early Neolithic material, with one possible Early Neolithic arrowhead from Belclare, Co. Galway.

Figure 5-43 Post-Mesolithic findspots, with arrowheads (javelin heads, spearheads) and scrapers highlighted

Figure 5-44 Post-Mesolithic lithics made from flint and chert

[1]Murtagh (1998) undertook a thesis cataloguing the finds for all periods from the river, but did not see the material presented to me by Noel Higgins. Moreover, she states that 'microliths' were present in the collection (ibid., 64), but she seems to have mistaken small bits of lithics for microliths as no other person involved has suggested an Early Mesolithic presence in the collection.[return].
[2]Lough Corrib is divided into the lower lake and upper lake.[return].
[3]10 of these may be dubiously provenanced near the lake - 8 were bought by Costello - a major collector in the Galway area in the early 20th century - from an artefact dealer in Oughterard and another 2, along with 4 of Costello's collection are provenanced to "near Oughterard".[return].
[4]Excluding axes from Galway city excavations, Annaghdown, recent find from Menlough Castle, and reported axes from Menlough graveyard.[return].
[5]Digging is a general term used including agricultural as well as construction digging.[return].
[6]Material identified by Williams, Geology dept., NUI,Galway.[return].
[7]This was handed over to an archaeologist, but appears not to have made it to the National Museum.[return].
[8]As this was a preliminary headcount of the material, the lithics were not measured, meaning that the proportion of flakes to blades was not assessed as this invariably relies on measurement, especially as the Later Mesolithic is characterised by using blade-like flakes to great extent (Inizan et al. 1999, 130-1).[return].
[9]Williams has noted that a source of jasper is close-by to there (pers. comm.). This collection is also one of the only groups of materials to come from mountain tops. Here, a jasper scraper and bipolar core were found along with chert scrapers: these were found along with 50 "flakes" which are unfortunately lost, so it was unclear if some of these were also jasper.[return].
[10]Fredengren's (2002, 231) excavation of a medieval crannog also produced post-Mesolithic lithics but not Mesolithic.[return].
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