The news from Tulla

In the last post I mentioned an edge which possibly marked the end of the area of redeposited subsoil, which we suspected was invisibly present there, somewhere… introduced to form a level platform over the sloped area. I also talked about a possible souterrain, which, as it happened, turned out to be another drain cut down the hill, which someone had backfilled with redeposited (or redeposited redeposited, if you get my drift?).

Trying to find the sides of the drain cut was a chore but last week we noticed a slight variation in the ‘subsoil’ at either side of the drain cut. After more messing trying to get sides that made sense, we exposed the upper fill of an enclosing ditch extending through the site at the very edge of Westropp’s annotation on the map (see previous post).

Where the upper levels are undisturbed, it’s likely the ditch was something like 1.8-2m in depth and about 2-2.4m across, with the primary upcast possibly forming a bank on the inside. We have it for about 35m and are taking out sections to record profiles and extract acceptable samples for 14C processing.

One lovely find so far, recovered from the top of the primary silt fill, was sealed by the backfilled redeposited. It’s an off-cylindrical grinding stone with an off-centered squared hole (where one side of the stone is more worn than the other. It probably sat on a tressle, the timber shaft through the stone turned by a bow or perhaps a handle.

The object, we were told had a parallel in a yard a few miles outside Tulla and indeed, it is quite modern in its appearance. Its find spot however is somewhat ambiguous, where it was found resting on the upper layer of silt, but directly sealed by the, yup, redeposited backfill. So, was it deposited with the silt towards the time when the ditch was falling out of use or was it thrown in with the redeposited, suggesting this activity took place certainly into the post medieval period? No research has been attempted on the grinding stone as of yet. Has anyone encountered anything similar on early medieval sites or am I stuck with an object which merely points towards the time when the enclosure was backfilled?

Frank Coyne kindly came out from Limerick with a handheld device which pinged the feature as it curved gently across the area of excavation. Should the curve be extrapolated around the church at a similar contour, the enclosure would appear to tie in well with the break of slope visible at the southeastern side of the church. Placing the early church at the centre of the enclosure on the hilltop, it’s immediately evident that the early church must have been immediately north of the existing structure, where Westropp said it was.

As you can probably see, the ditch has a sharp slope on the inner side (left), with a shallower though more vertical slope to the outside. One can only assume the upcast was thrown up along the inside to form a bank, which probably made its way back into the ditch as it was being closed up.

One section we excavated appeared to have a much lower fill, lower in fact than the actual cut. Yup, a good thick layer of pure silt in the natural, about 400mm below the flat base of the enclosure ditch cut. What did we do? Dug a huge bloody hole through the natural we did, to see basically if we were dealing with an enclosure ditch the size of say, Downpatrick’s. It seems however we weren’t.

The hole we dug to a depth of about 2200mm into the natural; we were looking for some indication that there migh be a much bigger feature here and that the enclosure we were dealing with had been a mere recut all along. We stopped depth-wise at a point where the boulder clay peeled off a very hard surface of the same material. Had we found the bottom of some huge enclosure or some geological feature suggesting natural stratification in the subsoil? Hmmm… the latter unfortunately.

So where now? We’re into our final week here in Tulla. Today it reached 21 degrees on site under an unseasonally cloudless sky. No machinery around today, just birdsong and the occasional hammer strike from the conservation works being undertaken on the funary vaults on the hilltop above. The subsoil, in all of its manifestations, has turned to concrete of course, but hey, you can’t have it every way.

On an entirely different matter, the young fella has a grand plan for the Euros. Basically it involves baking shortbread representations of any opposing team’s manager. And then eating him. This, for example, is the manager of the Italian team, immediately prior to his being eaten by the writer. We wait to see what effect, if any, this will have on the Irish Euros campaign, but we all live in hope.

There are several more unusual… nay, go on, spit it out…  structural features coming up on the site, which I might post something on later on in the week. Meanwhile, if you’re reading this from one of the Clare links, please feel free to drop up to the site and have a look at what we’re doing. We drink cider.

9 responses to “The news from Tulla

  1. Are you certain that that’s a grindstone. That hole seem a bit overkill for the size. Why would you cut it when a quarter would do, and far less likely to split the stone. And if you get more to the proportions we’re talking something of serious size, heading for two foot. But more importantly the thing would have been in action for centuries not years to get to that size.
    Ever thought it’s something in the jockey wheel family, non load bearing of course. Or even a weight to hold down a reek of hay

  2. Or a thatch roof.

  3. anarchaeologist

    Jockey wheel? Nah, don’t think so! It’s a rotary grinding stone, possibly 11th or 12th century, probably a bit later.

  4. It looks like some sort of a spud stone to me, for a door post to sit in. Normally the central perforation is round but depending on how the door is hung on the post there’s no need for it to be round. We found one of these on Bray Head, Valentia Island, Early Medieval house site, it was still in it’s original position.

  5. Some very similar rotary grindstones were recovered from Killickaweeny, Lowpark and Clonfad. All associated with ironworking. Any slag by any chance? They were all early medieval.

  6. anarchaeologist

    Unfortunately not Brian. No slag came up at all…

    • A pity, but its still a lovely find. Let me know if you need any more info on the three I mentioned. I have references, reports photos etc tucked away somewhere…

      • Hi Brian, I can give you a look at the thing if you want? I’m based in Smithfield but can bring it out to UCD either? Thanks also for the leads on the sites above. All I was getting was that it was ‘medieval’ with some ready to concede it may be ‘early-medieval’! No slag though at all in any of the early cut features…

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