Thursday, 20 June 2013

Day 14 - Thursday 20th June 2013

Many hands make light work! We had loads of volunteers today and we are making great progress. The trenches are beginning to get resolved, and in Trench 1, the end is in sight.  The rubble layer within the inner circular wall has been removed to reveal the natural subsoil underneath.  The inner wall appears to be built directly on to the subsoil.  Similarly, on the outside of the flanker the natural subsoil has been revealed, and the parallel lines of brick are mortared directly on to this surface.  Between the flanker wall and the inner wall (on the western side of the trench), a loamy deposit which runs under the flanker wall to the north is being excavated and is yielding lots of bottle glass and ceramics.  With little digging left to be done in this trench, the final recording was started today, and will be our main focus tomorrow and Saturday.

Trench 1 - Very busy today! A hive of activity

In Trench 2, excavation to expose this new stony layer continued. While it is not perfectly even, it does look much more deliberately placed than the rubble which was taken off above it. This perhaps suggests that this layer was put in to level up the ground level. Seeing as it ends at the wall and did not extend to the other side of it, that tells us that it is likely to have been contemporary with the wall. This new layer was then planned, and will be removed tomorrow morning.
In Trench 3, the remainder of the fill of the “gully” feature was excavated. The cut was quite shallow, and runs into the section, so we unfortunately cannot be sure just how wide this cut is. As for its purpose, Cormac suggested this afternoon that it could be a foundation cut for a wall. Although most of the other walls on the site appear to be built directly onto subsoil with no foundations, chimneys at this time always had foundations, due to the extra weight of masonry that needed to be supported at these parts of buildings. That would explain the L-shaped nature of the cut, as the wall would step out for the chimney and then step back in. After this fill was removed, the trench was planned and the sections are being cleaned in preparation to be drawn tomorrow.

René and Damien planning in trench 3
All in all, we have a very busy day on site today! Many thanks again to our great volunteers - René, Damien, Claire, Pearl, Li, Conall, Eilis, Jan, Olcan, Shannon and Anna.

View from the spoil heap showing trenches 2 and 3

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Day 13 - Wednesday 19th June 2013

A great day on site today. Although the weather threatened to break for a while, we got away with it, another day without rain, so a good day’s work put in. Great progress was made in all the trenches today.

A busy day was had in Trench 1 today! The layer that was discovered yesterday which had wood within it was excavated and sampled. Unfortunately, no more wood turned up. It is possible that the piece we found (since it was found associated with nails) could be part of some garden furniture. Below this, we found a sandy layer, containing a lot of broken brick, but also a lot of bottle glass, which included some intact bases and a neck piece. These have been provisionally dated to the 17th Century, which is good news for us! Getting into the right time period! The removal of these two layers has allowed us to investigate the base of our walls. The inner mortared wall is built on the surface of the natural subsoil with no cut. The flanker wall also appears to have been built on the natural subsoil, the surface of which may have been leveled-up/off in preparation for its construction. Between these two walls, there appears to be a short section of straight wall joining them. Unfortunately this feature is running under untouched layers at the edge of our trench. Hopefully time will permit us to excavate a little further and investigate this wall.

Volunteers Li, Alish and Conall working in trench 1 with Grace
Our two lines of bricks that were running through the flanker wall are turning out to be the remains of mortared brick walls. This is very interesting, as it was a quite unexpected feature. We are all looking forward to seeing how they turn out when their excavation is completed. 

Remains of mortared brick walls

We also have rubble continuing in trench 1, as with everywhere else! However, this rubble is still proving interesting. A fragment of clay pipe bowl was found in one of those layers today, and seems to be dating to the late 18th century, which helps us to suggest a possible time for this site’s abandonment. Also, the high concentration of rubble that still remains in the centre of the inner wall could potentially indicate that there was some sort of ornamental feature that once had pride of place whenever this was being utilised as a garden feature.

Li and Alish working with Sapphire in trench 1

In Trench 2, the rubble layer was removed having been planned yesterday. This appears to have simply come down onto another rubble layer unfortunately! However, the wall does look like its continuing, running into the section. So, typically, it ends somewhere in the metre or so of unexcavated baulk between trench 2 and trench 3! If time allows, we may excavate a little here to see where this wall goes. 

The edge of our wall continuing in trench 2

In Trench 3, the first thing that was completed this morning was a quick clean-up of the trench before a photograph and plan of what we have excavated down to. Then, a couple of the lads began to investigate our L-shaped cut. This job hadn’t been completed by the end of the day, but this cut is proving to be a bit of a head scratcher, we really aren’t sure what it is yet! Hopefully tomorrow will shed some light on its function.

René and Jordan excavating the fill of the cut in trench 3

Once again, thanks to all our great volunteers, René, Damian, Conall, Li, Alish and Jordan. Cheers for all your hard work!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Day 12 - Tuesday 18th June 2013

In Trench 1, excavation inside the flanker continued to further reveal the inner circular wall.  The wall appears to be continuous but is in disrepair to the south, adjacent to the entrance through the flanker wall.  Interestingly, the inner “circle” of stones no longer seems to be perfectly circular and is distinctly straighter along its eastern section. Between the inner wall and the flanker wall an intriguing deposit has been uncovered which contains charred wood and nails, this has been photographed and planned and will be investigated tomorrow.  Outside of the flanker, excavation continued to establish whether the flanker wall was built directly on top of the natural subsoil or built in a foundation cut made into the subsoil.  No evidence of a cut was found and the wall appears to be built on a layer of probable natural subsoil.

Sapphire and volunteers Li and Claire in trench 1. The straight edge on the inner masonry is very clear from this angle

In Trench 2, we extended by a metre to investigate the other side of the wall and to see what exactly the relationship between the wall and drain is. Upon removal of the sods and topsoil, we came down onto a rubble layer which was found in the rest of the trench, and this was planned. Tomorrow this layer will be excavated and we will hopefully find that our wall is continuing (fingers crossed!).

Trench 2 and extension, showing the continuation of the rubble layer

As for Trench 3, the plot appears to be thickening! Yesterday, we were beginning to get the impression that the geophysical anomaly that this trench was opened to investigate was the rubble. This was ringing true in the early part of today, as some of our volunteers removed the rubble revealed natural subsoil directly underneath. However, this afternoon, upon further excavation, it appears that some of the rubble was sitting above what looks like an L-shaped cut feature. Cormac made the tentative suggestion that this could be a sort of gutter feature for draining the water away from around a building. Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day in this trench too.

Trench 3. The possible cut is visible as the darker patch to the right and top of the photograph.

Many thanks again to all our great volunteers today, Li, Damien, René, Conall, Claire and Pearl. 

A sherd of porcelain found in trench 1

Two fragments of late 17th Century clay pipe, found in trench 3

Monday, 17 June 2013

Day 11: Monday 17th June 2013

Excavations at Prehen House are well underway again this week with plenty of volunteers to help out; all arrived bright and early onto site despite previous expectations of delayed travel times due to the presidential visit.

Trench 1 progressing nicely
Investigation of features in Trench 1 continues; a cutting is being made into what appears to be natural subsoil outside of the flanker wall. This cutting will hopefully tell us more about the nature of the wall; whether it was built directly onto the natural subsoil or bedrock, or whether foundations were first cut into the subsoil to add stability. Removal of tumble layers outside the flanker wall is revealing more of its outer face around its eastern side and, inside the flanker, more of the inner circular wall has been uncovered through final removal of the overlying brick-rich deposit. Careful excavation of the disturbed southern side of the flanker appears to be showing that the two parallel lines of brick found running into the southern side of the flanker, do in fact continue through this disturbed portion of wall, beneath the brick-rick deposit from which further finds of animal bone and many fragments of green glass bottles have emerged; these will receive specialist analysis at a later date but the bottles appear to be from the late 18th or early 19th century; perhaps a little merriment was underway at this exact spot many years ago! 

Might not look like it but we are working! The parallel lines of brick can be seen in the foreground

The written and drawn records for Trench 2 have been updated and further investigation is implying that the drain truncates the wall and runs directly through it. This will be looked at further tomorrow and we plan to extend the trench a further 1m to the southwest in order to expose the far side of the wall. 

Trench 3 continues to be cleared back of stone rubble material by our volunteers and hopefully they will be soon coming down onto a lower course of a robbed out stone wall, thereby providing further evidence of a 17th century bawn existing at the site.

Trench 3; still looking for walls

As always, many thanks to all our volunteers today; John, Damien, Clare, René, Janice, Li and Jordan. Also, many thanks to @DerrySketcher for her visit and illustrations. Well worth a follow on twitter!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Day 9: Thursday 13th June

A very showery day on site, but a good turnout of enthusiastic volunteers nonetheless. Recording of Trenches 2 and 3 continued; this includes drawing scaled plans and sections, photographing features and completing 'context sheets' where all detailed information about each layer is recorded in-field, for use afterwards when it comes to compiling reports and physical access to the layer or feature is no longer possible.

Great progress was made in Trench 1 today, both inside and outside the flanker wall, new layers and features have been revealed, we will be recording and investigating these further tomorrow. The mortared, circular stone wall, which was partly uncovered during the course of an evaluative excavation carried out earlier in the year has re-emerged from beneath the rubble brick layer inside the flanker; the layer we left off at yesterday afternoon. This inner circular wall is most likely later in date than the flanker, and may have been constructed as part of an elaborate garden or water feature and making re-use of the 17th-century flanker wall foundations.

Volunteers Jan and Marketa excavating with Dermot in Trench 1.
Hopefully the weather will be a little better tomorrow, and allow us to have a much more productive day. Nevertheless, much was achieved today despite the weather conditions, and many thanks must go to our volunteers Li, Jan, Eoin, Paul, David and Marketa for all their help. A lovely story is emerging in Trench 1 and we are all greatly looking forward to see how this pans out.

Volunteers Jan and Marketa excavating with Grace in Trench 1
Volunteers Paul, Li and Eoin working hard in Trench 3

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Day 8: Wednesday 12th June

Despite the terrible rain last night, we arrived on site to a beautiful, clear morning today, and plenty of enthusiastic volunteers.

In Trench 1 things are still steadily progressing, tomorrow we hope to tackle the interior of the flanker and remove the current upper layer of brick rubble. It is foreseeable that there will be a large amount of material to remove, so a hard day of work ahead. In preparation for this, the spoil heap and stone pile next to the trench has been moved about six feet further to the southeast and away from the edge of the trench. While this may seem like unnecessary extra work, it was unfortunately necessary, both for health and safety reasons as the ever growing pile of rubble and soil was slowly beginning to tower over the edge of the trench and cause issues with access. Also, the flanker wall is slightly larger than expected and the extra space we gain by moving the spoil heap means we can expose the flanker fully, making it worth the extra effort.

More of the lead pipe running into the stone box has been uncovered and seems fairly intact, we can only follow its course as far as the trench edges allow but the surrounding associated layers and features have left us with a complex puzzle which we hope to piece together by the end of the week.

In Trench 2, Stuart was continuing the excavation and recording of his drainage feature. He removed the slate capping and sampled the soil fill. Hopefully this sample will yield some environmental evidence or artefact material that will help us to date this feature.

A third trench, Trench 3, has been opened over an anomaly which was identified in the geophysical survey as a possible wall with entrance-way.  This may be a continuation of the bawn wall leading from the flanker in Trench 1. Locating the entrance-way to the bawn is important as it will hopefully inform us further of the nature, size and exact location of the bawn in relation to the remaining flanker and surrounding landscape. So far, excavation of this trench is revealing a high concentration of large angular stones, most likely rubble from a collapsed wall. We are hoping that beneath this layer, solid wall foundations will emerge. Tree roots continue to be a nuisance across the site by making digging difficult.

Here’s hoping tomorrow’s weather is just as good too! Thanks to all our great volunteers today, Li, Gregory, Margaret, Linda, Maureen and Pat. Many thanks also to George, Brendan and the rest of the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society for all their ongoing interest and provision of useful maps and information as the excavation has progressed.

Trench 1, planning and excavation in progress

Volunteers Linda and Li working hard in Trench 3
Finds from trench 3 today, from the topsoil, lots of pot sherds, glass and metal

The drain feature in Trench 2 following its excavation

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Day 7: Tuesday 11th June

Despite the rain overnight, our spirits weren't dampened.  In Trench 1, excavation is continuing to reveal the rest of the flanker wall and a layer of flat schist type stones running alongside its interior face. These may be simply part of the tumbled destruction layers but their regular appearance suggests that they could have been purposefully placed. Hopefully this will be determined through further excavation tomorrow. Outside of the flanker wall, removal of rubble and accumulated loam continues and the ‘line of stones’ discovered earlier has been further investigated. It turns out that these are large slabs set solidly on end into a dug-out linear ‘cut’ and packed in with soil. Clearly it was intended that they would stay solidly in place and indeed they have. Our current interpretation is that they formed a verge for an 18th-19th century pathway or garden feature. As we have made much progress with this trench throughout the past week, an overlay of the drawn excavation plan will have to be completed in the morning before excavation continues.

Meanwhile, excavation in Trench 2 is coming to a close. The brick-lined drain is now fully exposed and based on the observed sequence of events and layers (referred to in archaeological terms as ‘stratigraphy’), it is the earliest feature within Trench 2, yet its exact date of construction is still unknown. Excavation of the drain’s interior tomorrow may provide some valuable dating evidence. 

Thanks to our volunteers Li, David and Pearl for all their enthusiasm and hard work, we made great progress in the excavation today.

Grace, Li and David excavating in Trench 1

Discussions about the drain feature in Trench 2

Monday, 10 June 2013

Day 6: Monday 10th June

Back on site bright and early this morning all ready for another week of excavating at Prehen and indeed the sun was shining brightly (although we expect it may be the last we see of it for a while).

Excavation continued in the two open trenches; In Trench 2, a brick-lined and slate capped drain which probably dates to the late 18th-early 19th century has been uncovered; No artefact material has yet been retrieved from the drain which will be fully investigated tomorrow, however Victorian era ceramics have been discovered in the layers above the drain.

Trench 1 has been planned and photographed and further layers of tumbled brick and stone material are being carefully removed to reveal yet more of the flanker wall. So far it's looking good but we still have to ascertain the location of an entrance-way into the flanker and solve the many interesting mysteries this excavation is revealing. It's early days though and archaeology does require some amount of patience but we are making good progress.

Grace and our volunteer Li hard at work removing a brick layer from inside the flanker wall
Stuart uncovering the slate capped drain in Trench 2
First plan of trench 1

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Day 4: Thursday 6th June & VOLUNTEER Info

It was another lovely warm day working at Prehen.

In Trench 1 excavation continued with assistance from our volunteers, Caroline, Paddy and Gayle. More topsoil was excavated in order to further expose the flanker and associated layers of tumble. A photographic record of the trench at this stage has been made and a detailed scale plan of the trench has been started. This will be finished in the morning and context descriptions recorded, then excavation to the next stratigraphic level can commence.

In Trench 2 the morning was spent recording the uncovered section of wall and the associated tumble. Stuart and Gregory drew a scale plan of the trench carefully plotting all of the stones. After this was finished much of the afternoon was spent removing the tumbled stones and filling out context record sheets.

Hopefully the weather keeps up tomorrow.

If anyone is interested in getting involved in the excavation, contact Northwest Volunteers on 02871271017 or email them at

Visitors are also very welcome and one of our crew will be happy to give you a tour. We are having an open day tomorrow afternoon between 2pm and 4pm.

Trench 1 by the end of the day                                         

Planning Trench 2
Finished Plan of Trench 2

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Day 3 continued...

Ceramics from trench 1
Trench 1 by the end of the day

Day 3: Wednesday 5th June

Another fantastic day weatherwise on site! We were joined again today by some of the volunteers from yesterday, and the digging continued.

Great progress in Trench 1

The bulk of the work today was carried out in trench 1, continuing the excavation of the rubble fill in the interior of the flanker, and the investigation of the features surrounding. More of the masonry was exposed, as well as another wall coming off from the side of the flanker. Due to rubble and soil still obscuring the interface between the two, it is not yet clear what the relationship is between them. This will be one of the questions we will hope to be answering in the coming days!

Work was also continuing in trench 2. The trench was cleaned up and photographed, and the recording process was begun, in preparation for it being drawn tomorrow. As it stands, we have a wall as well as some rubble/tumble which is very likely related to it.

Trench 2

By the end of day, we can safely say the trenches are getting deeper, the spoil heaps bigger, and we are headed in the right direction! Thanks to our volunteers Gregory and Marketa for working so hard and maintaining interest in the archaeology despite the heat.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Day 2 & a visit from the Lesser Spotted Culture crew

After a lot of hard work and sweating by all, the flanker is showing its shape nicely; we are currently working through layers of collapsed rubble material and broken brick which surround it and, judging from associated artefact material, are all 19th to 20th century. A very interesting discovery is a line of shale-like stone which is slowly emerging from layers outside of the flanker wall. These remain a mystery to all but will hopefully be better understood as the dig progresses.

Another great discovery of the day is a stone wall which is gradually being uncovered in the second trench which was opened this morning. This could potentially be related to the flanker as part of a 17th century bawn. Alternatively it could be forming part of much later garden features at the site. Hopefully time will tell.

This afternoon we also had a visit from Joe Mahon who spoke to staff and volunteers and filmed a segment of the excavation for use in his Lesser Spotted Culture series which is due to be aired later in the year.

A good day was had by all and great thanks are extended to our volunteers; Ciaron McCloskey, Gregory Maguire, Marketa Hoppova, Pearl Austin and Pat McGuigan, for all their exceptional hard work and assistance.

getting a helping 'paw' from Muppy

Our volunteers and Lesser Spotted Culture crew

The flanker wall, mystery line of stones on the left

Day 2: Tuesday 4th June

Another good day for digging...

Harris fencing has arrived and will be set up around the site perimeter at the end of the day; Health and Safety are important considerations in any excavation undertaken by the CAF. Five volunteers have arrived on site today to muck in and try their hand at archaeology. We are continuing to clean back trench 1, removing the loamy topsoil and roots. The curve of the flanker wall is slowly emerging and taking shape.
A second trench measuring 4m by 2m has been opened up over potential structural features which were identified during the aforementioned geophysical survey.

Cormac giving the low-down to some of the volunteers

team of volunteers hard at work

A second trench is opened up

Monday, 3 June 2013

more from day 1....

Le direktor demonstrating his air guitar technique..

Trench de-sodding.. almost done..

a significant find??!

Day 1: Monday 3rd June

 The excavation got off to a flying start today;

Weather was fine and the portaloos and site hut arrived on time. Quickly got set up and started marking out the proposed excavation trenches. A 6m by 6m trench (trench 1) has been opened up over the location of the previously mentioned flanker. We aim to have this completely uncovered and recorded by the end of the excavation. So far the sods have been removed in preparation for a good clean back tomorrow. Sod removal at this site is a slow process as it is covered in a network of tree and bramble roots.

De-sodding Trench 1, Day 1