A road to discoveries in County Cork

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Earlier this year, excavations on two sections of the N73 between the historic towns of Mallow and Mitchelstown in the north of Co. Cork have revealed a rich picture of how the landscape was used through the centuries.

The works were concluded by a team from TVAS Ireland Ltd on behalf of Cork County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, exploring a route that dates back centuries, having evolved from a much smaller pedestrian and wagon path. Although the project’s eight excavations were confined to the width of the road-widening sections, finds have been diverse.

At Clenor South, natural sinkholes were discovered with Middle Neolithic impressed ware pottery and flint tools deliberately buried within them. Credit: Transport Infrastructure Ireland

One of the most impressive discoveries was a series of pits and post-holes in the townland of Shanagh – the footprint of a Neolithic house. Small finds from inside and around the dwelling included charcoal, threshed wheat, hazelnut shells, and sherds from at least eight carinated bowls, which represent the earliest type of Neolithic pottery found in Ireland. A quartzite rubbing stone and waste flakes from flint-knapping were also found, suggesting that tool-making was practised on the site, while radiocarbon dating indicated that occupation probably took place between 3796 BC and 3640 BC.

More Neolithic activity was uncovered at two other sites along the route. One was a series of natural sinkholes at Clenor South, which appear to have had Middle Neolithic impressed ware pottery and flint tools deliberately buried within them. The other, at Waterdyke, included an isolated post-hole with more Middle Neolithic pottery found within it. Nearby was a small arc of post-holes with flint buried within them, as well as a cremation pit containing the remains of an adult, possibly a woman. Radiocarbon dating from an acorn shell and part of the cremated remains suggests that this site was in use between 2859 BC and 2475 BC. In all, between these sites and the earlier house, it appears that this area was in continual use over the course of the Neolithic period.

Other finds from the project included, from Clenor South, a possible late Bronze Age or early Iron Age ring-barrow cemetery, a late medieval enclosure encompassing 17th-century building foundations, and an early modern rural smithy and associated workshop.

An online ‘Story Map’ has been produced that explores the archaeological discoveries along the N73 route: http://arcg.is/1yvzbW. Other work produced by Transport Infrastructure Ireland can be found at www.tii.ie/technical-services/archaeology.

This news article appears in issue 368 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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