Medieval ‘suburbs’ of Dublin uncovered

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A slate with some medieval-style graffiti was found to the rear of a 12th-century structure recently excavated from the ‘suburbs’ of Dublin. (IMAGE: Kevin Weldon)

Dublin is known for the exceptional anaerobic conditions that have preserved swathes of medieval archaeology there (see CA 328), and a recent dig at Dean Street in the Coombe area, just to the west of the city centre, was no exception. An investigation in advance of the construction of a new hotel had indicated that the site was likely to be archaeologically significant, and in October, when Aisling Collins Archaeology Services (ACAS) were brought in to fully excavate the site, this was proved correct after the remains of medieval building foundations were uncovered.

Located outside the old Dublin city walls, the medieval settlement that emerged from the soil would have functioned as something like a modern ‘suburb’. In total, nine structures were unearthed, dating from as early as the 12th century, including five post-and-wattle houses and four smaller outbuildings, most likely used to house animals. The waterlogged conditions allowed for very well-preserved artefacts to be recovered as well, including leather shoes, a wooden spoon, and a copper-alloy Viking key.

One of the most unusual finds from the site, however, was a slate, found to the rear of one of the 12th-century structures, that appears to have been subjected to some medieval graffiti. Among numerous scribbles and other etchings on the tablet emerges the clear picture of man on a horse, raising a sword above his head with one hand and holding a shield with the other. There are also the images of two birds, one of which appears to be standing on the man’s head.

In addition to these earlier discoveries, a number of 13th- and 14th-century finds were uncovered, including an intricate well with steps leading to it, wall foundations, some pottery, a silver coin, part of a bronze weighing scale, and a pit for tanning animal hides. Once post-excavation analysis is complete, all the objects will be transferred to the national Museum of Ireland for curation.

The director of the hotel group leading the development of the site, Johnny O’Sullivan, has stated that they plan to incorporate the site’s heritage into the design and decoration of the hotel once it is finished.

This article appeared in CA 339.

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