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Dun Ailinne

Dun Ailinne: Excavations at an Irish Royal Site, 1968-1975

Susan A. Johnston
Bernard Wailes
Pam J. Crabtree
Douglas V. Campana
Ronald Hicks
Katherine Moreau
Elizabeth Hamilton
G. C. Fisher
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 356
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  • Book Info
    Dun Ailinne
    Book Description:

    The site of Dún Ailinne is one of four major ritual sites from the Irish Iron Age, each said to form the center of a political kingdom and thus described as "royal." Excavation has produced artifacts ranging from the Neolithic (about 5,000 years ago) through the later Iron Age (fourth century CE), when the site was the focus of repeated rituals, probably related to the creation and maintenance of political hegemony. A series of timber structures were built and replaced as each group of leaders sought to claim ancient descent from a deep past and still create something unique and lasting. Pam J. Crabtree and Ronald Hicks provide analyses on, respectively, biological remains and Dún Ailinne's role in folklore, myth, and the sacred landscape, while Katherine Moreau examines bronze and iron artifacts and Elizabeth Hamilton, slag.

    eISBN: 978-1-934536-40-7
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Tables
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxiii)
    SAJ and BW
  6. Chronological Chart of Irish Archaeological Periods
    (pp. xxiv-xxiv)
  7. Summary of the Excavation
    (pp. xxv-xxx)
    Bernard Wailes

    This Summary introduces the detailed accounts of the excavations that follow in this volume. Dún Ailinne (known locally as Knockaulin Hill) lies in Knockaulin townland, just south of Kilcullen, County Kildare, Ireland. Its Ordnance Survey grid reference for Ireland is N818078. The site crowns the top of a rounded hill of graywacke and slate bedrock (Plate I-1); Figure I-1 shows a contour map of the hilltop. The bedrock, which lies obliquely to the ground surface, is covered with a relatively thin layer of glacial till, and occasionally outcrops in roughly parallel ridges. The hill itself is known locally as Knockaulin,...

  8. 1 Excavation Strategy
    (pp. 1-8)
    Bernard Wailes

    Dún Ailinne is a hilltop enclosed by a roughly oval bank and ditch, with an original entrance on the east side. The bank is outside the ditch, and so this enclosure is, morphologically, a henge. The inner edge of the ditch has been quarried in a number of places, presumably for building stone, and probably in relatively recent times. The area enclosed is ca. 13 ha and today is divided radially into three unequal sectors, or “pie slices,” by modern field fences (Figure 1-1). In 1968 the western sector, with the steepest slope, was covered by rough grass and bushes,...

  9. 2 Excavation of the Summit Area
    (pp. 9-26)
    Bernard Wailes

    The summit became the primary focus of excavation, as explained in Chapter 1 (Plate 2-1). During the first season’s work, an area 80 m x 20 m was laid out across the low mound and stripped of sod (see Figure 1-1). Blackened soil, containing burnt stone, ash and charcoal, containing inter alia heavily corroded iron objects and glass beads, was exposed beneath the sod, and clearly showed some focus of intense prehistoric or early historic activities.

    To the north of the low mound we found a section of palisade trench (516), but beyond that, to the north, there were no...

  10. 3 Perimeter Survey and Excavation
    (pp. 27-30)
    Bernard Wailes

    The perimeter of the site of Dún Ailinne is defined by an approximately oval bank and ditch. Since the bank is outside the ditch, the site is morphologically a henge, not a hillfort. We examined the entire perimeter carefully and conducted excavation at two locations on the eastern side, including the original site entrance. The bank is of simple dump construction, and there are no traces of external chevaux-de-frise (see Chapter 1) nor of a palisade on the inside of the ditch. The original site entrance has a short length of unexcavated roadway outside it, and a longer stretch of...

  11. 4 Features and Artifacts Summary
    (pp. 31-44)
    Susan A. Johnston

    There were 2,851 feature numbers assigned to excavated features at Dún Ailinne. Since in some cases two or more features turned out to be the same feature (such as the several features numbered separately which all turned out to be portions of trench 281), this represents a largest possible number; the actual number would be smaller. Of these, 886 could not be assigned to a phase, while an additional 585 were of uncertain identification or could not be clearly assigned to a single phase (such as Crimson/Harry or pre-Mauve). This leaves 1,380 features whose phases could be identified. Table 4-1...

  12. 5 Lithic Remains
    (pp. 45-72)
    Susan A. Johnston

    The lithic assemblage from Dún Ailinne is comprised of a total of 665 pieces of flint, chert, quartz, and granite, including both production waste in the form of debitage and a range of implements. An additional 403 pieces of flint, chert, and quartz and 76–78 pieces of unidentified stone were also collected from the site, all judged to be natural; 22 of the flint, chert, and quartz fragments were discarded, and 61 of unidentified stone fragments. That left 381 natural fragments of flint, chert, and quartz, and 15–17 fragments of unidentified stone in the collection. Basic descriptive statistics of the...

  13. 6 Ceramics
    (pp. 73-84)
    Susan A. Johnston

    The assemblage of Neolithic pottery from Dún Ailinne can be considered in two groups. The first consists of the remains of a pot of Linkard-stown type, found in Pit 293 along with a green disc-bead. Given the circumstances of the find (see below), this pot and the bead are likely to have been in situ when found. The other category is 433 individual sherds, representing 89 vessels, plus a (literal) handful of small, crumbled fragments that were not counted as sherds. While the majority of these sherds (295, or 68.1%) were found associated with features, most of these features were...

  14. 7 Iron
    (pp. 85-100)
    Susan A. Johnston

    A total of 403 artifacts and fragments of iron were recovered from Dún Ailinne. Nine additional iron objects are listed in the finds register but are not now among the collection (see Chapter 4); two—E.79.338 and E.79.2268—are included in this analysis because there was more information about them than simply finds register entries.

    This iron count has some inherent limitations. First, while modern objects were specifically excluded from this analysis, some may still have been included unintentionally. The corroded state of the iron meant that detailed typologies for many objects were impossible. Objects like nails, which might be...

  15. 8 Non-Ferrous Metals
    (pp. 101-114)

    Dún Ailinne produced 55 whole and fragmentary objects of copper alloy. Metallographic analysis of 11 of these artifacts (reported in Chapter 12) has shown that at least these 11 are bronze, and so it is likely that all or most of the remaining objects are too. Since they have not been analyzed, however, “copper alloy” is being used here to err on the side of caution.

    The largest single category was comprised of unidentified fragments, but of the identifiable objects (38), most (30) were personal items (Table 8-1). Rings were predominant, but there were also 2 fibulae, a bracelet fragment,...

  16. 9 Glass
    (pp. 115-124)
    Susan A. Johnston

    There were 50 whole and fragmentary artifacts of ancient glass recovered from Dún Ailinne. As many as six others may also have been recovered but are now missing (see Chapter 4). In addition to these, there were four fragments of modern bottle glass, three of them dark green and one olive green, as well as a large number of others noted in the Finds Register but not in the collection for various reasons (see Chapters 4 and 14). These will not be considered further here. The ancient glass included beads, bracelets, toggles, and other unidentified fragments. Table 9-1 shows the...

  17. 10 Worked Bone
    (pp. 125-132)
    Pam J. Crabtree and Douglas V. Campana

    The excavations at Dún Ailinne produced a large collection of unmodified animal bones that appear to be the remains of periodic ritual feasts. In addition to these food remains, the excavations produced a small number of artifacts that were made of bone and a few pieces of bone that appear to be the remains of bone working. A short report of the more interesting worked bone items appeared in the MASCA Journal (Crabtree 1982). This chapter will provide a more complete catalog of the worked bone pieces emphasizing their methods of manufacture and their possible functions. It concludes with a...

  18. 11 Miscellaneous Objects
    (pp. 133-144)
    Susan A. Johnston

    A fragment of stone (E.79.2894) with 8-9 pecked cupmarks was recovered from what was thought to have been Mauve phase soils (Plate 111). Although a slide of this stone is among the collection, the actual stone cannot now be located; this description is based on the photograph and on information from B. Wailes. When discovered, the stone appeared fresh and unweathered, and had cupmarks on one surface arranged in two rows Each row had four cupmarks in a line, and an additional cupmark appears to have been appended to the third cupmark in the upper row, which would make a...

  19. 12 Specialist Analyses
    (pp. 145-156)

    Slag was recovered from a variety of locations within Dún Ailinne. While some of it was unstratified, most came from reasonable archaeological contexts. Table 12-1 shows the distribution of 26 fragments of identifiable slag (an additional 16 uncertain pieces were not examined) in terms of context and associated phase.

    As can be seen, the largest group (12 or 46%) came from trenches. These were the various slot trenches associated with the Rose and Mauve phase timber structures. Another 6 came from the occupation layers, representing phases such as Flame and Jade. Other contexts were represented by only a few examples....

  20. 13 Biological Remains
    (pp. 157-170)
    Pam J. Crabtree

    The eight excavation seasons at Dún Ailinne yielded over 18,000 mammal bones and fragments, as well as a small amount of plant remains and 1–2 fragments of human skull. The last is the most easily dispensed with. One fragment of human skull (E.79.722) was recovered from the Flame phase occupation layer (Plate 13-1). The fragment is now missing, but an informal examination of the piece when it was found as well as a subsequent assessment based solely on a photograph, both agree that it is likely to have been a human parietal, probably the right side (Rachel Scott, personal...

  21. 14 Medieval and Modern Objects
    (pp. 171-176)
    Susan A. Johnston

    A total of 30 objects in the collection were post-Iron Age, including both a medieval cresset lamp (an open lamp intended to hold oil and a floating wick) and a number of later objects designated loosely as modern. These are described more fully below. A further 192 objects listed in the finds register are missing, but were probably (183) or possibly (nine) modern. Missing objects were recorded verbatim from the finds register, and so vary in terms of detail (see Chapter 4 for a fuller discussion of the issues involved with this process). In some cases these were clearly modern...

  22. 15 Chronology
    (pp. 177-182)
    Susan A. Johnston

    Dates for the site could be derived from stylistic characteristics of the artifacts and from a series of absolute dates (C¹⁴ and a single thermoluminescence date). To anticipate the conclusion, it can be said here that this evidence, taken together indicates activity at the site in the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, and the latter part of the pre-Christian Iron Age, the bulk being in the last period.

    While the artifacts from Dún Ailinne were not numerous, many of them provide stylistic dates to varying degrees of specificity. At the most general end of the continuum, there are a number of...

  23. 16 Dún Ailinne’s Role in Folklore, Myth, and the Sacred Landscape
    (pp. 183-194)
    Ronald Hicks

    Excavations of sites like Dún Ailinne provide us with various kinds of data that allow us to reconstruct the nature of the site and some of the activities that took place there. However, these can seldom provide us with much in the way of an understanding of the meaning of the site within the culture that created it. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that such monuments can only be fully understood if one realizes that they are part of a larger cultural landscape. Their continued existence down through the centuries as features within that landscape tends to...

  24. 17 The Larger Archaeological Context
    (pp. 195-200)
    Susan A. Johnston

    It has long been clear from both artifacts and Classical documentary sources that, during the main period of activity at Dún Ailinne, Ireland was connected to the larger British and European world and also to the Classical cultures of the Mediterranean. This connection was mediated largely through trade, which provided both material goods and a potential conduit for less tangible things such as attitudes, ideologies, and world views (Freeman 2001; Cunliffe 2001). For example, Newman has argued that, rather than representing smaller political entities (see below), sites like Raffin Fort which mimic the form of the royal sites but on...

  25. 18 The Social and Cultural Context of Dún Ailinne
    (pp. 201-210)
    Susan A. Johnston

    With all the evidence described, it is now possible to discuss what was happening at Dún Ailinne during the various periods in which it was occupied. During all of the phases of use at Dún Ailinne the dominant theme is one of ritual. There is some reason to suggest that some aspects during the Neolithic may have had a more secular character, but overall, the story of Dún Ailinne is the story of the ritual life of those who used the hill in the prehistoric period

    As can be seen from the discussions in Chapters 4-6, no clear picture emerges...

  26. References Cited
    (pp. 211-226)
  27. Contributors
    (pp. 227-228)
  28. Index
    (pp. 229-232)
  29. [CD-ROM Content]