Tuesday, 3 February 2015

3 fine sites from Co. Down + double bonus

- Unfortunately, due to the heavy picture-content of these pages, this blog might not be suited to mobile browsing
- Throughout this blog, GE stands for Google Earth and SMR for Site and Monument Records held by the DOENI. 
Click to enlarge all pictures in this post. Pictures are best viewed in darker conditions (details and faint features will not be visible in GE while in a sunny room for instance). Also bear in mind that the images here are copies and extractions from GE, a process which already invariably causes a loss in definition. 
- Please feel free to share this blog if you know anybody who might have an interest in its contents!***

Before starting, I thought I would give you a quick schedule of upcoming posts so that everyone can see in which direction I am going in the forthcoming days/weeks:
Next: focus on small barrows
Then: focus on raths and GE's various uses.
Then: example of a local systematic approach.
Then: a detour via the RoI (a few new sites for the Southern readers...).
Then: start of inventory/picture archive (where I won't go into as much details, rest assured!) of all new data per County, probably starting with North Down.
And so on...


Welcome back!
Today, I will present a set of three important sites all located in Co. Down. These are good examples of sites that were more challenging to discover and interpret since their remains are more difficult to discern on Google Earth.  In that regard, since the pictures posted here are copies where a loss of definition is inevitable, they will not necessarily reflect the sharpness of live GE navigation where one can zoom in-and-out at will, change angles of view, etc. in order to get a better visual impression of the area. Still, I hope that the following images will enable the reader to get a decent appreciation of each site.

For the first two sites, similar in appearance and location, I will refrain from drawing too many conclusions. Indeed, having dug oval enclosures containing circular internal features of different periods (Bronze Age vs Early-Medieval) and uses (ritual/funerary vs domestic) during my employed years, these could well belong to either period although they seem to appear prehistoric at first sight. 


DOW1 – Large oval enclosure + internal and external features; Lat: 54°21'58.65"N, Long: 5°33'31.18"W (J 58722 49150); Td.: Strangford Lower; Status: unrecorded.

Fig.1: DOW1 - wider location

The site is located on flat lowland near the far edge of a small arm of Strangford Lough and immediately outside the village of Strangford itself. Although there are four dated layers for this locality, the main site is only visible on the view from 15/6/2010.

 Fig.2: Angled view of DOW1 from SSE.

Zooming in on the site from different angles will highlight the presence of a markedly oval feature, itself containing further cropmarks. The oval enclosure measures c.80x50m and is orientated SE-NW. 

Regarding the distinguishable features within the oval enclosure, several interpretations are possible. There is at least one sub-circular feature, c.20x17m, at the southern end of the enclosure. Other traces could represent a smaller oval ft., c.15x13m, at the northern end and/or a larger circular ft., c.25m in diameter, immediately to the NW of the aforementioned southern internal ft.

Interestingly, the oldest GE layer for the area (from 16/4/2003 - not shown here), although of poor quality, reveals another circular feature, c.15m in diameter, in the SE corner of the adjacent field. The combined plan for the site is shown on Fig.3. 

It should be noted that there are other faint traces to the N of the main enclosure (of several smaller sub-oval enclosures) visible in both the 2003 and 2010 GE views but since their details are not conclusive at this stage, I will ignore these for the moment.  

Fig.3: DOW1 showing internal ft. and position of external circular ft. in adjacent field.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the size of this site due to the poor definition of the cropmarks as currently seen on GE. For this reason, this site would benefit greatly from an updated GE layer in the future, in order to confirm whether the main oval enclosure is part of much larger complex or not.



DOW2 - Large oval enclosure + internal (and external?) features; Lat: 54° 6'4.41"N, Long: 6°12'59.31"W (J 16719 18368); Td.: Drumsesk; Status: unrecorded.

Fig.4: DOW2 - wider location.

This site is located halfway between Warrepoint and Rostrevor, on a slightly elevated terrace overlooking Carlingford Lough and the Cooley Peninsula. It is only visible on a single timed layer from December 2010:

 Fig.5: DOW2 - angled view from SW.

Even though they might appear difficult to make up in the picture above, the features are easier to discern during live GE navigation. The main feature at this site is a large oval enclosure orientated SSW-NNE, defined by a single narrow ditch and measuring c.52x37m. On this view, the area within the enclosure appears slightly darker than the surrounding field.

At least two structures are identifiable inside the large oval enclosure:

- slightly off-centre to the south: a well-defined circular ft., c.11m in diameter.
- 8m NE of the previous: a small circular ring, c.4m in diameter.

The shot being taken in winter, the surface of the field is extensively marked by farming activity and it is difficult to ascertain whether any of the other traces could indicate archaeology (see Fig.6). For instance, inside the enclosure, another small ring might exist to the SE of the identified one above. Outside the enclosure, there are a number of dark circular patches in the vegetation standing out against the clearer background of the field and it is possible that these also represent ancient remains. Most of the dark circular patches are about 11m in diameter, a size comparable to the well-defined feature inside the large oval enclosure.  

Fig.6: DOW2 - outline of the oval enclosure, also showing unidentified circular patches.


DOW3smr - Prehistoric Cemetery; group coord.: Lat: 54°32'33.32"N, Long: 5°57'33.53"W (J 32117 67943); Td.: Ballynahatty; Status: recorded as DOW 009:050.

Fig.7: DOW3smr - wider location showing Giant's Ring henge (right off centre). 

The location of this site should not need much introduction as it is related to the famous complex of sites in Ballynahatty townland. It is located at the edge of the plateau onto which the Giant's Ring and the other known sites are situated, with the ground falling off to S, W and N towards the River Lagan.

The site is also found at the same general location as DOW 009:050, an unlocated site within the SMR (n.7 on Fig.8). The files for the area contain:
2: DOW 009:012 - Standing Stone
5: DOW 009:036 - Henge and Passage Tomb
9: DOW 009:062 - Large Ritual Enclosure
6: DOW 009:037 - Megalithic Tomb
7: DOW 009:050 - Megalithic Tomb

Fig.8: SMR inventory for the area, showing locations of the newly discovered features recorded as DOW3smr (Xs mark the spot).

For DOW 009:050, the known information is very poor and the records are essentially a vague place-holder:
'The site is said to be a chambered tomb similar to DOW 009:037 in a field adjacent to the Giant's Ring. It has not been precisely located.'

DOW 009:037 is considered a megalithic tomb and is known to have been located in the field to the NW of the Giant's Ring. The SMR summary of this unusual site reads: 
'A "subterraneous chamber" discovered in 1855 NW of the Giant's Ring DOW 009:036. It was circular, 7ft in diam., with a floor & roof of flagstones. The interior was divided into a central area with 6 "cist like enclosures" around the sides. These contained human & animal bones, some burnt, some not and cinerary urns. The entrance, at E, was 2ft wide & closed with loose flags. Two intact human skulls were amoung the bones found, both of female adults. The precise location of the chamber is not now known.'

The historic evidence contained within the SMR also states that 'the fields adjoining the Giant's Ring on the N.W. have at various times yielded many traces of prehistoric burials' (Preliminary Survey of the Ancient Monuments of Northern Ireland - PSAMNI 1940, 86-7).
Indeed, apart from the renowned chambered tomb described above, PSAMNI also summarises (original data from Ulster Journal of Archaeology vol. III, 1st series, 1855, 358-365) the other known remains in the vicinity as :

'- another circular chamber (now referred to as DOW 009:050). 
- a 'tripod-dolmen', with no capstone, buried in a small mound.
- a cairn with multiple-cist burials.
- several short cists, two of which yielded perforated hammer stones.
- a standing stone (now referred to as DOW 009:012). 
Hardly any of these traces remain.'
The good news is that, with a big slice of luck, some features are clearly visible on GE imagery, in the field where DOW 009:050 is thought to have been located. I say 'luck' because this area south of Belfast is featured on no less than nine different GE timed layers ranging from 2001 to 2010 but the complex is visible only once, during what must have been particularly dry conditions in August 2006.  This is the view:

Fig.9: DOW3smr - Close up on the prehistoric complex.

Whether these traces represent any of the aforementioned antiquities which are known to have existed in the fields NW of the Giant's Ring remains to be seen. The sharply-defined circular site at the north of the picture though (also shown by a * on Fig.10), is located near the position where the recorded DOW 009:050 is thought to have been.

On this clear view, it is visible as a sub-circular feature, c.24m in diameter, crucially showing clear evidence of what must have been a short chamber set against its slightly flattened western perimeter. 'Chamber' rather than 'cist' since its external dimensions are about c.5x6m. Since the known circular chamber DOW 009:037 in the adjacent field was only about 7ft in diameter, it is difficult to compare the two as the records suggest. Instead, this appears to be the remains of a large cairn that contained a simple megalithic structure presumably opened to the W.

There are other features visible across the ridge of this field indicating that the whole plateau was indeed heavily used during earlier prehistory, as reported in the mid-19th century. Other than the site described above, we can also denote here (Fig.10):
- a. sub-circular feature c.23m in diameter.
- b. truncated large sub-circular or sub-oval feature, >25m in size.
- c. sub-oval feature c.13x12m.
- d. circular feature c.14m in diameter.
- ?. potential other features or areas of interest.

Fig.10: DOW3smr - identified features and other areas of interest. 


Right, the plan was to send these three Co. Down sites for now but, as the post's title says: 'double bonus', so...

Two more sites? A double site? Well, both: two more sites, including a double.

These sit in an area I had noticed before but I always thought that the visible traces represented either some sort of natural ridge or even an already recorded enclosure or rath. It was when I compiled information about DOW1 above that my eyes caught this neighbouring site once again. After a closer look at the scale of the traces, I quickly had to check the SMR and...


Fig.11: DOW4 & DOW5 - wider location

These two sites are located between 600-800m to the north of the oval enclosure DOW1 previously discussed and at a height of a little over 10m above the shore of Strangford Lough. Recent excavations only about 200m SE of the sites revealed evidence of a fulacht fiadh and a likely Bronze Age round house (see SMR DOW 031:073 and location on Fig.11). 

Now, for a close-up:

 Fig.12: DOW4 and DOW5 - close up view from GE's 2003 layer.

DOW4 - Two large embanked enclosures (conjoined?); Lat: 54°22'19.02"N, Long: 5°33'42.16"W (J 58502 49773); Td: Strangford Lower; Status: unrecorded.

The site is comprised of two very large, embanked, circular enclosures set against each other. Intriguingly, the details appear to show that, while they are joined at the west (top on Fig.12), there could be a deliberate opening into the complex from the east where the traces of both banks end abruptly after turning back towards the interior (unless these breaks are a result of higher degradation of the banks in this area of course). 

The two enclosures are each at least c.120x100m externally, with the length across the entire site being at least 200m. The width of the banks is also impressive. For the southern enclosure, the bank is at least c.20m wide and for the northern enclosure, it is well over 30m wide in places (with what looks like a section of ditch almost as wide!). Traces on the ground must be imperceptible or I fail to see how this enclosure could not have been noticed prior.

In view of its size and design, I find it hard to place the monument in the historic period but maybe there are parallels that I am not aware of. If it is older (taking into consideration nearby Bronze Age activity), is this a potentially unique double-henge monument? Two conjoined henges?

Fig.13: DOW4 - possible interpretation.

DOW5 - Embanked enclosure (large ring barrow?); Lat: 54°22'24.43"N, Long: 5°33'41.73"W (J 58504 49941); Td: Strangford Lower; Status: unrecorded.

Somewhat overshadowed by the potentially huge enclosure DOW4 immediately to the south, the traces presently identified as DOW5 are perhaps no less important. Already on the older GE view from 2003 (see Figs 12-13), the faint trace of a smaller circular ft. surrounded by a bank and wide ditch can be spotted. 

On a different shot from 2010 (Fig.14), while the details are also blurry, they appear to define a inner circular area, c.15m in diameter, surrounded by a concentric arrangement of narrow bank > wide ditch > likely wide outer bank. It may appear small next DOW4 but the whole feature could measure over c.60m in diameter. 

The location and size of the potential internal space do not seem to correspond to a ringfort and a prehistoric origin seems more likely for this site.
Fig.14: Alternate view of DOW4 & DOW5.


After dealing with a number of very large sites, the focus of the next post will be on the other end of the scale: small features and more specifically small barrows and barrow groups...

Thank you for reading once again!

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  1. Great stuff again! DOW2 is just beautiful and very very interesting. Looks to me like a classic early church site, with multiple ecclesiastical enclosures and radial field patterns outside. Almost exact parallels to several (geophys) sites down south which have produced almost identical arrangements.

  2. Thank you for your comment! From your comparison, I'm not sure the pictures convey the size of DOW2 very well though - unless you are talking about a different site on these pages...
    The parallel and linear marks on Figs 5-6 are tractor tracks (not a radial field pattern). It is a modest site in size, with the enclosure being c.52m in length while the clear internal circular feature, at c.11m in diameter, should in all likelihood represent either a roundhouse (many possible time-periods) or ring-ditch.

    1. Ah right. From the pic I presumed that the outer marked/darker patterns were subsurface, but having looked at it in GE I see what you mean. Plus those circular enclosures are a lot crisper under full zoom. Nice probable ring barrow, in any case!