Tuesday 10 February 2015

A giant over the Causeway and other fortifications...

***Notes: - 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. 
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Welcome back! 

I know I said I was going to present a few things related to small barrows but as I was reviewing my Co. Antrim data, I had a change of mind and thought I would highlight these following sites first: 

Fig.1: Location of the sites discussed in this post


ANT2 - Promontory Fort; Lat: 55°14'14.64"N, Long: 6°30'33.68"W(C 94876 44390); Td: Aird; Status: unrecorded. 

 Fig.2: ANT2 - wider location (from NNW).

The site is located along the north Antrim coastline, 3km NW of Portballintrae, and directly over the famous World Heritage Site of the Giant's Causeway. It occupies the entire headland directly above the main Causeway site and is bounded by cliffs along its northern edge. Although there are five timed layers for this location, the remains are only defined on that of July 2011: 

Fig.3: ANT2 - close up from SSW.

At first glance, the site is defined by two gently curving ditch sections stretching for over 170m across the central field. The ditches are approximately c.6m in width, with the presumed intervening banks also about c.6m in width. While these may seem like the only traces visible here, a closer look reveals the presence of many more features: 

- remains extend on either side of the central field in order to close-off a total area c.370x230m (extra details mainly defined in field to W by curving vegetation lines and in field to E by faint indentations/shading in the field surface). 

- presence of at least 3 ditches (and possible evidence for enlargement of the site at E although details are difficult to make up in the eastern field; see left field on Figs 3-4). 

- at least two potential internal circular features, c.12m and 8m in diameter (faint traces visible on strong zoom).

Fig.4: ANT2 - Possible interpretation of features visible on GE imagery.

Furthermore, there are a number of intriguing dark cuts set perpendicularly across the ditches of the main enclosure. These are sharply defined in the pictures shown here: two cutting the inner ditch, and another two set further down across the entranchments (top of Fig.5). I have long debated whether these could represent another feature either 'cutting' the promontory fort or being cut by it... When viewed from a certain angle (see below), it is tempting to imagine that the fortifications in effect truncate an earlier large sub-oval enclosure but I remain unconvinced (the linear 'cuts' do not really match up). Please feel free to offer any suggestion as I would dearly like to know what could cause these markings
Fig.5: ANT2 - close up of central stretch of ditches (note dark linear features cutting the earthworks).

Lastly, I have made no mention so far of the pointed headland directly overlooking the Giant's Causeway. While I long thought that the markings visible through the gorse at that location (Figs 6-7 below) must simply indicate the presence of a rocky outcrop, its conspicuous oval outline is worth highlighting here as it cannot be discounted as a natural feature yet in view of the discovered nearby archaeology (I haven't made my way to the North Antrim coast in a long time but I am eager trevisit this location on the ground and see for myself!). This feature is c.55m SE-NW and c.31m NE-SW.


Figs.6-7: ANT2- outline of oval feature at tip of promontory (natural outcrop or archaeology?).

The next two sites are also fortified constructions but of an altogether different nature, belonging firmly to more recent historical times. ANT3 and ARM1 share many characteristics on the other hand and these will be shown in turn below:

ANT3 - Fortifications; Lat: 54°42'9.50"N, Long: 6° 3'1.54"W (J 25727 85589); Td: Ballymartin; Status: unrecorded

This site is strategically located within a conspicuous loop formed by the Ballymartin River, about 2.5km to the E of Templepatrick. Less than a kilometer downriver to the W lie the recorded medieval settlement at Ballymartin comprising a motte, church, graveyard, well and souterrain (ANT 051:056 and ANT 051:057).  

Fig.8: ANT3 - Vertical view of the site.

The total area covered by the site is about c.120m E-W and c.100m N-S and the main observable features are as follows:

- To NE and within the loop of the river, possible remains of sub-oval mound surviving as a circular bank, c.26x23m, and surrounded by a ditch.
- To the N of the above feature and separated to it by ditch, amorphous feature c.13x10m, 
- To W, remains of a circular structure, c.19m in diameter. 
- Starting off from the previous feature and running S for c.34m before turning at right angle to E, remains or foundations of wall c.8m in width. It is regrettable that this hypothetical southern wall is not fully preserved and any traces of it are obstructed at the SE corner (N of farm building on Figs 8-9).
- On the perimeter of the site to NW, N and NE, faint traces of linear and curvilinear ditch, c.4-5m wide. 
- Inside the enclosure (relationship to the rest of the complex is not known), faint traces of potential sub-oval feature c.22x20m, itself with sub-circular internal c.7m in diameter.

Fig.9: ANT3 - interpretation of visible features. 

It should be noted that many other linear cropmarks and other raised features are visible upriver from ANT3. After verification on the historical OS maps for the area, these were found to be the remains of several corn and paper mills that were in operation along the Ballymartin River during the early 19th century. The visible remains of these mills, along with their associated mill races do not seem to match what is observable at ANT3 on the other hand. As a result, instead of being a long-forgotten industrial site, my inkling is that here we have a set of previously unknown Medieval or post-Medieval fortifications (keeping in mind that there are hints that it could be a multi-period site)

This hypothesis was strengthened when I discovered a somewhat similar complex 55km away to the SW: 


ARM1 - Fortifications; Lat: 54°24'15.00"N, Long: 6°42'23.25"W (H 84050 51389); Td: Annaclarey; Status: unrecorded. 

This site is located immediately south of the Armagh border with Tyrone, along the valley of the Blackwater River and c.900m S of Blackwatertown. It is more precisely found on a strip of low land between the aforementioned Blackwater River and one of its tributaries, the Ballymartrim River, which delineates the site to W and S.  

 Fig.10: ARM1 - wider location showing local post Medieval sites.

There are many antiquities from the post-Medieval period in the immediate vicinity since the valley of the Blackwater River was the focus of much warfare between Hugh O'Neill and the English. There are three late 16th c. forts at nearby Blackwatertown, a castle and bawn at Benburb and another 16th c. artillery fort on the summit of a hill directlopposite ARM1 (Mullan Fort, TYR 062:001). 

Importantly, the detailed Bartlett map of 1602 for the area (left) does not indicate anything at the location of ARM1 implying that whatever the nature of these remains, they are not contemporary with that conflict. A look at the historical OS maps also fails to reveal anything pertaining to this location so it could be inferred that the site is pre-1800 but not from around 1600...

Fig.11: Bartlett map of 1602 showing location of the site (X) and Blackwatertown (B).

 Fig.12: ARM1 - vertical view of the site.

The total area covered by the site is about c.150m N-S and c.135m E-W and the main observable features are as follows:

- At the southern corner of the site, on a slight rise and directly above the Ballymartrim River, the remains of circular structure, c.28m in diameter
- Set directly to NE of above, remains of potential feature c. 12x10m. 
- At the NE corner of the site, remains of a circular structure, c.20m in diameter. A smaller internal circular feature, c.9m in diameter, is discernable in the centre of this structure (itself with smaller concentric arrangements of rings within).
- Starting off from the feature above and running for c.48m to WSW, remains or foundations of wall or bank c.4m wide.  On another shot from 17/2/2001 (Fig.14), this feature then appears to change its angle slightly, run for another c.36m before continuing into the field to the west for c.62m, now showing as a ditch on both timed GE layers. At the NW corner of the site, the ditch shows a clear angular enlargement before running SE for at least c.90m towards the bottom of the ledge where the large circular structure is situated.
- Starting off from the c.20m diameter structure again and running for c.18m SSE before turning sharply to SW for another c.45m up to the field boundary, remains of another linear feature visible as wet ground on 31/12/2010 GE layer. 
- The large depression meandering E-W through the site is probably a river palaeo-channel although its natural feature could have been used to divide the site between the lower and higher grounds.  

Fig.13: ARM1 - Interpretation of visible features.
Fig.14: ARM1 - Older view from 2001 GE layer.  

As you can see, there are many features common to both ANT3 and ARM1, whether the sites are chronologically related or not. Unless I am seriously overlooking something (or if the sites are the results of accretion of individual features through time), their origins could be bracketed as such:

Pre-1800 (not indication on early editions of the OS maps).
Post-1602 (ARM1 at least, since not shown on Bartlett's map).
And/or alternatively pre-16th c. (sites long gone by the time of the late 16th c. maps?).

Since this time period is not really my area of expertiseany comments would be greatly appreciated! 


Lastly, I would like to revisit the Ballymartin area in Co. Antrim since I had made another nice discovery at this location before finding the above ANT3 site

Even though the locality is today renowned archaeologically for its Norman and Medieval past (see above in this post), there has been report of the possibility of an older settlement here, along with a pre-Norman church (see SM7 files for ANT 051:057). The evidence below provides further evidence that the area covered by Ballymartin townland was indeed a local focus of activity during earlier Medieval times already

ANT4 - Multivallate Enclosure (Rath?); Lat: 54°42'20.25"N , Long: 6° 2'55.56"W (J 25825 85925); Td: Ballymartin, Status: unrecorded.

Fig.15: ANT4 - wider location.

The site is situated less than 300m N of ANT3, on gently sloping ground, falling to S towards the Ballymartin River. It is visible on several GE layers and the picture below shows the site best as a multivallate enclosure with two sets of banks and ditches (with a max. diameter of c.55m). Although the internal space would appear quite limited, the location of the site would tend to suggest that it is  a levelled multivallate rath. 

Fig.16: ANT4 - vertical close up.

Overall, the presence of all the sites mentioned above, all within 800m of each other, highlights the strategic and political importance that the location of the Ballymartin towland enjoyed through time, from the likely multivallate rath, to the Norman settlement and perhaps ANT3. 

Thank you all for reading once again!

As for the upcoming schedule, I still plan to post a few detailed reports before shifting to the daunting task of publishing more succinct but complete County archives (If I only publish four sites per post, this project will literally take me years to complete!).

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