Bronze Age ring fort among sites discovered on Macroom road route

Archaeologists have discovered 30 previously unknown ancient sites along the proposed Macroom bypass route, including a Bronze Age ring fort.

The sites have been discovered through ground penetrating radar along the two-thirds of the road’s 22km route corridor between Macroom and Ballyvourney and they will be excavated shortly.

The archaeological surveys are being carried out by Rubicon Heritage Ltd, Earthsound Archaeological Geophysics and TVAS Ireland Ltd, who also used aerial surveys to identify potential historic sites.

Deirdre McCarthy, resident archaeologist on the project, said she and her colleagues were “very excited” at the prospect of soon being able to carry out excavations.

“To date, two thirds of the route has been tested and 30 previously unknown sites of archaeological potential have been identified,” said Ms McCarthy. “These sites include pits and postholes which may represent the remains of prehistoric settlement; a ringfort at Ballymakeera, an upstanding lime kiln and the most common site type identified to date, fulachta fiadh [burnt mounds].”

She said that only the part of the ringfort which is within the road corridor will be excavated.

A fulacht fiadh site normally consists of a large horse-shoe-shaped burnt mound of heat-shattered stone and charcoal, normally found in boggy areas close to steams.

Mainly dating to the Bronze Age, when excavated the mound normally overlays one or more large pits, lined with stones or planks to create a trough. This is used to hold water into which heated stones are put.

“Interestingly, one of the first archaeologists to carry a scientific excavation of these site types was Prof Michael J O’Kelly and his excavations were also carried out in Ballyvourney,” said Ms McCarthy. “He was the first to come up with the theory that these were cooking sites, although the uses for the boiling water continue to be debated.”

A number of river and watercourses were also identified as having archaeological potential.

Ms McCarthy said assessment of these is ongoing, with wade or dive surveys as appropriate and metal detection of the river bed.

Surveys on any buildings, bridges, monuments or structures impacted directly or indirectly by the new route are being undertaken.

It is proposed that all of the sites discovered on the route will be archaeologically excavated, subject to ministerial direction from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

It is likely that all the excavations will be completed by the end of next year.

In due course the results of the archaeological excavations along the Macroom-Ballyvourney road corridor will be published by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

Information on archaeological excavations on another part of the N22, the Ballincollig Bypass, are included in the book Generations, the archaeology of road schemes in County Cork published in 2013.

Included in that publication is information on a number of other sites excavated by archaeologists.

The oldest prehistoric settlement in Co Cork was discovered while work was being carried out on the M8.

It showed that hunter-gatherers had built a settlement near Fermoy more than 10,100 years ago.

The M8 project also uncovered a sauna dating to 1,400BC at Scartbarry, near Watergrasshill.

Evidence of similarly ancient hunter-gatherers was discovered near the Ballincollig and Youghal bypasses.

Houses built by Cork’s first farmers, in about 3,900BC, were found near Ballincollig.

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