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Archaeological fieldwork was initiated early in 1992 by Royal Irish Academy's new interdisciplinary survey. From the compilation and circulation of a preliminary list of the island's monuments, a number of monuments have been targeted for geophysical survey and limited archaeological excavation.
Archaeological fieldwork was initiated early in 1992 by the Royal Irish Academy's New Survey of Clare Island. From the compilation and circulation of a preliminary list of the island's monuments, a number of monuments were targeted for geophysical survey and limited archaeological excavation.
The results of the archaeological survey were far beyond expectation with almost 200 monuments and items of archaeological interest now identified.
The data that is presented here is from the preliminary report compiled by archaeologist Paul Gosling. His final report is now being completed and will be published as part of the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy in the new year. This page will be updated soon with the new information.
Firstly, there is the megalithic tomb whose presence indicates the existence of a Neolithic farming community in the eastern part of the island in the 3rd millennium BC
The large numbers of fulachta fia on Clare Island suggests that the most significant period of prehistoric human activity was during the Bronze Age. Though we, as yet, await results from the radio-carbon samples taken during the excavations, the general consensus is that the construction and use of Irish fulachta fia dates to the middle and later parts of the Bronze Age (c.2,000-800 BC).
This impression, of significant settlement in the Bronze Age, is underlined by the albeit small number of artifacts recovered to date. Firstly, there is the chert arrowhead found protruding from the basal layers of a midden at the harbour. There is also the find of a bronze spearhead from Cummer, at the west foot of Glan Hill (Knocknaveen on OS maps) and the discovery of a wasted stone maul in a stream bed near the island's largest fulachta fia. A decorated rim-sherd of pottery was found stratified within a f ulacht tia mound at Park (King 1993). This is certainly of prehistoric vintage, and is probably of Bronze Age date (pers. comm. J. Waddell). Finally, there is also a standing stone in Ballytoohy More which is also possibly of BronzeAge date.
As to the function of the fulachta fia, opinion is currently divided between their use for cooking and bathing (see. Drisceoil 1988). What is beyond dispute, however, is their utilisation of hot stones to heat troughs of water, and in this respect Irish fulachta fia can be regarded as reflecting patterns of Bronze Age settlement. This is important, for the distribution pattern of the fulachta fia within the island is marked by their concentration in particular areas. As already discussed, a number of relatively modern land use factors may be affecting the distribution picture. However, there is also the possibility that the distribution is limited by other factors, such as the availability of suitable rocks for heating. Preliminary examination suggests that sandstone is the favoured rock type.
This leads us to the spatial associations noted between some of the fulachta Fia clusters and a number of medium-sized enclosures. Four examples of this have so far come to light, three in the Lecarrow Group and one in Capnagower. In each case, the enclosure is situated on low rise or hillock overlooking a peat basin or stream with a cluster of two to four fulachta tia. In each instance, the fulachta are not more than 150m from the enclosure and most are considerably closer (<l 00m). The presence of these enclosures in close proximity to clusters of fulachta fia raises the possibility that they could represent the foci of habitations of which the fulachta once formed a part.
In conclusion, these monuments and artifacts indicate a significant horizon of activity in the eastern part of Clare Island during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. However, they also raise many questions regarding the origins and culture of the people who used them. As yet, these must remain unanswered, but the presence of the megalithic tomb and the numbers of fulachta fia and their pattern of clustering hints at the existence of relatively