Drumclay Crannog

Drumclay Crannog - The Life and Times of a Fermanagh Lake-Dwelling Seminar September 2014

On Saturday September the 27th, almost a year and a half after the completion of the excavation at Drumclay a seminar 'Drumclay Crannog - The Life and Times of a Fermanagh Lake-Dwelling' was held in the Enniskillen hotel to diseminate the intitial findings from the ongoing post excavation work on the Drumclay excavation. Having travelled from Dublin to two of the Open days in 2013, I travelled again with anticiaption to the Seminar in Enniskillen. I was not disappointed, it proved to be a very informative day and as one speaker stated "Drumclay has not lost its WOW factor". The audience at the booked out conference heard 8 excellent lectures giving insights into the initial post excavation work that has been undertaken, and how Drumclay Crannog is going to complement and in some instances change our current understanding and interpretation of crannogs and life in the Early Medieval period and the continuing occupation of some crannogs up to the Post Medieval preiod.

In addition to the lectures, three living history demonstrations gave an interesting insight into Early Medieval crafts of Wood truning, bone working and spining yarn.

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alt textRicardo demonstrating how to work bone.

Below are some highlights from the Conference lectures based on the snippets I manage to note. The conference was opened by Dr John O Keeffe, DOE, NIEA.The first session was entitled Setting the scene: The archaeological context of Drumclay crannog. Jackie McDowell gave an overview of the Deer Park Farms excavation an Early Medieval raised Rath site which similar to Drumclay had remarkable level of preservation of organic material. Clare Foley in her lecture gave an overview of Crannogs with a focus on County Fermanagh.

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Setting the scene: The archaeological context of Drumclay crannog

Deer Park Farms: on dry ground. Jackie McDowell, DOE, NIEA

Deer Park FarmsDeer Park Farms
  • There are over 45,000 raths/ringforts known in Ireland
  • Deer Park Farms, a raised Rath in County Antrim excavated in the 1980s.
  • This site provided an excellent insight into life in an Early Medieval Rath due to its exceptional preservation.The lower layers of the site were water logged and there was good preservation in the upper layers also because material was buried and not disturbed by subsequent activities such as agriculture.
  • Over 3,500 artefacts were recovered from Deer Park Farms, many of them organic.
  • A lot of prehistoric flint and polished axe heads were found on the site. Were these people in the Early Medieval also interested in discovering their past.
  • Throughout the life of the Rath the houses constructed and rebuilt had a uniform plan.
  • In the upper layers of het Rath evidence uncovered shower 3 phases of house all destroyed by burning. Metal remains were found in the burnt layer.
  • The upper layers of the Rath also had 2 souterrains, and some pottery fragments were also found.
  • The evidence from the Rath suggests that mixed farming was practiced by its inhabitants with cattle predominant.

Fermanaghs crannogs before Drumclay. Claire Foley, DOE, NIEA

  • The Drumclay crannog was built up as it sunk beneath its own weigth.
  • About 2000 known crannogs in Ireland mainly in the inter Drumlin lakes.
  • There are 142known Crannogs in county Fermanagh
  • In 19th Century Fermanaagh was famous for its crannogs
  • The Antiquarian'W F Wakeman' visited and recorded crannogs in County Fermanagh and recovered some artefacts which he also recorded and drew in detail.
  • Original archaeological thinking on crannogs was that you could just see one archaeological layer - Drumclay has changed this interpretation.
  • In building crannogs there was a preference for smaller isolated lakes as crannog sites - easily defended
  • No crannogs are found in larger lakes
  • 1977 Crannog Survey in County Fermanagh (1977 was anexceptionaly dry year with the lakes levels much lower than normal.
    • 1977 Crannog Survey Aims
    • Confirmation by observation
    • Crannog Diamater recorded
    • Sample timber taken from Crannog (one phase)
    • Causeway? (none were found)
    • Dating: Dendro and C14
    • 154 crannogs suveyed
    • 65 have no surface expression ie perminantly submerged
    • Only 2 were identified in the original Ordnance Survey of the cCounty.
    • Crannog Date ranges: Late bronze age to 17th Century
  • Research value of Crannogs
    • Wetland enviroment - potential for excellent preservation
    • Wooden structure and objects
    • Leather shoes , bone, combs hair
    • Parasites, insects
    • Cloth, plant remains
    • Metal, pottery
  • Evidence suggests that people of status having a shared way of living - in crannogs and on raths/ringforts

The big dig: The Drumclay Crannog excavations

Session 2 of the conference was chaired by Professor Aidan O Sullivan of UCD entitled The big dig: The Drumclay Crannog excavations. focused on the Drumclay excavation and some initial findings from the excavation. In this session Dr Nora Berminham the site director on the excavation gave an overview of how the crannog at Drumclay was constructed and the cycles of maintaining the Crannog and its houses over time. Caitriona Moore who also worked on the excavation in her lecture then gave an overview of some of the 6000 artefacts recoverd in the excavation of Drumclay Crannog with a special focus on the wooden artefacts her specialisation.

Weaving together the excavation results. Dr Nora Bermingham, TVAS (Ireland) Ltd


Drumclay crannog was sited in a small inter Drumlin lough as mapped by the Ordnance Survey in the early 19th Century.The Crannog was sited within 30m of high dry ground which has no enclosure evidence. It was visited by the antiquarian W F Wakeman in 1870s, however he records that access to the site was not possible due to the swampy conditions of the surrounding area. Before excavation Its surface expression was a low mound 15m in diameter growing to a 26 x 18m mound as excavated down.

  • How Drumclay Crannog was built.
    • Piles droped in lake bed (oak , alder)
    • 1: Birch poles driven down into lake bed. Crannogs moved as organic.
    • 2: Build up network of platforms - stacked like pancakes 10 ot 12m in diameter. When platform built they started living on them. 100s of logs used overlapping layers of wood eg 12 layers in western side platforms. Platforms also retained by wattle walls.
    • Open areas in middle of the platforms 2m sq. These were used as the hearths (filled in).
    • 53 platforms identified - increasing the ground surface above water level.
  • Houses
    • Rectangular Houses
    • Round and figure of 8 Houses
    • 18 houses positively identified to date
    • Houses built and rebuilt in same location
    • We don't know
      • How many standing and inhabited at the same time
      • How often houses were repaired or replaced
      • If lived in all year round or seasonally
      • Could be several houses have been occupied at same time.
      • Who lived where on the crannog.
    • Houses were dismantled before rebuilding
    • Houses were always built around the hearths
    • Round house which may have an extension identified 6 - 6.5m in diameter
    • Inside a house
      • Very few internal roof supports.
      • Internal subdivision
      • Stone break hearths, rectangular clay lined and stake holes
      • Moving around the crannog - Series of pathways silt and stone, some built of wood
    Top layers of Drumclay Crannog excavated
    • From wood to mud - living on a crannog mound. Houses had cobbled yard.
    • When not using wood, clay used to build platforms
    • Top 2m : clay floors and/or hearths
    • Home for living and dead
    • One set of human remains found - a woman of 18
    • Unusual burial for this period (14th Century)
    • Evidence of stress in her life.
    • Initial Dates from Drumclay
    • Late 7th-10th Century: 3 platforms 676-866, 695-887. (Crannog is likely to be no older)
    • One house dated to late 10th-12th Century (Turbelent period in area 995-1153)
    • 13th Century house AD 1213-1279 (Maguires)
    • 14th-15th Century House AD 1326-1443
    • 1309-1439 - Skeleton of young female. (Maguires establish stronghold in Enniskillen)
    • The Crannog continued in use up to the 16th century.

Waterlogged wealth. Caitriona Moore, TVAS (Ireland) Ltd

6000 artefacts were recovered by the excavation from Drumclay, compared to 3500 recovered from the Deerpark farms site. There is still much work to be done on this large artefact assemblage from the excavation.

Over 1000 wooden artefacts were recovered from the site - this is unprecedented in Irish Archaeology

  • These included
    • Food storage /preparation
    • Tableware
    • Utensils
    • Textile production
    • Leather
    • Transport
    • Evidence that it was a high status site
    • Domestice production
  • For making wooden artefacts many of the craft techniques used in the Bronze age continued in use in the Early Medieval period.
  • An intact wood carved keg and carved trough were found on the site.
  • A wooded dish thought to be a cheese mould - (likely alder as alder used a lot tableware and utensils as the wood did not flavour food) unparalleled in Irish record was found at Drumclay. Similar to ceramic roam cheese moulds. Cross enscribed in base - lot of superstition in dairy world.
  • Evidence of woood turning found on site. Wood Turning was used to produce Cups, plates, bowls and gaming pieces.A wood turned plate recovered had been repaired with copper wire, evidence that the plate was a valued item.

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  • Evidence for coopering was also found on the site. Over 100 wooden staves recovered in the excavation in addional to wooden discs for the base of barrels. Some Metal and wooden hoops also found on the site.
  • Some fragements of decorated wooden vessles also found including some with evidence of pokerwork (design pattern burnt into surace of vessel.) Much of this material was recoverd from the saame area on the crannog. Other decoration included christian symbols.
  • Small utensils also found on the site included carved spoons, iron knives
  • Evidnce of textile production at Drumclay in the artefacts found included, Spindles,a Distaff and whorls.
  • Leather Working evidence included a lot of scrap leather and a wooden shoe (shoe size 5) last.
  • The excavation also gave a small insight into leisure activities on the Crannog.A gaming board found though in bad condition in addition to 15 gaming pieces found both finished and unfinished. A tuning piece for a musical instrument was also found.
  • Three spearheads were found and a couple of axes together with a possible part of a long bow showing that at some stages the Crannog occupants werer armed.

Drumclay Crannog and its potential for understanding early medieval environments and economies. Chair: J.A. McDowell

The first session of the afternoon focused on the potential of the Drumclay excavation results to give us an insight into the daily life of the people living on the Crannog and to add to our overall knowledge of daily living in the Early Medieval and Medieval periods. In the first lecture of the afternoon, Dr Eileen Hyland gave an interesting insight into how the study of insect remains in samples from the Deer Park Farms raised Rath in County Antrim and the Fisamble Street excavations in Dublin challenge some of our perceptions of Early Medieval life in both rural and urban settings. This was followed by a lecture by Dr Emily Murray giving some inital insights into diet and use of animals on the Drumcly Crannog from the animal remains recovered in the excavation at Drumclay

Dirt, hygiene and health on early medieval settlements. Dr Eileen Reilly, UCD School of Archaeology.

  • Evidence for living conditions
    • Attitude to dirt and cleaniness and legacies of biological and cultural aversions have led to a 'dirt ridding culture'.
    • Middens, dung heaps
    • Cess and rubbish pits
    • Dumping beyond the palisades in enclosures
    • Grooming
  • Evidence
    • Insects (Beatles,flies, lice etc - proxy for how people lived in thepast, reflect how people lived)
    • Intestinal parasites
    • Plant remains
    • Animal bone
    • Human remains
    • Literary evidence
  • Examining the evidence from two Early Medieval sites
  • Deer park farms (DPF) - 7th -12th C - Rural Settlement
  • Fishamble Street - 10th-11th C - Early Urban streetscape
  • House interiors
  • Interior of House
  • Smell of wood smoke permiated all
  • Bedding area: Very clean and dry - bed consisted of wood chip, straw, bracken etc
  • Insect evidence suggests clean environment
  • Central floors less organic , more footfall, slightly damper.
  • High numbers of lice, animal parasites, high number of fleas (constant)
  • Evidence of lice - evidence for grooming
  • Outside house
  • Dungy, muddy ground in yardsbuilt against walls , fences etc, Dung, urine soaked, plant metter, butchery waste
  • Human parasites - evidence of outdoor grooming /washing
  • Paths - cobbles, wattle plank - a necessity?
  • Cess pits - human excrement, urine, household waste - evidence of clean out and reuse of pits.
  • In Rural houses, cess pits not clearly identified, ubiquitous in urban settlements.
  • Where did people go to the toilet? - human intestinal parasite contamination identified in 2 areas on the Deer Park Farms site. This points to the possility of an outside loo possibly above ground, with waste regularly cleared and dumped offsite.
  • Contamination and disease
  • Locations chosen for dumping not good
  • Nearby water contaminated
  • Reuse of human waste as fertiliser - soil and water contamination
  • Disease causes in early medieval literature usually put (Crawford 2011) to demons etc not hygene
  • Summary
  • Interior floors of houses clean, bedding warm and dry
  • Less control over exterior space except where prescribed by laws/culture
  • Abundant lice (DPF), absent from FS, grooming essential
  • Flies/Fleas/gut parasites despite efforts to keep clean
  • Contamination of water - no connection at this time with disease
  • Studies of human remains
Drumclay will add to this picture.

Farming and animals. Dr Emily Murray, School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, QUB.

  • Research Approach
  • Identify range of species and percentage present body parts present
  • Determine age of animals at death (tooth wear etc)
  • Sex
  • Stature
  • Pathologies
  • Evidence for butchery, burning and other modifications

A large assemblage of animal bone has been recoverd from Drumclay. To date, only half way through initial study of the Drumclay assemblage. As expected the trend is similar in different crannogs investigated, Moyarath, Sroove etc. Drumclay

  • Cattle 45%
    • In some high status sites cattle larger. Early Medieval cattle breeds tend to be similar to the modern 'Kerry Breed'
    • Cattle slaughter trends from Early Medieval sites show them being slaughtered at all ages. The emerging Drumclay pattern is similar.
    • Peak at 2 to 3years bracket. Trend in Drumclay for younger animals to be also slaughtered which could indicate high status (early as data still to be split into time line.
  • Pig 41%
    • Razorback or Greyhound pigs more likely similar to pigs in the medieval Ireland also would have been herds of pigs - pigs pens identified in DPF.
    • Pigs 17-23months optimum age for slaughter. In Drumclay a lot of young pigs killed.
  • Sheep/goat 14%
    • Sheep: 12-28mths. In Drumclay slight peak in younger age slaughter .
  • A lot of domestic animals - high status indicator
  • The Early Medieval Irish were not fond of hunting indicated by a lack of prey animal bone found at Early Medieval sites. Antler bone tended to be collected rather then from hunted animals. There is some bird and fish bone present (Salmon) in the Drumcaly assemblage, but in small numbers

Drumclay Crannog and its potential for understanding early medieval societies. Chair: Dr Nora Bermingham

The final session of the conference was opened with an exciting lecture by Ian Riddler on how combs found at Drumclay can help refine the dating of phases on the sight and also give an insight into peoples lives. The final lecture of the conference was given by Professor Aidan O'Sulivan of UCD summing up why people may have chosen to live on Crannogs

Teasing apart the bone and antler objects. Ian Riddler and Nicola Trzaska-Nartowski.

  • Combs
    • Combs made of bone revitted together
    • Combs - private act but also public outcome
    • Provide dating evidence
    • Evidence of craftwork
    • Using Ipswich ware pottery as an example of how comb types can refine date ranges for an Early Medieval site.Ipswich ware pottery has a date range of 720-850/870, but this 150year period can be further split in 2 by comb styles
  • Drumclay combs
    • Drumclay has a sequence of combs
    • Early comb 500-600 AD
    • Double sided composite comb C700-800AD
    • 800-925AD Cross hatch comb found at Drumclay -cross hatch pattern found across Ireland
    • Single sided combs C925-975 AD.
    • Scandanavian combs, Irish copies of scandanavian combs - Continued use of cross hatch incuding Drumclay - Also copies used with Scandanavian designs - Drumclay 975-1175 example - made in Dublin - someone from Dublin in Drumclay?
    • 1050-1225 Undecorated single sided composite comb. Most common type but none found yet from Drumclay
    • 1175-1250 Sigle sided comb found in Drumclay
    • Yet to be seen how the comb sequence relates to the stratigraphy at Drumclay.
    • 6 combs with lattice patterning - Drumclay signature/ evidence of regionalism?
    • 965 230mm Drumclay comb, one of longest found in Ireland. 3 High Street combs 240mm,315mm , 375mm (975-1050 High Street display combs)
    Comb manufacture
  • Antler and iron predominanatly used for rivets in Ireland, not much copper used in Irish combs.

Why people chose to live on lakes. Prof. Aidan O'Sullivan and Dr Robert Sands, UCD School of Archaeology.

Drumclay crannog was built on a damp unstable environment, within meters of perfect Drumlin hill. We Need to think of past through mirror- allow the past to be seem strange to us. We need to accept that the way Early Medieval people thought about lakes and Crannogs mostlikely differed and thus their Motivation for building on lakes.

  • Crannogs
    • The word crannog was not in use. Innis the word used ie they thought of crannogs as islands.
    • Percieved as places of change, remote ?, about journeys.
    • Places where heros could renegotiate on community's behalf.
    • Associated with Kingship.
    • Geographical size not significant
  • Chronology of Crannogs
    • Bronze age ( c1000 - 800 BC)
    • Iron age (Some)
    • EM explodes in use of crannogs 6th-10thC
    • Late Medieval especially in NW
    • Crannogs die out in post medieval
  • Archaeologically crannogs are very complex sites eg Coolure Demense - multiple dates
    • Key for understanding site higraphies.
    • How people live and work together across generations.
    • Thinking about water spaces in very distinctive way
    • Could crannogs be both prominent and remote and usfully requiring a journey.
    • Could they be stages for restricting access and managing perceptions
      • Example of Kings struggling with troublesome saints (8th C life of Aed)
    • Kings using islands to inhabit landscapes of power
    • Crannogs on boundaries?
    • Coolure - evidence of feasting , high status, also located close to a large Rath
    • Crannogs also occupied by all classes - ordinary people seeking to create land in water.
  • Summary
    • 15 crannogs excavated in Ireland since 1930 none to standard of Drumclay
    • Drumclay most significant wetland site in Europe
    • Unique opportunity to explore lives of people of Fermanagh and Ireland in EM
    • Potentiall rewarding at every level of archaeological enquiry and scientific enquirey…
    • Persitence of effort in the face of adversity - conditions damp etc
    • "Drumclay has not lost its WOW factor
    • One place in the world
    • In Early Medieval Ireland a persons reflection was only seen in water - there were no mirrors in Drumclay

Drumclay Site September 2014

Drumclay Crannog Open Days 2013

Drumclay Crannog Open Day 16th Feb 2013

The excavation of Drumclay crannog which commenced in the Spring of 2012 and is one of the most significant excavations undertaken in Ireland in recent years, given the exceptional preservation qualities of the site and the quantity and nature of the finds being uncovered and the fact the full crannog is being excavated. Some archaeologists have put the excavation on a par with Viking Dublin in importance. I got to visit the site on the second Public Open day held the 16th February 2013 when over 700 people took the opportunity to visit the site.

Wooden gaming piece.

The site of Drumclay crannog is just to the north of Enniskillen and lies on the route of the new Cherrymount bypass road. The construction of this road led to the excavation of the crannog, a known site marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey maps, one of over 142 Crannogs identified in County Fermanagh. The initial delay in recognising the significance of the site has been well documented by Robert Chappel and others, (Drumclay, Cherrymount, a crannog in crisis)whose campaigning won time for the site to be properly excavated.

On the first edition OS six inch map the site of Drunclay Crannog is shown located in a small lake. Wakeman in an 1873 paper (WAKEMAN,W.F. JRSAI XII, 1872-3, 322) records that the lake was being drained and describes the land surrounding the crannog as a dangerous swamp. The area has remained waterlogged and boggy giving rise to the conditions which facilitated the preservation of the Crannog structure after the draining of its host lake. By February 2013 the area surrounding the Crannog had been excavated down to what was probably the bottom of the original lake.

At first sight the surviving unexcavated remains of the crannog look like a pile of wood varying in size from tree trunk to branches and smaller. This relects the predominance of wood in the structure which also consists of stone and clay. Over its lifetime the Crannog has suffered several slumps resulting in the occupational layers being stratigraphically mixed, an added complexity for the excavation team.

The excavation has established that the Crannog was in use as a settlement site up to the 17th century and by the 16th of February the excavation was revealing layers dating back to the 7th Century. To date the foundation remains of over thirty houses built over the life time of the crannog have been identified by archaeologists. Different construction styles have been identified with the house type from one phase being very similar to Viking Dublin house. Some houses had hearths of stone, others made of compacted clay. One of the houses currently under excavation is over 12m in diameter, one of the largest houses uncovered to date from Early Medieval Ireland. It has a very large central fireplace around which a series of logs were placed to form floorboards.

In general these wooden round houses were small by todays standards, the size of a modern living room. In this space people slept and cooked and participated in leisure activities such as board games as shown by the discovery of several wooden gaming pieces on the site.Wooden gaming piece.The walls were insulated with heather and other plants. To date over 4500 artefacts have been recovered giving us a great insight into the lives of the people who lived on the Crannog. Rather then been seen as defensive dwellings Crannogs are now being interpreted more as high status dwellings in the early Medieval period who occupants farmed the surrounding land. Many of the finds at Drumclay support this interpretation. In Drumclay the archaeologists on site believe from the evidence uncovered to date that these were wealthy people who displayed that wealth in their personal ornaments and in their everyday objects.

Household artefacts include over 3000 sherds of pottery to date. The oldest pottery found to date is souterrain ware reflecting as with other sites, that Ireland was largely aceramic up to the 8th century apart from some imported pottery. To date no imported pottery such as E ware or D ware often found on high status Early Medieval sites has yet been uncovered in the Early Medieval layers excavated at Drumclay.

Wooden bowl with cross engraved in its base. Top and bottom quern stones for grinding corn. Blade, bone pins, animal dung Piece of timber pile from cranog and selection of animal bone

The wooden and bone artefacts recovered reflect the skill of Early Medieval craftsmen. Wooden household artefacts preserved by the waterlogged conditions of the site include a decorated wooden bowl with a cross carved in its base. Analysis has shown the bowl to be a cheese mould rather than having a religeous use as first thought. Wooden storage vessels have also been found on the site.Remnants of yew vessel Decorated bone dress pins have been found Bone dress pin. and evidence for weaving. Decorated bone and antler combs have also been recovered. The decorative style reflects influences of the Viking world and indicates that the Fermanagh settlement had links to Scandinavia. Animal bone on the site reflects the importance of meat in the diet including pig, sheep and cattle. Quern stones have also been found showing that flour was produced for consumption on the site also. Evidence has also been found for weaving and other crafts is also reflected in the artefacts found. Many metal knife blades and other implements have been found including a 9th century woodcutting axe. Other finds reported include some weapons and the parts of two log boats. The excavation is scheduled to run until the end of March 2013

Drumclay Crannog Open Day 09/03/2013

A third open day at Drumclay Crannog was held on Saturday the 9th March. Again over 700 people availed of the opportunity to visit this unique site. The excavation was at this stage revealing layers dating to the 7th Century. Finds include ring headed pins, wooden spoons decorated wooden vessels. The initial foundation layer of the crannog was also being revealed giving an insight into how the crannog was first constructed. On the site visit we were shown the location of the four clay mounds with box frames, i.e. layers of timber perpendicular to each other which form the crannog foundation. The outline of another house and hearth were also visible. The visible base of the crannog is still 0.5 meters above what would have been the bed of the lake. Such is the pressure to complete the excavation; the archaeologists were on site working unlike the previous open days. Hopefully they will manage to complete the excavation thus giving us uniquely a full occupation sequence for a crannog site from the Early Medieval to its final abandonment in the late medieval period

View of Drumclay Crannog - 9th March 2013.
View of site on 9th March 2013. Excavating a house and hearth 9th March 2013. Archaeologists excavating crannog timbers. Archaeologists planning a feature on the Crannog.

Drumclay Crannog Postscript 15/04/2013

Media sources reported the 15th of April as the final day of excavation on the Drumclay site before construction of the road resumed. In total over than 4,000 artefacts, including a medieval board game, a gold ring, finely decorated metal dress pins, leather shoes, drinking vessels and carved bowls, were recovered from the crannog site. Carbon dating has confirmed that many of the ornamental and household items date back to the 7th Century. The last occupants are believed to have abandoned the site in the 17th Century.

All who have followed this excavation look forward to the post excavation results, publication and the proposed future exhibition of the artefacts likely to be in Enniskillen.

View of Drumclay Crannog near end of excavation - Daily Mail Paul Faith PA Wire.

Site Location

  • SMR Number: FER 211:061
  • Class: Crannog
  • Grid Reference: H2476945277
  • (http://www.doeni.gov.uk/niea/other-index/content-databases/content-databases-ambit.htm)
Based on Openstreetmap

Last Updated , Oct 2014