Resurrecting Monuments Tower Hill Research Excavation

Resurrecting Monuments, the Baldolye based community archaeology project commenced excavation of a test trench on Tower Hill in Howth a further step in the group's initial research into four historic sites in the south Fingal area. The project is being funded by an Irish Research Council (IRC) grant. The Archaeological Survey of Ireland has classified Tower Hill as the site of a possible Medieval Norman Motte based on evidence from the Beranger painting of 1775 in which the top of Tower Hill is depicted as a mound with a surrounding bank. A 1773 John Roque map of County Dublin also depicts a circular feature on Tower Hill. Historical sources also mention the existence of an old castle in Howth prior to the construction of the St Laurence family 'Howth Castle' in Deerpark. The excavation will target one of several anomalies identified in a geophysical survery of the site undertaken by the group under the guidance of Kevin Barton of LSG ( this summer. [ Note hover mouse over photos for label]

Day 1 August 22nd

A damp Saturday saw the excavation getting underway with the setting out of the excavation trench by the team and the removal of the sod layer and some of the topsoil layer.

Day 2 August 23rd

On Sunday before the persistent rain set in, the team managed to excavate further the topsoil layer. The first piece of medieval pottery, a rim sherd was was recovered from the topsoil layer giving the team a boost on a wet cold day.

Day 3 August 24th

After a wet and damp weekend, a dry and sunny Monday saw the team progress the excavation of the topsoil layer. Finds included post medieval pottery such as Blackware. A nice piece of worked flint was also recovered during sieving. Some fragments of roof pantiles are also found. We also had a significant number of visitors to the site many of who were tourists. Aidan our out reach officer for the day gave them an overview of the site and its history and showed some of hte significant finds emerging from the site.

Day 4 August 25th

The day gets off to a good start weather wise. A change in soil colour and texture indicates a different layer may be emerging. Since the leveling of the hill top for the construction of the Martello tower in 1804, Tower hill has been used for allotments and then landscaped with the refurbishment of the Martello tower as Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy museum in 2001. During WW2 the hill was also used as a base for anti invasion exercises by the Local Defence Force. Finds continue to be made including animal bone, shell and post medieval pottery including Staffordshire Brown ware,Black ware and North Devon sgraffito ware. After lunch sees persistent heavy rain which forces the team to finish up for the day.

Day 5 August 26th

A better day weather wise. The excavation progresses. Mid excavation photos are taken and a mid excavation plan surveyed. More finds are made. From the trench comes a nice jug handle possibly 17th century. Also excavated is a piece of worked bone, with staining on one side, possibly a knife handle. The layer these find are coming from has no modern material. Many finds are being made through the sieving, pieces of clay pipe, glass shards some of which may be 17th century in date. An interesting piece of ceramic with melted copper fused to it is also recovered from sieving, a possible mould? Another nice piece of worked flint is also recovered. From sieving also comes our first piece of Saintonge pottery. Sherds of this pottery from the Saintonge area near Bordeaux in France are often found on Medieval sites in Ireland. These shards are from vessels made and exported as a by-product of the Bordeaux wine trade.

Day 6 August 27th

Another nice day on Tower Hill. The afternoon showers we can see in the distance miss us. Paul and Mick have identified some possible features and decide to excavate a number of sections in the trench to try and resolve them. As the excavation progresses more medieval pottery is found including shards of Leinster cooking ware and a nice shard of English green ware. A fragment of ceramic tile of unknown date is also uncovered. Also found is a copper pin.

Day 6 August 28th

Our last day of excavating. We have now hit the natural in some parts of the trench. In the afternoon, Paul Duffy our site director and who set up the Resurrecting Monuments project and its predecessor the Grassroots community archaeology project is interviewed on RTE's Ray Darcy radio show by Kathryn Thomas. We start post excavation recording of the trench.

An intial interpretation of the site based on the visible stratigraphy uncovered in the in the excavation suggests the layer below the sod layer reflect the landscaping carried out on the site by the County Council when they took ownership of the site and the hill's use at one stage for allotments. A thin band of material below these layers may reflect a surface used for the construction of the martello tower. Finds below this layer are medieval or post medieval only. This may indicate that these lower layers could be the remains of the demolished mound and banks illustrated in Beranger's 1775 painting. The worked flint recovered indicates people may have been using this site since prehistoric times. The quantity of medieval pottery found in the relatively small excavation trench suggests medival use of the hill top and as common in the Dublin area reflects the medieval trade links with the UK and France. The post medieval material recovered reflects the continued use of the hill top up to the construction of the Martello Tower and its subsequent use as the landfall for telegraph and later telephone cables to the UK.

Day 7 August 29th

Today the group host the Resurrecting Monuments Heritage week open day on Tower Hill supported by Fingal County Council. We are nicely surprised by the number of visitors and interest shown in the Project. Amongst the visitors to the site are Professor Gabriel Cooney of UCD and Dr Mark Clinton. In addition to an information stand on the Resurrecting Monuments group's research and the Tower Hill excavation. Brendan and Wayne from Past Visions at their stand explain the medieval pottery making processes and pottery types. The Claiomh living history group display examples of the weaponary used in Medieval Ireland by both the Normans and native Irish. During the day they give a series of talks on Medieval weaponary and combat and domestic life. Wicklow Willow at their stand demonstrate willow basket making and willow fencing. Kevin Barton of Landscape and Geophysical Services displays and explains to visitors some of the remote sensing technology now used in archaeology. A great day for community archaeology! Thanks also to the volunteer staff manning the 'Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy' museum for their support during the week. Tomorrow will see the hard work of back filling the excavation trench.

Last Updated ,Sept 2015