Mark Nolan

Project Title: A neglected monument on the North Western Facade of Europe: An Archaeological and scientific investigation of Co. Sligo’s promontory enclosures.

Student Name:  Mark Nolan

Supervisor: Dr. Marion Dowd

Funding Body: Roscommon County

Abstract: 

The project concerns promontory enclosures a nationwide archaeological monument which have a general date ranging from the Iron Age to Early Medieval periods (500Bc-1200Ad). The core of the project will be building upon previous research at undergraduate level at I.T. Sligo. With the foundations of the research laid this project will increase understanding of this monument through a multi-disciplinary approach, with the integration of science and archaeology; which is the philosophy of archaeology at I.T. Sligo. At present there are 350 coastal promontory enclosures and 40 inland examples in known about in Ireland. Within the archaeological community there is a lack of understanding of promontory enclosures. Aspects such as the function and date are still under examination in Ireland, these problems are also shared in a European context. The traditional view is that these sites are Iron Age sites with a militaristic function; however these sites are proving far more complex from the excavated data this far.   Furthermore aspects such as coastal processes mean that these sites are under threat as we speak.

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Plate 1: Aerial photograph of a spectacular promontory enclosure at Knocklane Co. Sligo

The focus of the study will concern Knocklane promontory enclosure in North Co. Sligo (see plate 1 and 2), however other sites will be investigated by means of desk based research and scientific investigation to clarify these sites. In Co. Sligo there are 16 examples of coastal promontory enclosures and six examples of inland promontories. These sites can be found dotted all along the coastline stretching from the Mayo border to Donegal and inland (see plate 3 below) examples can be found at lakes, rivers and rock outcrops.

Rates of erosion and sea-level change are having a major effect upon Ireland’s entire coastal heritage; however coastal promontory enclosures are in a way on the front line when dealing with coastal changes. This research will take this into account and attempt to obtain modern rates of erosion by using G.I.S. mapping which may allow the researcher to estimate the rates of erosion since these sites were built. If the rates of erosion are great then these sites may only be found in prominent locations today as a consequence of coastal erosion. Obviously this will have major repercussions for the theories given on promontory enclosures since antiquity. Not only will G.I.S. be a useful tool for this argument it will also be of enormous use in identifying sites which are in immediate threat from the sea.

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Plate 2:  Well preserved banks and ditches at Knocklane promontory enclosure, North Co. Sligo

Knoxspark

Plate 3 (Below): Location of an inland promontory enclosure at Knoxspark Co. Sligo

Scientific investigation will form the backbone of the project which will allow the author to further the knowledge on promontory enclosures while addressing key questions such as date and use. Qualitative methods such as excavation, spatial analysis, environmental analysis and geophysical surveys will be extremely important to this project. Results will be used to obtain the overreaching goal which is to indentify when and how people interacted with promontory enclosures in Co. Sligo, and how people in the wider archaeological landscape perceived such sites. Furthermore what role did promontory enclosures play on the archaeological tapestry of Europe as these sites are not just restricted to Ireland