Archaeology Research

Investigating Evidence for multi-period Woodland Management – Ballygawley

Dr Scott Timpany from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Dr Tim Mighall from Aberdeen University are to present a research paper at the UHI Staff and Student Research Conference on the 7th -9th November 2016.

Entitled, Investigating the evidence for woodland management from a multi-period Burnt Mound Complex, Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, the research paper explores the possibility of the local population managing the woodland for fuel.

Burnt mounds or ‘fulacht fiadh’ are a common feature in the Irish and British archaeological record, dating from the Neolithic to the medieval period (Ó Néill, 2009) and were widely used during the second millennium BC. They occur in various shapes and sizes. Crescent- or horseshoe-shaped burnt mounds are typical in Ireland but they can also be circular, oval and d-shaped varying in height and diameter (O’Sullivan and Downey, 2004).  Despite being ubiquitous, we know little about their function, with hypotheses varying from cooking, brewing, bathing, dyeing and textile processing together with butchery, sweat lodges and funerary and ritual practices.

This paper provides a summary of the palaeoenvironmental evidence from a complex of 23 burnt mounds excavated by Headland Archaeology Ltd, that have a chronology of activity ranging from the Neolithic to the medieval period at Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone. A range of different wooden trough styles and construction methods were found in association with the burnt mounds, which were located adjacent to a system of streams.

A range of palaeoenvironmental methods were employed to accompany the archaeological investigations including pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, micro- and macroscopic charcoal, waterlogged worked wood analysis, insects and waterlogged and charred plant remains analysis. The focus of this paper will be on those methods directed at investigating possible woodland management to provide fuel for the burnt mound activity and wood for trough construction.

Pollen analysis provided both regional and local evidence for landscape change and including a ‘seesaw’ pattern of tree and shrub pollen immediately after and preceding a period of burnt mound use. This together with the macroscopic charcoal data and worked wood analysis, indicate possible species selection and management of the local woodland resource for fuelwood. Archaeological finds discovered including bone pins, an arrowhead and scrapers provided potential evidence for butchery and hide preparation practices associated with the burnt mound activity.