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Burnt Mound at Caherdrinny, Co. Cork

This entry is part 14 of 37 in the Issue [1] 10

Archaeological Excavation Report

Burnt Mound

A layer of burnt mound material was recorded on the banks of a small stream at Caherdrinny 1 on low marginal ground.  Many theories speculate as to the actual use of burnt mound/fulacht fiadh sites (e.g. O’Kelly 1954; Ó Drisceoil 1988). We recognise the sites archaeologically by the remains of charcoal and heat shattered stones but as Ó Néill (2004) points out, these are the remains of a technology (the use of hot stones known as ‘pyrolithic technology’), rather than specific indications of the aims of the process.
Burnt mounds are the most common Bronze Age sites found in Ireland. Estimates suggest that at least 4,500 examples are known, over 3,000 in Co. Cork and an usual high density specifically in North Cork (Power 2000). The characteristic site-type is found in low-lying and damp ground and consists of a mound of charcoal-rich black sediment that is packed with heat shattered stones and forms a horse-shoe shape around a pit or trough that filled with water. In many cases all that survives to the present day are black charcoal rich deposits with fragments of shattered stones visible in ploughed fields.
These sites are associated with the process of roasting stones to heat water. The remains of these ‘pyrolithic technologies’ (terminology follows Ó Néill 2004) produce the tell-tale deposits rich in charcoal and heat-affected stone. Debate continues about their use, as hot water is required for many processes including cooking, brewing, washing, dyeing and, most recently it has been argued that some burnt mounds were primarily used to boil and cure meat for long term storage (Roycroft 2006).
Traditionally these sites have been interpreted as ancient cooking places, where large stones were heated in fires and then added to the water filled trough the extreme heat of the stones eventually heating the water in the trough until it reached boiling point.
The inventory for North Cork lists over 1600 burnt mounds located in North Co. Cork. (Power 2002) (Figure 5).  Many more have been recorded since the inventory was published. A total of seven burnt mounds including Caherdrinny were excavated on the N8 Fermoy to Mitchelstown. Three burnt mound sites were excavated on the N8 Mitchelstown Relief Road, and 12 on the N8 Mitchelstown to Cashel.

Authors: Linda Hegarty and Nick Garland

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