This year once again, ministerial permission was granted to Fingal County Council to hold a community archaeological dig at Drumanagh Promontory Fort from August 17 to 21. This nationally important Iron Age site is situated between the villages of Rush and Loughshinny.
Heritage Officer, Christine Baker, had previously organised two successful excavations there in 2017 and 2018 using a mix of professionals and amateurs. These were the first scientific investigations of this site, so volunteers had to learn how and when to use mattocks or trowels; how to recognise changing soil levels; to store finds in the appropriate trays; how to sieve soil to recover artefacts that might have been missed by the diggers in the trench, and to learn how to spot pottery shards etc. as opposed to just “interesting” stones. The mantra was “when in doubt, don’t throw it out”. The professionals were patient and happy to answer all of our queries as we worked.
Some of us had been on several previous digs as volunteers, but many had only seen this work on tv or in books. It was wonderful to see how quickly everyone bonded, and worked together as a team.
The volunteers, aged 18 to 73, came from a wide variety of backgrounds but were united by a common love of history and pre-history. Amazing stories were shared and there was so much laughter. In the quiet moments we could listen to the sounds of crashing waves, and enjoy the views over Rush, Lambay Island and the village of Loughshinny.
Being a more remote site, there was no running water. It was a case of bring your own tea, coffee and packed lunch. There was a choice of outdoor seating or indoors inside a cabin. It was a chance to mingle and share what we’d been doing that morning.
From September 5 to 9, the finds were cleaned at Swords Castle, where there was access to water. Several volunteers, who were physically unable to dig or sieve, turned up for the important post-excavation stage. Once again care was taken to place cleaned items in the appropriately marked trays associated with each soil level in the trench. When dried, these were bagged and sent for examination by experts. In Spring, all of the volunteers will be invited to a meeting to discover the details about our finds.
We were unfortunate with the weather on several of these days in September, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. The interesting conversations and banter continued throughout.
In previous years at two separate areas of the promontory, we learned more about life near the Martello tower, built around 1804. A series of these towers were built along the coast as a defence against a possible invasion by Napoleon.
Artefacts such as Samian pottery from Southern Spain and amphora (pots for holding olive oil) prove that in the third century AD Ireland was trading with the Roman world.
For more about these excavations see here.
It’s hoped that further investigations at Drumanagh will be possible in 2023, and that more amateurs will be able to realise their dream of taking part in a real life dig, learning new skills along the way.