Bective excavations Blog


Preliminary report on the archaeological excavations at Bective Abbey 2010 (E4028)
December 1, 2010, 4:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Bective Abbey Project
Geraldine Stout and Matthew Stout

Table of Contents
Summary
List of Figures
List of Plates
1.1 Site Location
1.2 Archaeological and historical background
1.3 Previous archaeological work: Excavations and geophysical survey
2 Archaeological excavations
2.1 Overview
2.2 Cutting 1
2.3 Cutting 2
2.4 Cutting 3
2.5 Cutting 4
3 Archaeological Finds
3.1 Overview
3.2 Prehistoric Finds
3.3 Medieval Finds
3.4 Post-medieval Finds
3.5 Modern Finds
4 Archaeological Samples
4.1 Animal Bones
4.2 Shell samples
4.3 Soil Samples
4.4 Charcoal samples
5 Discussion and conclusions
6 Bibliography
Appendix 1 Geophysical Survey Report by Joanne Leigh 2010
List of figures
Fig. 1            General site location map showing areas of excavation 2006–2010
Fig. 2            Bective abbey monastic estate
Fig. 3            Results of geophysical survey 2009–2010
Fig. 4            Plan of Cuttings 1, 2, 4 and Squares A, B
Fig. 5            Sections of Cuttings 2, 4 and Square B
Fig. 6            Plan and section of Cutting 3
List of Plates
Pl 1            View of Bective abbey from the northwest
Pl 2            Post-pads of medieval building exposed in Square 2
Pl 3            Robber trench and stone window jamb, Cutting 2
Pl 4            Post-pad 3 in Cutting 2
Pl 5            Chamber of cereal-drying kiln in Cutting 2
Pl 6            Cutting 3 excavated through monastic garden
Pl 7            Garden ditch, Cutting 3
Pl 8            Flue of cereal-drying kiln in Cutting 4 (from northwest)
Pl 9            Cutting 4 from the south
Pl 10            Plough pebbles from Cutting 4 found in sieve
Pl 11            On site environmental lab
Pl 12            Shells from the monastic garden, Cutting 3
Pl 13            Wood sample from burnt deposits in Cutting 4

Summary
This report describes the results of archaeological excavation E4028 (Consent No. C353) that was carried out within the southern precinct of Bective abbey, Bective Td, in county Meath in July 2010 under the direction of Dr Geraldine Stout and Dr Matthew Stout. The site is located in the townland of Bective (NGR 285890 259930) c.0.7km northeast of the village of Bective and c.6km north of the town of Trim, Co. Meath. Bective abbey is a National monument (RMP ME 31:26). The objectives of the 2010 excavation were twofold; to expose further remains of a medieval building discovered in 2009 and to investigate an enclosure in front of the south range of the abbey which was postulated to be the former site of the medieval monastic garden.

Excavation over four weeks successfully revealed further evidence for the medieval building when a post-pad was exposed attached to a short section of wall. Another section of this medieval wall, which formerly abutted the post pad, had been robbed during the post-medieval demolition phase at Bective abbey. The flue, chamber and stone-built superstructure of a medieval cereal-drying kiln were also uncovered in association with a series of rake-out deposits and pits in the lower medieval levels. The possible remains of a seventeenth-century structure was uncovered in the upper levels of the site. Excavations in 2010 also confirmed a medieval date for the construction of the enclosure in front of the South Range and uncovered within its interior ‘garden soil’ with charcoal-enriched shell deposits, a linear trench, and a stone spread.

1.1 Site Location
The excavations were located at the highest point in a relatively level field in front of Bective abbey (Fig. 1, Pl. 1). It is a low-lying, relatively flat pasture in a gently undulating landscape. The soil is well drained and lies at 53m O.D. To the east of the abbey the ground slopes gently towards the river Boyne, which is located c.200m to the east. The surrounding landscape consists of gently undulating fields under pasture and tillage with small wooded areas.

Figure 1 General site location map showing areas of excavation 2006–2010.

The site is located in an outlier of Upper Carboniferous sandstones and shales. The surrounding bedrock (exposed less than .5km–1km to the north and south of the abbey) consists of Lower Carboniferous Age Limestone, a fine-grained grey/blue calcareous rock. The bedrock is covered by boulder clay at this site. The limestone is exposed at a quarry immediately due east of the site on the opposite bank of the river Boyne. This was probably the source for much of the building material at Bective abbey. The soils of the area consist of grey/brown podzols and are generally very fertile.

Plate 1  View of Bective Abbey from the northwest.

Bective abbey and its lands are nestled in valley of the river Boyne as it runs on a northern course from Trim through Navan, west of the Hill of Tara. The abbey gives its name to the townland and parish of Bective in the barony of Upper Navan, which was the focus of its estate. Its lands were drained by the river Clady, and the river Boyne. In broad terms it is located in the ‘eastern triangle’ a part of Ireland, which receives less rain and contains less bog and mountain than any other area of similar size in the country. It also represents the traditional geopolitical focus of Ireland.

The area was well served in medieval times by a network of roadways with available crossing points on the rivers. Bective is located at a junction of routes running north-south and east west. The lands encompass two fording points. To the north Ath an Sidhe (ford of the fairies), thought to be one of the old roads to Tara, crosses the ford and goes straight to Teltown (Moore, B. 1961, 63) where the present railway line crosses the Boyne today. To the south is Beal an Atha (mouth of the ford) which is reflected in the townland name of Ballina. Nearby Tara was the focus of many ancient roadways. ‘Rót na cCarpat, for example, extended from Tara to Tlachtga (Hill of Ward) and on to Uisneach. The ford at Bective being conducive to such a route (O’Lochlainn, C. 1940, 472). A roadway recorded in the life of Finnian extended from south to north via Cill Dara, Ráith Imgain (Rathangan) and, passing close to Clonard, proceeded in a north-easterly direction towards Rossnaree (Walsh, P. 1915, 73–77). It too would have had to negotiate the river at Bective. The nearby townland of Shanbo indicates an early routeway to the north. A disused road runs along the western boundary of nearby Balgill.

1:2 Archaeological and historical background
Bective abbey, latin name Beatitudo Dei meaning the blessedness of God and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin was founded in 1147 with an endownment from Murchad Ua Máel Sechnaill, who ruled over the kingdom of Mide from 1106 to 1153. It was the first daughter house of Mellifont, established only five years after its foundation. Bective abbey was established during a period of some political upheaval with Ua Máel Sechnaill fighting to maintain his dominance in Mide. The boundaries of this kingdom were undergoing a gradual disintegration; a partition of Mide imposed by Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair, king of Connacht in 1144, saw the over-kingdom divided between Tigernán Ua Ruaic (northern part), Diarmait Mac Murchada (eastern part) and Murchad and Donnchad Ua Máel Sechnaill (western part) (Clinton 2000, 372–405; Walsh 1941, 163–83; Byrne, F.J. 1987, 1–42). It was also a period of intense competition for the high kingship between Ua Conchobair, Ua Lochlainn and Ua Briain.

The lands around Bective were formerly occupied by the sub-kingdom of Loegaire with their principal royal centre at nearby Tullyard (Walsh, P. 1940, 509). This grant was, therefore, a strategic move on the part of Ua Máel Sechnaill because the grant of lands to Bective abbey would have had a debilitating effect on the kings of Lóegaire and would have strengthened the Ua Máel Sechnaill hold on a part of the kingdom east of Lough Ennel. It would also have been prestigious to become a patron of the Cistercian Order and the first daughter-house of Mellifont abbey.

The monks established themselves in an area with an existing settled community in excellent farmland. This was not a wilderness ‘far from the concourse of men’; the ideal Cistercian location. There were open, unprotected settlements in the area indicated today by the presence of souterrains at Bective (MH 31:9; MH 31:18). These subterranean structures can be dated to the last centuries of the first millennium and the earliest centuries of the second millennium (Clinton 1998,139). In county Meath a high percentage were associated with open settlement sites dependant mainly on tillage for a living (Clinton 1998, 61).

Meath lies in an area of relatively low ringfort densities but there are high-status ringforts at Bective; to the west of the river crossing is the remains of a bivallate ringfort (diam. 56m) with others on or near the Cistercian estate at Balbrigh, Bective and Dunlough. There is a reference under the year 1150 in AFM to a ‘Dun Lochad’ in Lóegaire The destroyed ringfort at Dunlough could the location of this site (Moore, M. 1987, 100). There was also a religious presence. Clady is probably an early church site and another early church, possibly sixth century associated with St Finian is suspected at Ardsallagh (Eascair Branáin) townland which may also have been on an early route northwards from Clady church (Cogan 1862, I, 113; Gwynn & Hadcock 1970, 373).

The high status of the foundation at Bective is indicated by the fact that it was chosen to hold the remains of Hugh De Lacy in 1196, nine years after he was killed (Leask 1917, 96). In 1217 the abbot of Bective was involved in a riot at Jerpoint and was further charged with imprisoning a man in a tree stump until he died. He was sent to Clairvaux for trial. Subsequently, the prior of Beaubec in Normandy was appointed as abbot of Bective in 1227. During abbot Stephen of Lexington’s visitations to Ireland the following year in 1228, he visited Bective and described it as a strongly fortified place which could be used to help Clairvaux subdue the abbeys of Mellifont and Boyle (O’Dwyer 1982, 23). They agreed to strengthen Bective and enlarge it so that in future it could assist its mother Clairvaux. In 1228 it was affiliated to Clairvaux when the abbot of Buildwas visited (Ibid 49, 55). The small abbey of Shrule, County Longford was affiliated to Bective. In 1380, the abbot of ‘Bekedy’ received a writ from King Richard II, directing that no Irishman or any enemy of the king were to be admitted to its community (Leask 1917, 47).

The earliest description of the estate dates from 1384. Bective is referred to as Bekty and Bexty and is given custody of certain lands and tithes. These include a grange called Lekbla in County Meath; the tithes of the churches of Loghcrue (Loughcrew) and Demor (Damor); the grange of Raynghan; including 60 acres of arable land and 1 meadow in Kilgheny. They also included custody of a messuage and fishing weir in Balkyndroght (Leask 1917,47). In 1358 Brother John, abbot of Bective, went to Flanders for two years on business and nominated John Young and Ralph Dylan as his attornies in Ireland (Maxwell Lythe, H. C. 1911, 83). About 1488, Ismaena, widow of Jorel Comyn, brought a writ against the abbot for a third of a messuage and sixty acres of land at Ballybret (Balbrigh) at which time she paid a fine of one marc. Afterwards, the abbot agreed that a chaplain would celebrate a constant service for the repose of her soul and the souls of her ancestors (Archdall,1786, III, 517). In 1488, John abbot of Bective, received a royal pardon from Henry VII. An abbot of Bective attended the general chapter of Citeaux in 1512 and was also one of four appointed to investigate the affairs of the Cistercian nunnery in Derry in 1512 (Hogan, 1976, 3).

Bective was still functioning as a regular community in 1534, just two years before it was dissolved on 6 May 1536. The abbot was John English and the names of three other members of the community are specifically mentioned in documentation: the prior Thomas Prowd, the cellarer or bursar John Byrrell, and a monk Edmund Fyne (Hogan 1976, 6). Bective abbey was amongst the first of the monasteries to be suppressed. In the following year Sir John Alen, Master of the Rolls, wrote to the kings commissioners in Ireland advising that stones from the abbey should be used in the repair of Trim castle (Potterton 2005, 15). In 1537 the site of the Abbey of Bective and the lands of Bective, Balbroy, Cloncullen, Dunlough, Balgill, Balbradagh, Reneghan, Monktown by Trim, Balsoon, and Balaughe in the counties of Meath and Louth, were leased to Thomas Agarde of Bective for 21 years and the lease was renewed again in May 1545 (de Burca 1994, 52).

Figure 2  Bective Abbey monastic estate.

The extents made at Bective on 5 October 1540 are the most detailed accounts available and are provided in an edited form below (White, N.B. 1943, 267–70).. At the time of the dissolution the estate contained an estimated total of 1,580 acres (Fig. 2) valued at £83 18s 8p. There were eight granges reflected in the present townlands in the immediate area of the abbey, comprising Bective, the Grange (of Bective); Balgill, Balbrigh, Balbradagh; Dunlough, Cloncullen, Balsoon; Yellowwalls, a detached townland at Monktown near Trim, lands attached to the parish church at Balsoon and lands in Westmeath. There were nineteen tenants and twenty cottiers. The extents would indicate some deterioration and desertion from the land after dissolution. There are two cottages in ruins in Balbrigh and another messuage in Bective laid waste for the want of a lessee.

The 1540 extents indicate that a basic settlement hierarchy had developed on the estate with messuages (a dwelling house with out-offices and land) and cottages in each grange. The presence of a messuage suggests that individual property boundaries were in place, the greatest nucleation being at the Grange of Bective with five messuages and four cottages. By the sixteenth  century mixed farming was being practised on the granges with a major percentage of arable to pasture and meadow. In each land division there was a generous allotment of land for common pasture. The customs of the estate tenants refer to carting grain and hay in the demesne. This could also be to the monastic mill. Some of the tenants have their own ploughs others share a plough. They also had to help with the harvest. The tithes to the abbey were paid in units of copule of grain, an indication that a tillage based economy predominated. In addition to the farming system, there were the resources of a mill and a fish weir at Bective. The monks themselves were farming 250 acres under tillage, 7 acres of meadow and 23 of pasture. The farms outside the demesne varied in size from 15 to 70 acres. At Bective the extents refer to ‘other buildings necessary for the farmer’ suggesting that there are outbuildings within the precincts of the abbey.

A subsequent series of inquisitions to ascertain the possessions of this abbey also mention five orchards within the precincts of the abbey; a fulling mill erected by the farmer of the abbey, a watermill and a fishing weir on the Boyne. They also mention the fifty acre wood of Scryboke, a dove-house, and the fishery rights of the Boyne from Ardsallagh to Dunkerry. The extent of the rectory of Bective and the limitation of tithes as usually collected in the parish, are precisely defined in each townland.

By the sixteenth century, the Cistercians in Bective had become great landlords with the main source of income coming from rents, together with tithes, altarages from the rectory of Bectiff and oblations from the church of Bective. After the expulsion of the monks the community retired to a residence in the neighbourhood. One of the more colourful abbots was Sebastain or Stephen Shortal who became a Cistercian monk in the monastery of Nucale in Galicia, Spain. He became Titular abbot of Bective in Meath and died 3 December 1639 (Cogan 1862, 120).

The abbey and its possessions were purchased in 1552 by Andrew Wyse, Vice-Treasurer of Ireland for the sum of £1,380 16s 7d. There is a memorandum of the receipt of the money in the Calendar of the Patent and Close Rolls 1552 (Morrin, J. 1863, 265). A memorandum of the grant is also given reciting all the rights and privileges attached. The grant repeats much of the detail contained in the 1540 extents. It reads as follows:

Grant to Andrew Wyse, esquire, Vice-Treasurer, in consideration of the Irish, of the monastery of Bectife, with the manor and Lordship, and all edifices, churches, belfry, cemetery, woods, gardens, meadows, pastures, mills, and fishing weirs, in the county of Meath: the manor of Revaghe in the county of Westmeath, with court leet and view of frank pledge, fairs, markets, tolls, and customs, wards, messuages, and escheates, advowsons, donations, patronage of churches, vicarages, rectories, and all things spiritual arising out of the lands of Bectife, alias Grange of Bectife, Scribke, Claidaghe, Ballgill, alias Grange of Balgill, Ballradaghe alias the Grange of Ballradaghe, Douloghe, alias Dielogh, Clonecoylan, alias the Grange of Clonecoyellen, the two Balbrois, alias the Grange of Balbroy, Monketon near Trim, Balston, otherwise called Balsune, in the county of Meath; Renaghan, alias Renaghe, in the county of Westmeath; the rectories or chapels of Bectife and Cladaghe, with all the houses, edificies, churches, tithes, alterages, and oblations belonging to the same: To hold for ever by Knights service, by the service of one knight’s serviceas scutage runs in Ireland: Rent £4 5s 4d: – No date

Owing to financial difficulties, in 1552 Andrew Wyse was granted a licence to ‘alienate to Richard Dillon of Perteston, John Wycombe of Dublin, and Richard Cox, the site and possessions of the late abbey, monastery, or religious house of Bective including Scriboke, Cladaghe, Balgill, otherwise called the Grange of Balgill’ (de Burca 1994, 213). In 1558 Jacques Wingfielde was farming the lands for the Queen. In 1560 he conveyed Bective and other property to one Gregory Cole, citizen of London, or agent of his wife, Anne, Countess Dowager of Sussex, who re-conveyed them to him soon after. Following the death of Wyse in 1567 Bective passed to his son-in-law, Sir Alexander Fitton, and afterwards to his son-in-law, Sir Bartholomew Dillon of Riverstown castle (Kavanagh 2005, 45). Bective seems to have declined after this period and in 1619 the abbey was described as deserted (Hogan, 1976, 10). In 1630 there was a grant to Henry Stanes, as assignee of Roger Nott, of London:

… of the abbey, monastery, or religious house of the Bectiffe, with all the towns, villages, hamlets, lands, tenements, tithes, profits, and commodities…and also the manor of Renagh, in the county of Westmeath; to be held of his majesty in capite.

The premises were formed into a manor, to be called the manor of ‘Bectiffe, with Court leet and court baron, waifs and strays’, and the abbey buildings were adapted to create a manor house which served as the centre of the new estate. In 1639 Bective became the property of Sir Richard Bolton, of Brazille, in County Dublin. They were chiefly resident in Brazille, and Bective abbey was leased to others including Sir Thomas Taylour whose descendants, in recognition of this, became Earls of Bective. They resided there into the late eighteenth century (Kavanagh 2005, 50). The Civil Survey 1654–56 reports that the lands at Bective were owned by ‘Sir Edward Bolton of Brassele – Protestant’ (Simington 1940, 239). The Civil Survey lists within the townlands of Bective, Grange, Gillstowne, Ballybradagh, Bailbreagh, Cloncullen, Dunlogh and Screiboy; one castle, an abbey, a church (Clady), two mills and two weirs (at Bective). It remained in Bolton hands until 1862, when the abbey farm passed to a Bolton relative, Reverend Martin. He subsequently vested the abbey ruins to the Board of Public Works in 1894 (Leask 1917, 49).

1.3 Previous archaeological work: Excavations and geophysical survey
Five archaeological assessments have been carried out in the townland of Bective in recent years, three of which were located at some distance from the abbey and the results of these were of no archaeological significance. Three excavations have been carried out in the immediate vicinity of the abbey. A phase of testing was carried out in 1999 by Mr. David Sweetman in the field to the southwest of the abbey (99E0095, NGR 28594 25996). The testing was carried out as part of a proposed OPW scheme of road widening and installation of a car park for Bective abbey. Four areas were investigated and no archaeological material was recovered.

A further phase of testing was carried out in December 2006 under the direction of Ellinor Larsson of CRDS Ltd. Geophysical survey in 2005, by Earthsound Ltd., identified a number of potential archaeological features to the south of the abbey, which had little correlation to the visible earthworks on site (Bonsall and Gimson 2005). Subsequent test excavations positioned over the location of these anomalies showed that they were archaeological in nature and that the area had a very high archaeological potential. They provided tangible evidence for multi-phase medieval occupation, which was thought to be contemporary with the lifetime of the abbey.

Test excavations comprised the excavation of Test Trench A, 67m west of the abbey and another, Test Trench B, 23m southwest of the abbey. Test Trench A revealed a rectilinear feature defined by a ditch, which was 0.50m below ground level and measuring 3.50m wide and 0.56m deep. Charcoal from the fill of the ditch provided a date between 1660–1950AD, based on a C14 dating of a grain of carbonised barley. The ditch fill produced medieval pottery and an iron object. This suggests that the construction of the ditch resulted in the disturbance of earlier medieval deposits. The pottery found on the site was of three different types (all local) and of twelfth–thirteenth-century dates. The animal bones showed an unusual amount of fish bones (mainly retrieved from the samples) and bird bones, and most of the larger animals were quite young.

Test trench B exposed a low bank, which forms part of the rectilinear platform that is apparent to the south of the abbey (Larrson, E. 2008). This produced one sherd of medieval pottery and was cut by a pit that was dated from C14 analysis of charcoal to 1040–1230 AD. This pit contained a pea, cereal grains (including oats and wheat), and animal bones of cattle, pig, fish and a bird.

Further geo-physical survey took place at Bective abbey in June 2007. Gradiometer and resistance surveys were undertaken to the north and east of the perimeter wall surrounding the upstanding remains. They recorded the location of a significant number of anomalies thought to represent possible structural remains and features pertaining to former settlement. The majority of these anomalies extended to the north-east and beyond the survey limits.

The gradiometer Survey identified anomalies indicative of structural features, slot trenches and possible pit remains associated with the former choir and northern transept. The foundations of the former choir and northern transept were shown to extend within the area of investigation. The possible remains of a walled foundation lay north of the north transept. One potential burnt/fired structure was located to the southeast possibly indicating a floor surface and building southeast of the east transept. There was also a pit-like ‘response’, and a curving stone wall running at a diagonal to the abbey wall. This was also picked up c.8m out from the wall in the ground radar survey. It is thought to be c.6m wide.

In July 2009 further geophysical survey was undertaken by Joanna Leigh in the south and west precinct of Bective (Licence No. 09-R-149; Leigh 2009) (Fig. 3). The objective of this survey was to identify features within the abbey precinct that may relate to the original occupation of the abbey. A clear high resistance linear ‘response’ between the present boundary wall and the south elevation suggests a wall or structural remains with a terminus or gateway. This curves in the west suggesting an enclosing feature. It may be a foundation of the south wall of the original south range, which stood on the site prior to fifteenth century re-modelling of the abbey. South of this area beyond the boundary wall within a rectilinear banked enclosure identified in a topographical survey (see below and Fig. 1) high resistance responses suggest the location of two possible buildings and internal divisions. In the western precinct the resistance survey had identified the probable remains of a wall, running on a north/south axis and a silted up pond east of it.

Figure 3 Results of geophysical survey 2009–2010

A research excavation over four weeks in 2009 under the direction of Dr Geraldine Stout (Stout 2009, unpub.) revealed two main phases of activity of medieval and post-medieval date, the former represented by the south-western corner of a building with an external drain and enclosed by a medieval ditch and the later represented by a demolition event, erection of a property boundary and a single burial of human remains.

2. Archaeological Excavations 2010
2:1 Overview
The objectives of the 2010 excavation were twofold; to investigate a medieval building thought to be the monastic infirmary of Bective abbey and an enclosure in front of the South Range believed to be the medieval monastic garden. The former was represented by post-pads revealed during excavations in the southern precinct in 2009 (Pl. 2) and the latter was identified in the topographical and remote survey of the outer precinct.  A long narrow cutting (Cutting 3) was excavated across the enclosure to determine the original form and construction date of its enclosing elements and its probable function. Three further cuttings (Cuttings 1, 2, 4) were placed in the south precinct in the vicinity of the 2009 post-pads. These were de-sodded and then excavated by hand. Feature numbers were assigned consecutively to all cuts, fills and deposits encountered. Partially excavated features were excavated to the limit of the Cuttings. A full photographic record was compiled and samples were taken from all relevant features. The written record, which constitutes the site archive, includes the individual feature sheets, small finds records, drawing record and sample record.

Plate 2  Post-pads of medieval building exposed in Square 2.

2:2 Cutting 1
This cutting was placed to the north of the 2009 Cutting B to investigate the building represented by post-pads (Figs 4–5). Below the top sod (F001) the stony layer with mortar inclusions (demolition layer) was exposed in the southwest corner of the Cutting (F002), and extended in concentrations across the Cutting (F004, F012). Two modern post holes of a recent field boundary (F003, F007) disturbed the stratigraphy in this Cutting. Immediately below the stony layer deposits containing medieval pottery, animal bone, shells and mortar were exposed (F005). Burnt spreads, pits and wall footings exposed in the lower, medieval, levels of this Cutting are thought to be associated with the cereal drying kiln exposed in Cutting 2 and 4 (see below).

Figure 4  Plan of cuttings 1,2,4  and squares A, B.

 

Figure 5  Sections of Cuttings 2, 4 and Square B

There was a layer of burnt earth with charcoal and ash (F006) (L 0.07m, W 0.35m, D 0.07m) revealed in the southwest, running into the west baulk (L 0.07m, W 0.40m). Below this deposit a pit was partially exposed which ran into the baulk (F013) but was not present in Cutting 4. Running into the south section face was another pit-like feature (F016) (L 0.70m, W 0.50m, D 0.08m). It was cut into natural boulder clay and gravels. It had an upper fill of charcoal-enriched soil and a lower loose stone fill.  A short section of wall in the northeast (F009, L 1.04m, W 0.59m, D 0.60m) runs into Cutting 4. It survived to a one-course height and was built with undressed limestone blocks which were mortared. It had a more regular face in the south. In the west of the Cutting, there was an intense area of burning with fire-reddened clay and charcoal exposed at a depth of 0.60m below sod (F014) (L 2m, W 1.40m). This may be industrial waste associated with the kiln exposed in Cuttings 2 and 4. A stone footing (F015) was exposed running into the north section face. It is a single course and sat on natural boulder clay. The stones are lying flat and are well set to form a regular surface (L 1.70m, W 0.60m).

2:3 Cutting 2
Cutting 2 is located to the south of Cutting 3 and east of (2009) Square B (Figs 4–5). It was located with the objective of exposing further evidence for post-pads discovered in 2009. Excavation revealed the possible remains of a seventeenth-century structure and the ‘robber trench’ of a medieval wall which was part of the post-medieval demolition phase at Bective abbey. This cut through medieval and post medieval occupation layers and disturbed the chamber of a medieval kiln exposed at the base of the Cutting. Another medieval post-pad was exposed attached to a short section of wall and two stone-lined pits.

Plate 3  Robber trench and stone window jamb, Cutting 2.

The topsoil (F101) produced a range of unstratified medieval and post-medieval artifacts including pottery, glass, slates and iron objects. Below the topsoil the stony layer (demolition layer) (F102–3, F111) was exposed across the complete surface of the Cutting. This contained fragments of mortar and animal bones and a similar range of material as above. At this upper level a linear cut (F105–6) was discerned running on an east/west axis across the northern end of the cutting and into the eastern section face. It was c.1m wide (F131). The trench was straight-sided and flat-bottomed reaching an excavated depth of 0.70m deep. It abutted the post-pad of a thirteenth-century building and cut through a number of medieval occupation layers (F141, F142). The fill of the trench was mainly limestone rubble (F113), loose mortar fragments and rounded cobbles to a depth of 0.60m. The upper fill (F118–9) contained animal bones, an iron nail and medieval pottery. In the lowest level there was a layer of mortar and stone (F131) and a possible stone paved surface (F136, F138) which rested on boulder clay. This robber trench may have been associated with the main demolition phase of medieval walls at Bective abbey.

Running at a right angle and south of this ‘robber trench’, at the upper levels of the cutting, was a linear setting of stones (F106) (L 1.63m, W 0.45m) thought to be an interior wall with an east facing exterior. Stone collapse (F110) to the east of this produced a bronze tweezers and a 1680 Charles II coin indicating a seventeenth-century date for this structure. Underneath this wall was a series of occupation deposits that had built up between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. On this same level were some flat stone slabs that stopped just before the robbed trench indicating a floor surface. They may also have extended north of the cut (F134) where they lay on a light brown clay silt layer with charcoal flecks (F135).

These were covered by a spread of stone collapse (F121, F124, F128) containing perforated roof slates, a leading fragment for a window and cut stone with burnt limestone fragments. Running parallel to this in the west was another section of wall (F107) formed from three large, squared stones (L 1.15m, W 0.24m). This overlay a charcoal-enriched layer (F115) and a re-deposited boulder clay layer (F116) with burnt clay (F123). Underneath this was a waste deposit containing bird and small mammal bones (F125).

In the north-west corner of the cutting a further post-pad was exposed on the same line as those exposed in 2009 (Pl 4). It measured 0.61m, by 0.58m and was made up of large limestone blocks intermixed with smaller stones heavily mortared. It stands 0.60m high. The cut for this was revealed (F167). A mortared surface (F109) extended south of the pad that, on excavation, proved to be the upper surface of another medieval wall (F126, F168) which stands to a three course height (Fig. 6). It had a rubble core of mortared limestone with an external and internal wall face (L 0.80m W 1.00m). It is sitting on boulder clay. Abutting this section of wall to the south is a linear depression (F148) (L 1.60m, W 0.80m). The fill produced oyster shells, bone, medieval pottery and sticky light coloured deposits.

Plate 4  Post-pad in Cutting 3.

A shallow depression which is probably a continuation of the same feature (F304) in Cutting 3 extends from the north section face (L 0.75m, W 0.53m, D 0.28m–0.78m). This is probably part of the cereal-drying kiln (Figs 4–5). It was filled with loose, dark grey sandy deposit and stones. In the south-east corner of Cutting 2 the external area of the kiln chamber was defined by curving bands of layers of sandy mortar (F155) and clay layers (F152/F157) containing pebbles and stone fragments. The base of the kiln chamber contained  large granite slabs ringed by smaller granite stones (F156). A stone surface or platform formed from regular limestone blocks enclosed the western side of the kiln chamber (F157). The opening to the kiln was in the north. A fire-reddened clay surface (T 0.03–0.05m) formed the base of the opening into the kiln chamber (F165) under which there was a grey, compact clay (F169). There were two large burnt boulders delimiting the opening to the kiln chamber (F158) and a thick layer of charcoal (F159) (T 0.15m-0.25m) which covered the centre of the chamber. Overlying this was a mix of charcoal enriched soil which produced Ham Green ware (F160). There are a number of lenses of varying deposits at the entrance (F176) which overlay a yellow clay layer (F177). A charcoal spread (F161) exposed in the north-east corner of the cutting continues into Cutting 4 as F306 and may have covered the flue feature in Cutting 2.

Plate 5  Chamber of cereal-drying kiln in Cutting 2.

In Cutting 2, between the post-pad wall and the kiln chamber, two stone-filled pits were uncovered (F171, F173). The former was a circular, stone-lined pit (F171) (Diam. 0.70m, D 0.40m) with a flat-bottom and straight-sides. The fill contained part of a window jamb with a glazing bar hole present (Pl 3). Pit F173 (L 1.10m, W 0.80m, D 0.16m) produced medieval pottery.

2:4 Cutting 3
A long narrow trench orientated east/west measuring 2m by 30m was excavated across the north end of a rectangular enclosure identified in the topographical survey undertaken in 2009 (Fig. 1, Pl 6). This enclosure is located in front of the south range of the abbey. Prior to excavation it was defined by a broad, counter-scarp bank enclosing a sloped, rectangular area 43m by 30m. The objective was to determine the probable function and date of this enclosure. It was thought to be the former monastic kitchen garden associated with the south range.

Plate 6  Cutting 3 excavated through monastic garden.

Below the sod a relatively shallow loose, stony layer (D. 0.15m) was exposed across the full extent of the cutting (F201). It had mortar, slate and snail inclusions. There was a higher concentration of larger stones in the west end of the cuttings which corresponded to the position of a bank. Below this stony layer (demolition layer) an external ditch and inner bank were exposed in the west end of the cutting. Midway along the cutting, within the interior of the enclosure, garden soil with charcoal-enriched shell deposits, a linear trench and a stone spread were exposed.

Plate 7  Garden ditch, Cutting 3.

Cutting 3 revealed the partial profile of the external ditch (W 2.80m, D 1.20m). It had a gradual side profile with a flat base. Its upper ditch fill (F205) was exposed at a depth of 0.80m below sod in the west end of the Cutting. It was a rich, dark brown clay silt with pebbles, charcoal and mortar inclusions. It produced Ham Green and local medieval pottery, animal bones, shells, wood fragments and iron objects. It was cut into natural boulder clay and gravels. Lying on the upper ditch fill at a depth of 0.70m was a curvilinear arrangement of stones, set on their narrow axis (F206). This may have been the disturbed remains of some form of outer revetment or facing for the inner bank (F204).

The inner bank was exposed at a depth of 0.38m below sod. It had a rounded profile and was made up of orangey-brown clayey sand or redeposited boulder clay with stone inclusions (W 5m, H 0.30m). It was stepped along its inner face where there was a loose stoney deposit (F209) that may have been an inner revetment. It produced medieval pottery including a sherd of Saintonge pottery and animal bones. A charocal rich deposit with identifiable pieces of wood was exposed below the stony layer and above the bank material may be evidence for planting on the original bank (F202). There was a concentration of animal bones at the same level (F203).

A linear trench (F2010), ran on a north-south axis midway along Cutting 3 in the interior of the enclosure. It was revealed at a depth of 0.55m below the sod (W 0.82m, D 0.18m). It had straight sides and was cut into boulder clay. It contained a fill of brown sandy clay with pebbles. As it ran on the same axis as the enclosing bank it is thought to be contemporary with the enclosure. A charcoal-enriched deposit to the east of this trench (F2011) contained dense quantities of seashells that included mussels, whelks, cockles, oyster shells and medieval pottery. The deposit filled a shallow depression in the natural boulder clay (W 1.30m, D 0.15m). This is probably medieval household waste. The density of shells in the mix suggests that it could also have been deliberately added as a fertiliser. A stone spread (F212; L1.70m, W 1.08m) to the west of the trench was exposed at a depth of 0.33m below sod. These were placed haphazardly on the natural boulder clay surface.

Below the ploughsoil in the east end of the cutting there is a lighter brown subsoil which is a silty gravely clay. It produced medieval pottery, oyster shells, animal bones and glass fragments. Some fish bones were also identified.

2:5 Cutting 4
This cutting was placed to the northeast of Square B to determine if the building found in 2009 extended in a north-easterly direction. Excavations revealed the flue of a cereal-drying kiln, part of its stone made superstructure, a series of rake-out layers and pits (Figs 4–5, Pls 8–9).

Plate 8  Flue of cereal-drying kiln in Cutting 4 (from the northwest).

Plate 9  Cutting 4 from the south.

Removal of the topsod revealed the stony layer (demolition layer) with mortar inclusions (F301) which extended across the Cutting (D 0.47m). Immediately below the stony layer medieval deposits were exposed. A charcoal-rich spread (F302) extended across most of the Cutting. It was a silty clay mix (D 0.05m) which produced medieval pottery and a concentration of plough pebbles. It was made up of a sequence of burnt layers comprising alternating layers of charcoal, pale burnt clay and ash. This layer extended south into Cutting 2 and also produced charred cereal remains. This deposit looked like kiln rake-out. A very light sandy clay surface (F305) forms the base of the charcoal spread which rests on boulder clay (F308).

These ‘rake-out’ deposits were delimited in the northwest by a section of collapsed wall (F303) exposed at a depth of 0.45m below sod. It survives to two courses (H 0.45m, L 2.00m, W 0.57m). The stones are heat fractured. This runs on an east/west axis and continues west into Cutting 1. It is defined in the east (F314) by a single course of mortared, undressed stone walling (L2.13m). A charcoal-rich deposit (F307) lay on the natural boulder clay in the middle of the Cutting and up against and under the wall collapse. It was mixed with a sandy mortar layer which produced worked wood. Inside (south) of the wall a stone floor slab was uncovered (F309) and a disturbed area of stones laid flat (F313) suggesting a floor surface with evidence for mortar. The inner face of the stones are fire-reddened suggesting they were part of the industrial activity associated with the kiln. They were disturbed by a gully (F312, see below).

A flue-like, stone-built linear feature was uncovered in the east of the Cutting at a depth of 0.70m below the sod (L 2.30m, W 0.80m, H 0.60m). It was defined by two lines of limestone blocks set on their narrow axis which line a linear depression and run on a north/south axis for a distance of c. 2.30m. It was wider in the south than the north end. The west face is formed by three stones, the east by four. There were two slabs resting on the the south end of the east face. Stones partially blocked an opening in the north end of the flue and these were in line with a wall (F303) that defined the northern limit of the charcoal spreads. Attached to the south end of the flue is a shallow depression (F304) revealed when part of the charcoal spread was removed in the south-east corner of the Cutting. It was filled with grey, charcoal rich sandy silty clay (F306; L2.60m, W 1.10m, D 0.40m). This feature ran south into Cutting 2 where it produced charred cereal grain.

West of this depression, two pits (F310, F311) were uncovered running into the south section face. The former (F310) was cut into the natural boulder clay at a depth of 0.93m below sod (W 0.55m, D 0.33m). It was filled with grey sandy, silty clay with charcoal and was overlain by the charcoal and ash layer (F302). The latter (F311) comprised a concentration of large stone blocks protruding from a partially excavated pit. This was filled with charcoal-enriched silty clay. It was sub-rectangular in plan (W 0.76m). There was gravel in the base of the trench. It produced a sherd of local medieval pottery, charcoal and bone.

There was a gap in the north wall (F303) (W 0.74m) which appeared to be caused by secondary activity associated with a gully. This gully (F312) ran parallel and west of the stone-lined flue (F309) and continues into the north section face where it becomes more shallow. It ran on a north/south axis for a distance of 2.06m (W 0.53m, D 0.40m). It is cut into natural boulder clay. There was a concentration of ash in its southern end. It disturbed a possible stone-lined drain (F315) which produced large quantities of animal bones.

3. Archaeological Finds
3:1 Overview
A total of 1,187 artifacts were retained during the course of excavation E4028 in 2010. The finds were retrieved from 95 separate contexts. The provisional totals are:
519   Medieval potsherds
206   Post-medieval potsherds
28     Medieval and post-medieval floor tiles
5       Medieval ridge tiles
239   Metal finds
54     Clay pipe fragments
33     Plough pebbles
2       Coins
27     Glass fragments
87         Perforated slate
9         Fragments of worked stone/mouldings
1       Flint scraper
Finds were subject to limited remedial conservation on site where necessary, bagged according to material and suggested date. All finds are listed in the Finds Register.

3:2 Prehistoric Finds
Only one piece of worked flint, a flint scraper was recovered during the archaeological excavation in 2010.

3:3 Medieval Finds
An estimated total of 519 sherds of pottery were found during the archaeological excavations in 2010.These included Leinster Cooking ware, Trim, Dublin wares, Saintonge and Ham Green. The wares will be analysed by Ms Clare McCutcheon.
An estimated 226 metal finds were found during the excavation. These consisted of a bronze tweezers pin, nails, rivets, hooks, iron locks, and unidentified objects.

3:4 Post-Medieval Finds
An estimated 206 sherds of post-medieval pottery, which included Sgraffito ware, Buckley ware, brownwares, Staffordshire combware, North Devon wares Martincamp were recovered. An estimated 54 clay pipes bowls and stems were found.

4. Archaeological Samples
A total of 277 samples were retained during the course of the excavation (Appendix 2). These comprise: 162 animal bone samples, 30 soil samples, 62 shells, and 23 charcoal and 35 miscellaneous.

4:1 Animal/fish Bone
A total of 162 animal bone samples were taken. These are being examined by Fiona Beglane, Sligo I.T. A large quantity of the animal bones have come from stratified medieval deposits. A preliminary examination has identified cows, sheep, boar and horse. The articulated remains of a number of birds  and fish bone were recovered.

4:2 Soil Samples
A total of 30 soil samples were taken for environmental analysis. These are being examined for environmental evidence.

4:3 Other samples
A large number of slates were found during the excavation, many perforated. These were roof tiles. They provide a significant insight into the roofing methods of buildings formerly on the site. On earlier roofs slates were fixed with wooden pegs and later they were fixed onto the roof with two iron nails at the top corners of the slate.

Plate 10  Plough pebbles from Cutting 4 found in sieve.

Plate 11  On-site environmental lab.

Plate 12  Shells from the monastic garden, Cutting 3

Plate 13  Wood sample from burnt deposits in Cutting 4.

5 Discussion and conclusions
The focus of the 2010 excavations was the south precinct of Bective abbey. The objectives of the 2010 excavation were twofold; to expose further remains of a medieval building discovered in 2009 and to investigate an enclosure in front of the South Range of the abbey which was thought to be the former site of the medieval monastic garden. Excavation over four weeks successfully revealed further evidence for the medieval building when a post-pad was exposed attached to a short section of wall. The flue, chamber and stone-built superstructure of a medieval cereal-drying kiln were also uncovered in association with a series of rake-out deposits and pits in the lower medieval levels. The possible remains of a seventeenth century structure was uncovered in the upper levels of the site. Excavations in 2010 also confirmed a medieval date for the construction of the enclosure in front of the South Range and uncovered within its interior ‘garden soil’ with charcoal-enriched shell deposits, a linear trench and a stone spread.

To date three post-pads and a section of mortared wall of a medieval building have been uncovered. Another possible section of this medieval wall, which formerly abutted one of the post pads, was robbed during the Post-medieval demolition phase at Bective abbey. This building had an external drain and was enclosed by a medieval ditch. It is aligned ESE/WNW. At this stage it is difficult to determine whether we are dealing with the interior or outer walls of a structure as the post pads may have carried internal arches. Contrasts in surface deposits seemed to suggest an ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. Further investigations to the north and west of the 2010 Cuttings are needed to establish its full extent.

The excavation revealed evidence for processing of cereal on a large scale. The cereal probably came from the farms or granges on the surrounding monastic estate. The Bective kiln is of ‘keyhole’ type which is the most common type of cereal-drying kiln found in Ireland. Their overall size relates to capacity and efficiency. The Bective example fits in well with the average dimensions and the fact that it is stone-lined (Monk, & Kelleher 2005, 77–114). The closest parallels for the Bective kiln is that from Kilferagh, Co. Kilkenny which was dated by pottery to the thirteenth–fourteenth century (Hurley 1987, 88–100). The Bective example might be earlier, however. The relationship between the kiln and the medieval building needs further investigation. For the most part, structural evidence elsewhere indicates the presence of buildings close to the kilns rather than the kilns within buildings with the exception of Rathbane South, County Limerick, where a kiln might have been inside a barn and at Haynestown, which featured a kiln inside a storage shed (Monk & Kelleher 2005, 84).

The Cistercians follow the strict Rule of St Benedict and divide their day between prayer, manual labour, and reading. Manual labour is of central importance. In Ireland, they had a huge role in the development of agriculture and horticulture. Even today the Cistercians at New Mellifont in County Louth run their own farm and nurseries. The Cistercians are renowned for their skill at gardening and their meatless diet included vegetables in quantities. They live close to the land, to gardens, to growing things. Their readings, such as the ‘Song of Songs’, is full of garden imagery. Their medieval monasteries were self-contained and self-sufficient; all was situated within the enclosure so that the monks were not compelled to wander outside. The Plan of St Gall, a template for the layout of medieval monasteries throughout Europe, shows that an area within the precinct was set aside for various gardens including physic, herb, kitchen and ornamental gardens. Each of these gardens had a specific location usually close to a building where these raw materials would ultimately be used (Price, L. 1982).

The topographical survey undertaken in 2009 identified a number of low earthworks in the immediate vicinity of the upstanding remains. Theses enclose regular areas that are roughly rectangular or square in plan. Immediately south of the abbey, there is a square enclosure defined by a low broad embankment, c.43m east/west by c.46m north/south. It has been encroached by the present national monuments boundary wall. The ground falls away to the south-east and the Boyne river. Given its location outside the south range of the abbey, where all the cooking would have taken place, it was thought that this could be the location of the medieval kitchen garden. Environmental samples taken in 2009 produced evidence for herbs, vegetables, salads and fruits on the site.

In the 2009 season a drain running along the remains of a medieval building in the south precinct of Bective abbey also produced evidence for herbs, vegetables, salads and fruits including cabbage/mustard, dock, sorrel, wild raddish pulses and vetches and elderberries. Pottage was frequently used as the first dish at dinner and its basic ingredients were leeks, coleworths, peas, beans and oatmeal which was all boiled up in a stock to which was added onions, shallots, garlic, parsley and other herbs. Mustard cabbage is good for removing phlegm, sorrel for colds and goosegrass for swollen glands. Dock, sorrel, wild raddish and cabbage/mustard have all been recorded as being eaten raw as salad, boiled down and used as pottage in stews and soups, and as vegetables similar to spinach. The seed pods and leaves of goose grass/cleavers can also be used as a substitute for spinach if boiled and their seeds can be roasted and ground down to make ‘coffee’. Pulses and vetches were also retrieved on the site and are recorded to have been used to thicken stews and as additions to pottages. In times of poor harvest, they are also known to have been milled along with wheat/barley/oat flour to make bread.

In 2010 a cutting was placed across this enclosure to determine its date and function. There are a number of different archaeological indicators for the presence of gardens which were observed at Bective: the presence of ‘garden soil’, a soil rich in organic material (Collins, B. 1996); abraded fragments of shell, bone and ceramic indicating the manuring and regular cultivation; and the presence of an enclosure. The interior was almost featureless which is what one would expect for a garden. The only features identified, was a shallow linear trench running north/south on the same axis as the enclosure and an isolated spread of stones. These may indicate some internal division in the garden. In vegetable and medicinal gardens, raised beds were often a major feature from the plan of St. Gall onward. Beds were almost universally rectangular, and arranged in a regular pattern, either windowpane check or checkerboard. The individual raised planting beds, wattle fences, and central well head of the garden are all characteristics typically found in medieval monastic gardens. A number of soil samples were taken for environmental analysis and these results are eagerly awaited.

The soil profile down to boulder clay was a rich garden soil and was much deeper downslope. This may have resulted from turning the plough which creates a positive lynchet. Large quantities of plough pebbles have been found on site indicating that a mouldboard plough was used here in medieval times. There were large deposits of shell particularly mussels, cockles, whelks. These could simply be a result of household waste but they could have been used as fertiliser. These are pure lime with other minor constituents which were also beneficial. They could be thrown on unburned. They were being used as manure in Wexford and Carlow in the thirteenth century, in Donegal in the seventeenth century and in north county Dublin in the eighteenth century (Collins, J.F. 2008, 51–55).

The results of the 2010 excavation of the southern precinct of Bective abbey are very encouraging. Structural remains have thrown light on the economic and industrial activities of this medieval Cistercian abbey. A broad range of domestic artifacts such as iron nails/rivets, ridge tiles, roof tiles and floor tiles have improved our knowledge of the appearance of the medieval buildings within the precinct. Pottery evidence points to contacts between this community and Dublin, Britain and the Continent.  The objectives of the proposed 2011 season of excavation are to be threefold: firstly to uncover the full extent of the medieval building and determine what it would have been used for within the abbey precinct. Secondly, to further investigate an enclosure in front of the South Range thought to be the medieval monastic garden. This area does not appear to have been disturbed during the post-medieval demolition phase at Bective Abbey and contains rich medieval deposits. Thirdly, to initiate a detailed architectural and descriptive survey of the upstanding remains at Bective Abbey

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2 Comments so far
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Hi I am currently doing my final year thesis on the medicinal uses of plants within monastic complexes in Ireland, and was just wondering would you have any information regarding pollen finds at your site as well as the location or possible location of the herb garden at the site. kind regards

Comment by sean murray

Brilliant stuff! Great report – well done for getting this together so efficiently! MP

Comment by Michael Potterton




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