Creevykeel looking west across the fully-excavated monument in 1935.

Finds at Creevykeel court cairn

 

Finds from Creevykeel

There were plenty of finds from the excavations at Creevykeel, dating to the original neolithic use and the early Christian period. Within the main chambers were four pits which had some token deposits of cremated bone - too few and fragmentary to say if they were a burial.

Some of the pottery from Creevykeel.

They may well have been animal bone remains from feasting. A piece of worked flint was found in one of the pits. Between the dividing stones that seperate the large chamber they found a polished stone axe. Other finds from the inner chamber included a large flint knife, about 13 cm long, arrowheads, pot sherds, some quartz crystals, and more flint scrapers.

Of the three smaller chambers at the west end of the cairn, the badly damaged chamber B on the north side had many fragments of neolithic pottery, the remains of at least 8 pots. Chamber C contained only modern rubbish. Chamber D yielded some flakes of flint and some quartz chips.

Right, the two polished neolithic axeheads, one from the chamber, the other from the entry passageway at the east end of the cairn.

There were plenty of finds from the early Christian period too. The chamber seems to have been unroofed at the time, and there was evidence it had been used: a layer of soil 40 cm deep with bones of ox and sheep and periwinkle shells. Lumps of iron slag and some bronze were found outside the entrance and some 70 pounds of slag were found in the bottom of the smelting pit. Three iron knives and a blue glass bead, and three fragments of pottery were also found.

 

 

Hugh O'Neill Hencken

Hugh O'Neill Hencken was born in New York City on January 8, 1902, the son of Albert Charles and Mary Creighton O'Neill Hencken. He spent his youth in Pennsylvania, and went to Princeton University in 1920. He graduated from Princeton with an A.B. in 1924 and went on to Cambridge University to receive a B.A. (1926), an M.A. (1929), and his PhD in archaeology in 1930.

Hencken received numerous honorary degrees from institutions that included Cambridge University and the National University of Ireland. He was appointed Associate in European Archaeology at Harvard University in 1930 and was made Assistant Curator of European Archaeology at the Peabody Museum the following year. He was Curator of the same department from 1933-1960, and also taught at London, Oxford, and Edinburgh universities during this period. Hencken married Mary Thalassa Alfred Cruso October 12, 1935. They had three daughters: Ala, Sophia, and Thalassa. His wife, who had a diploma in archaeology from London University, died June 11th, 1997. From 1955-1960 Hencken served as the Director of Prehistoric Studies at the American School of Prehistoric Research. He was a Lecturer in Anthropology at Harvard University in 1943-44, 1948 and 1956.

Hencken conducted excavations and museum research on Iron Age peoples and objects in England, Ireland, Morocco, Algeria, Italy, Greece and elsewhere in Europe and North Africa. A member of professional and academic societies too numerous to mention, Hencken was also a prolific writer, publishing excavation reports, articles, and books on his work in Europe. He died in 1981.

 

 

 

 

Hencken's plan of the main chamber at Creevykeel.

Excavations in 1935

Creevykeel was excavated between July 25 and September 4 1935 by the fourth Harvard archaeological mission, as part of the first scientific excavations in Ireland, and led by Hugh O'Neill Hencken. Twenty seven workers were involved in the dig, and the cairn material was removed entirely (see photo below) and then replaced. They found that the large structural chunks of sandstone are resting on the old ground surface, rather than placed in sockets.

Large areas of the court were paved with small flat slabs and in places, cobble stones. Sea sand from the nearby shore was also found. Evidence of large fires - cremated bone and charcoal were found in the court. It was also discovered that the monument was expanded several times. It began as a smaller monument with an open court, which was eventually enlarged and lengthened into a full enclosed court.

Revetments were found in the sides of the cairn, where there were probably drystone walls originally holding up the sides of the monument. This can also be seen in the alignment of the chamber and the passageway: they are not in line. The later entrance to the court is skewed more to the south. The actual passage is oriented to Arroo mountain. The two axis are marked on Hencken's plan, below.

A photo from Hencken's excavation at Creevykeel, showing all the cairn material removed.

The round feature in the court proved to be an early Christian smelting pit, where metal was worked. This addition would have been added perhaps 4,000 years after the original construction of the monument. The Iron age and early Christian metalworkers appear to have liked working in ancient sites and unusual places such as megaliths and crannogs, and megalithic sites seem to have perhaps held magical properties in relation to metalwork.

Another image of Creevykeel with the surrounding wall removed.

One of the stones on the north side of the court was pushed over to make way for the smelting pit, and another had holes cut into it, probably to secure some kind of covering over the metalworking area. Two hearths were discovered outside the circular structure.

 

They may well have been animal bone remains from feasting. A piece of worked flint was found in one of the pits. Between the dividing stones that seperate the large chamber they found a polished stone axe. Other finds from the inner chamber included a large flint knife, about 13 cm long, arrowheads, pot sherds, some quartz crystals, and more flint scrapers.

Of the three smaller chambers at the west end of the cairn, the badly damaged chamber B on the north side had many fragments of neolithic pottery, the remains of at least 8 pots. Chamber C contained only modern rubbish. Chamber D yielded some flakes of flint and some quartz chips.

Right, the two polished neolithic axeheads, one from the chamber, the other from the entry passageway at the east end of the cairn.

There were plenty of finds from the early Christian period too. The chamber seems to have been unroofed at the time, and there was evidence it had been used: a layer of soil 40 cm deep with bones of ox and sheep and periwinkle shells. Lumps of iron slag and some bronze were found outside the entrance and some 70 pounds of slag were found in the bottom of the smelting pit. Three iron knives and a blue glass bead, and three fragments of pottery were also found.

?The Folklore of Creevykeel.
According to Mr. Henry Morris, the Irish name of the site is Caiseal an Bhaoisgin. In 1935 the only Irish speaker that could be found in the district, Mr. Patrick Healy of Mullaghmore, called it Caislean Bhaoisgin, and so did Mr. Edward Connelly of Creevykeel, who, though he had forgotten his Irish, remembered the name of the cairn. Mr. Healy also called the neighbouring well Tobar Baoisgin and the mountain behind it Beann Bhaoisgin. I am indebted to Dr. Joseph Raftery of the National Museum of Ireland for collecting the information on the Irish names.

The writer also heard the following stories from Mr. Edward Connelly, who was then a man of about 80, and who lived near the cairn. He said that the replaced lintel had originally stood erect on one edge upon its supporting uprights instead of lying flat, and that under it on the northern side there was another smaller stone between it and the jamb stone of the entrance. This was perhaps the broken stone that was moved during the excavation (p. 60). Though the story that this stone over the entrance from the court into Chamber CI once stood erect like a pediment sounds very improbable, it is generally believed in the district, and it was also told by Mr. John Hannon of Creevykeel. Mr. Connelly said that 'the prophecy of the stone,' which he had heard since he was a boy long before it fell, was that it would be thrown down 'by three brothers of the one name.' About thirty years ago three brothers upset the stone. It is incidentally worth mentioning that, had the stone ever stood erect, it could have been pushed over by three men, but certainly not if it lay flat as we replaced it.

About a century ago, according to Mr. Connelly, there were still-houses for making poteen concealed among the ruins of the cairn. One day fifty mounted men set out from Sligo to capture the poteen-makers and their still. But while they were on their way, a white hare appeared on a stone wall beside the cairn, and the owners of the still decided to follow it. It led them to within sight of the mounted men, and the poteen-makers, realizing their danger, rushed back to the cairn to save their still. Thereafter the white hare always appeared to them whenever the authorities attempted a capture, and due to these warnings the still was never seized. This hare, though sometimes chased by dogs, was never caught.

Mr. Connelly also said that when he was about seventeen he cut a cane from a bush near the cairn and carried it one morning when he was driving some sheep to a fair. At the point where the road passes within a few yards of the cairn, his bootlace became untied, and he stooped down to tie it, laying the cane in the road as he did so. When he looked up again the cane was gone, and, though he searched for it for half an hour, he finally had to go to the fair without it. The next morning about eleven o'clock he passed by the same way and saw his cane lying in the middle of the road exactly where he had left it. In spite of all the horses and carts that had gone to and from the fair by that road, there was not a single mark on the cane. After that he decided to cut no more bushes near the cairn.

About thirty years ago Mr. Connelly saw a hen pheasant on the cairn and went toward it to try to catch it but did not attempt very seriously to do so. When it was almost within his grasp, it flew away a short distance and then alighted. Again he nearly caught the bird, and again it eluded him. This happened several times until the pheasant disappeared into what Mr. Connelly called the 'pipe,' which appeared to be the passage connected with the Early Christian structure in the court. This ‘pipe’ Mr. Connelly assumed to be several hundred yards long. These events, always with the same hen pheasant, repeated themselves for about ten years. Mr. Connelly said that he thought that he came to no harm because he had not really meant to harm the bird, but that it might have been otherwise had he seriously tried to catch it. He asked what was going to be done with the stones which had been removed from the cairn, and he highly approved of their being replaced. He added that anyone who touched them meaning no harm would not be harmed, but if anyone touched them meaning harm, they might take some form ofvengeance.

It was interesting to notice that all through Mr. Connelly's conversation about the site, he regarded it not as a grave but as a dwelling inhabited at the present time. In this regard it takes its place with forts, raths and ruins of all ages, which are the regular abode of ’the other people.’

 

Some of the pottery from Creevykeel.


 

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