11.1 : Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Co. Galway 92E0102
Site location: NGR 08176/20975 SMR GA110-039---
Fig.11.1.1: Location map of Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Co. Galway [OSI]
11.1.1: Aerial view looking north, Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Co. Galway
Fig.11.1.2: Main structural elements, Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Co. Galway
The fort of Dún Aonghasa is perched at the edge of sheer sea cliffs on the SW side of Inis Mór in the Aran Islands (Fig. 11.1.1; Plate 11.1.1). It is an extensive cliff-top fort that is roughly D-shaped in plan and encloses 5.7 hectares. The site is defended by three principal walls and a substantial chevaux de frise which lies outside the middle wall (Fig 11.1.2). The work on Dún Aonghasa was carried out over four seasons from 1992-5, as part of the Western Stone Forts project of the Discovery Programme. The primary objectives of the excavation were to investigate whether any archaeological deposits were preserved in situ and to establish whether such deposits in turn might provide any dating of the extant structural elements.
During excavation (Fig 11.1.3) three main phases of activity were revealed and some pre-enclosure activity was also detected by radiocarbon dating food remains from the inner enclosure to 1500 BC.
11.1.3: Plan of excavated features, Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Co. Galway
Around 1100 BC (Phase 1) the first enclosure was erected by piling rubble against large upright stones. A number of structures were detected and although poorly preserved it appeared they were constructed of timber with the main posts set on stone foundations.
The best preserved structure uncovered was a roughly circular hut (Hut 1), 4.8m in diameter the walls of which extended under the inner enclosure wall. The interior of the hut was filled with a midden type deposit including pottery, a clay mould fragment for a spearhead and a bone spindle whorl. The date of this hut is however very uncertain and more recently it is thought that it is not Late Bronze Age in date, though it clearly predates the inner enclosure.
East of the hut a possibly contemporary stone-lined trough and stone hearth was cut into the midden layer and the hearth yielded a date of 752-392 Cal. BC. The foundations of a second hut and the remains of a stone lined pit were discovered to the east of Hut 1. Faunal remains recovered included sheep, cattle, fish, limpets and periwinkle shells. Some barley grains and a number of saddle querns were also uncovered along with large pottery vessels. Stone axes, hammers and whetstones, bone pins and needles and bone, stone, pumice, glass and amber beads were all retrieved. A number of clay moulds used to cast bronze objects suggested on-site manufacturing and four perforated bronze rings found together near the cliff edge inside the fort may have been a deliberate deposit. A large fire and dense concentration of animal bone was detected in the inner enclosure and may have represented a feasting area. A large quarried hollow in the bedrock at the NE corner contained an infant burial.
After about 500 BC there was a decrease in activity at the fort and the second phase of building may have been prompted by the same event which caused the construction of a number of coastal promontory forts along the western coast of Ireland. The triple wall defences were probably built along the western side of fort during this phase and the chevaux de frise was erected. The remains of a structure and some pits in the middle enclosure were also excavated.
The final phase (Phase 3) may be dated to 500-900 AD based on comparison with similar forts. This saw the inner wall reinforced and heightened. Some contemporary occupation levels were uncovered but it did not appear to form a major settlement.
The excavation of Dún Aonghasa was vital in gaining a deeper understanding of the western stone forts and particularly the density of sites on the Aran Islands. It provided evidence for early activity and long term occupation, with the material culture suggested a strong link to the mainland and a certain level of wealth.
Cotter, C. 1993 ‘Dun Aonghasa’, Kilmurvey, Inismór’. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd., Bray. 31-32.
Cotter, C. 1993. ‘Western Stone Fort Project: Interim report’. Discovery Programme Reports 2: Project results 1993. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1-11.
Cotter, C. 1994 ‘Dun Aonghasa, Kilmurvey, Inismór’. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 39-40.
Cotter, C. 1994 ‘Western Stone Fort Project: Interim report’. Discovery Programme Reports 4: Project results and reports 1994. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1-14.
Cotter, C. 1995 ‘Dun Aonghasa, Kilmurvey, Inis Mór’. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1994. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 39-40.
Cotter, C. 1996. ‘Dun Aonghasa, Kilmurvey, Inis Mór’. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1995. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.