In 2010, The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS), under the Directorship of Finola O’Carroll, started a long term programme of archaeological excavation at the site. The excavation work is carried out annually in the summer months and has a number of objectives:
- To determine the extent of the archaeological remains
- To investigate the nature and extent of human burial on the site
- To teach third level students archaeological methodologies
- To facilitate members of the local community and visitors in access to the archaeology of the site, through participation in investigations, education and outreach programmes for schools, and information events for the community, tourists and visitors
Ultimately we hope to be able to leave the archaeological site with a permanent open museum in place. Depending on the condition of the site, and scope for conservation of the walls and structural remains on site, it may be possible to walk the line of the walls of the friary, and imagine the scale of the buildings that once stood on the site. Examples of such exhibitions include Monasterboice: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/midlandseastcoast/OldMellifontAbbey/
What has been found so far?
Between 2010 and 2012, excavation has been carried out by a team including local people from Meath, Irish students from all over the country, and international students from all over the world.
Work started around the area where there is an ‘out crop’ of masonry; the excavation around this unveiled the remains of what was probably part of the original thirteenth century stone tower of the medieval church. A stone arch and spiral staircase were also visible in this area. Having identified the church, work was extended to the west of this and a long area was opened up to follow the line of the walls associated with the church, and to see if the cloister (usually located beside the church in medieval friaries) survived below ground.
This area revealed a number of significant findings:
- The extent to which the buildings had been ‘quarried’
- The church area had been used for burial at some point during the lifetime of the church buildings (thirteenth-seventeenth centuries)
- The site has been used in more recent periods for the burial of children, as a cillín.
Work was further undertaken in 2011 and 2012 to locate the south-western, north-western and north-eastern corners of the cloister. This work has so far concentrated on the southern half of the friary precinct.
To explore the northern half of the precinct; there are visible humps and hollows on the northern half of this site that likely represent further buildings and structures.
Topographical survey: a survey of the topography of the site includes taking a height measurement at regular intervals over the site, resulting in an elevation model, like a 3D map. The frequency of the measurements should allow us to capture the subtle remains of buried walls.