Excavations at Carrick East
by J.B.Mullin and O. Davies

The monument described lies in the townland of Carrick East, on the farm or Mr. Samuel Fleming, who most kindly gave permission for excavation. It is marked on O.S. as a stone circle. Co. Londonderry sheet 17, plan 9, trace 2, at a height of three hundred feet above sea-level. It has long been known, and was recommended by Mr. McCausland and Mr. May for protection by the Government a few years ago. The excavation was carried out on July 2-8, 1936, by the authors of this paper and Mr. and Mrs Herring, with the assistance of a grant from the Prehistoric Research Fund of the Belfast Museum, where finds have been deposited. Thanks are due to the Ministry of Finance for allowing the investigation to take place.

The monument consists of three rather irregular chambers, whose axis is practically north-south. The north and south chambers are partially roofed, the central one open to the sky. They stand on a small platform in a cultivated field, whose level has probably been lowered in the course of agricultural operations. Though they are partially surrounded by tumbled stones, it was impossible to determine with certainty the edge of the original cairn, which made the interpretation of the monument more difficult. The limits of firmly bedded cairn-stones where discovered are shown on the plan and on section CC.1 A slight pit in till immediately outside may indicate the site of an original peristalith (see below). On a ;plan made during the 1835 O.S., a large upright seems to be shown south-east of the south chamber (see plan); this has now disappeared, but may have been part of the original kerb.

The south chamber is a long oval in plan, and is closed on the north by a massive sill-stone, whereas the south end is open. No trace could be found of uprights farther to the south. The sidestones are bedded into till, and their bases are packed round with small, tightly wedged boulders. The soft yellow earth, which may be a prepared floor (see above), was dug away for the insertion of the uprights, and the cavities filled with small stones and brown or black earth,2 in which pottery was sometimes found;3 it may have made its way down to this position at a later date. In other cases the lower packing-stones are embedded in the soft yellow earth itself.4 On the west side, immediately north of section BB, are two uprights resting on black at a high level. These are clearly not in situ, and on excavating as far as was safe below them, we discovered part of a narrow pit sunk into soft yellow earth to the depth of datum point. In the corresponding position on the east side, the space between the central and north sidestones was filled by two horizontal slabs resting on soft yellow earth, probably the base of dry walling.


The south part of the chamber is covered by a large roofing-slab, at present tilted considerably to the east, and resting precariously on the crumbling tops of two of the western side-stones. This tilting seems due to the smashing of the south-eastern upright, the stump.of which was found buried below a large loose stone. At the same time the central upright on the east side leans considerably to,the north, and if erect would be ten inches higher than at present. This would make the roof-stone nearly level (see section BB). The north part of the chamber was presumably similarly covered. The side-slope northward, perhaps to take a roofing-slab which was tilted back on to the sill-stone.

In this chamber the till is overlain by soft yellow earth, which is less gritty than similar material in other parts of the monument. Fragments of pottery were found to a depth of at least four inches in it; but these may have been trampled in by chance, as there was no sign of disturbance in this layer except round the uprights and in the centre of the chamber on section AA. where a deep hole filled with black earth had probably been made by a rabbit. Though there is no prepared floor in other parts of the monument, it is not unlikely that this yellow layer may represent such a floor in this chamber. Similar floors have been discovered in many other megalithic structures, and often consist of the local C-horizon purified and laid down again in place (cp. p. 23).

A good deal of pottery was found on the surface of the soft yellow; other pieces, along with specimens of oak, ash, hazel, and gorse charcoal,,5 in a thick layer of black earth which overlies it.6 This layer probably represents iron-age disturbance, seeing that pieces of pot C, believed to be iron age, were found in and below it, on and in yellow. The few fragments of neolithic pots A and B were widely scattered, though pot D had suffered less; this again, as well as the fact that they lay at no constant level, suggests that they were not in their original position. Further, only one chip of bone was discovered. 6a Thus the chamber was probably largely cleared out in the iron age, perhaps for habitation purposes. Such reoccupation of megalithic chambers has been proved at Goward (Down), 7 , Agnaskeagh B (Louth), 8 , Creevykeel (Sligo), 9 , Loughcrew (Meath), and Churchtown Tyrone). 10 It is suspected that to the immigrants of this period these monuments were more substantial than anything they themselves could build, and that by this means the megalith is the direct ancestor of the iron age souterain.

In the south part of the south chamber several large boulders were lying near the surface. These were loose, and may have accumulated by chance, but in the north end of the chamber were many tightly-wedged packing-stones up to a high level in the black layer, which had almost certainly been intentionally places. These made it impossible to complete section AA in this area.


The central chamber is an irregular oval, whose axis runs at a considerable angle both to the long axis of the monument and to the portals of the two adjoining chamber. It is bounded by a number of uprights, all dug into till and packed round with rammed earth and stones. 11 Two of these uprights are missing, but the pits in which they had stood were found (see plan and section CC); the stones seem indicated on the 1835 plan. In both cases there were very small wedge-stones at the sides of the pits. 12 On the west side of the chamber the stone immediately north of the missing upright is leaning considerably to the south, and rests on disturbed earth. It must be reconstructed approximately as shown on section AA elevation, and would nearly fill the gap between it and the next side-stone. The missing side-stone on the south-east is bedded no deeper than the stone to the west of it. (1.7 ft. above datum point). Its base is small, but it may have stood fairly high, and was perhaps a tall portal-stone corresponding to the one on the west (see below).

There is a strong tradition that the central chamber was covered by a large roofing-stone which was broken by fire-setting; this perhaps accounts for the charcoal and burnt peat in the disturbed filling, as well as for the tumbled boulders on the east side of the chamber. The large stone marked in the south part is lying on the surface, and may be a fallen corbel. The leaning stone outside the chamber to the north-east is probably another. Though the span is wide, it would not be impossible to roof the chamber with the assistance of one tier of corbels, but one would expect this required a greater extent of cairn than that determined on section CC. The chamber has been much disturbed (see sections AA and CC). A large pit in the centre into till, containing mixed dark material with yellow pockets and soft mixed yellow earth towards the base, suggests from its sections that some one here dug out a rabbit. A yellow layer above this pit on section CC is probably due to chance in the refill. In many parts of the chamber loose boulders occurred to a considerable depth, and among them were sherds of modern and ancient pottery and specimens of oak charcoal. In the north-east quadrant, however, the black earth was rather more compact, and contained no boulders, so perhaps was not disturbed recently. On the surface of this compact black layer were found sherds and specimens of oak and hazel charcoal, at a depth of 2.1 ft. above datum point. Pottery and flints were also found below it, on till. In the north-west corner of the chamber was a layer of brown soil two inches thick, perhaps an old subsoil; otherwise there was no trace of subsoil or of prepared floor. 13

The north chamber is more ruined than the other two. On the west it is blocked by a low bank of cairn. A slight pit in the till on this side (see section DD) cannot with certainty be regarded as the socket of an upright. The chamber is partly closed on the north-west by by a leaning stone whose presence seems fortuitous. The four uprights on the north and east seem to be bedded well into the till. 14 On the south-east the pit of a fifth upright was found, packed round with wedge-stones and sunk seven inches into till. Between the two end-stones on the north was a large loose slab, which may have been placed here intentionally to block the gap.

The chamber is partly covered by a roof-stone. It is probable that this has been split along its straight eastern face, and that it originally covered the eastern side-stones. The damage would have freed the missing stone on the south-east and enabled it to be removed. It must have taken place before the 1835 plan. The roof-stone at present is nearly horizontal. It rests on one of the northern end-stones, on the end-stone to the south and on the shoulder of the stone adjoining it. It has probably suffered disturbance owing to the removal of the upright in the north-east part of the central chamber (see above). It is not impossible that this stone was as tall as its counterpart on the north-west, and that the roof of the north chamber originally did not rest on the stone between them, which acted as a sill between two jambs. The roof-stone would then have tilted backwards. The reconstruction of this chamber, however, depends on the question whether it formed part of the original monument (see below).

The till in this chamber sinks towards the north-east corner (see section DD), and seems to have been partially dug out, perhaps to insert the side-stones. On the east were two large stones at a high level, which made investigation difficult. In the south-east corner of the chamber alone did the till appear undisturbed. Here a thin dark floor overlay virgin soil at 2 ft. 6in. above datum point. It contained birch charcoal and one fragment of pot G, while other pieces occurred at a slightly higher level. The rest of the chamber contained dark earth, with many stones and a few pockets of brown clay; there were a very few fragments of ancient pottery, specimens of charcoal of ash, gorse, oak, and willow, and modern sherds in quantity as far down as till itself. 15 The till was much reddened with traces of burning along the western edge of the chamber, where it is bounded by the cairn.

It is clear that uncertainty must remain regarding the form of the original monument, but two principal possibilities emerge, depending on whether the north chamber is primary or secondary. In favour of the latter view is the discovery of pot G, which resembles bronze-age ware, though it cannot be indisputably signed to that period (see below). Further, the plan of the south-eastern corner of the chamber suggests patchwork, and it is noteworthy that the three stones common to the north and central chambers are not bedded deeply into till. If this chamber is secondary, its entrance may have been on the west, where it is bounded only by cairn, 15a and it becomes a single-chambered grave with roof-stones resting on several uprights, like the megalith inside the Giant's Ring, near Belfast.

In this case the south and central chambers would form a separate monument. This cannot have been a horned cairn, owing to the irregularity of the remaining stones of the central chamber and the fair certainty that the entrance was on the south. It might have been a passage and circular chamber, with the principal interment in the former, unless the disturbance of the latter has caused the disappearance of bones. This again would not account for the high level of the three stones common to the north chamber, as supposing that they had replaces other stones, the pits of these would have been found. The main difficulty of this theory is, however, the problem of roofing the central chamber. It was stated above that the evidence for a roof is not entirely satisfactory; but, supposing it exited, the uprights could clearly not have been tampered with without destroying it. Nor in its present state would it have been at all easy to combine a roof over the central with that of the north chamber, though, as stated, the latter may have slipped considerably, and rested originally on two high portal-stones, of which one has been removed; in this case the corbel could have been fitted into the gap between the roof and the massive end-stone of the north chamber.

Supposing, however, that the central area was not roofed, the monument may be compared to the more extensive one at Sligo Deerpark. 16 There a large, roughly oval central area is surrounded by uprights and apparently by low cairn, though it can never have been covered. From one of it there leads off a two-chambered grave; from the other two segmented chambers side by side. The Carrick East monument might be regarded as an open central space with a sill and a pair of jambs on each side, leading to two chambers, of which the northern was closed on the west by cairn and dry walling. There are, however, objections to this solution, particularly the absence of any trace of an end-stone on the south of the south chamber, and the fact that its roof would have sloped north towards its portal, whereas roof-stones of megalithic chambers, if not horizontal, nearly always slope backwards.

It is thus obvious that no final decision can be attained owing to the disturbed state of the monument. The pottery dates its construction as neolithic, but otherwise it is not possible to do more than present the evidence as we observed it. It may be that subsequent excavation will provide parallels to assist the solution of the problem stated.

The Finds
We found remains of six pots, nearly all in the south chamber, and many pieces of flint, including a few flakes and scrapers. The country rock is schist, of which most uprights are composed. It is thickly covered with drift, and chalk outcrops at no great distance; there are many flint lumps in the fields. The assignment of some sherds to their respective pots is uncertain, but in general they have been sorted out without difficulty.

Pieces of pot A were scattered in the south-west quadrant of the south chamber;


some lay on the yellow floor, others in the black layer. The surface is soft and yellow-grey; some un-ornamented pieces, perhaps from near the base, are dark, one covered with soot. The biscuit is blackish, rather gritty and flaky; the thickness 7-8 mms.;the height is unknown. The pot had a plain rounded rim, straight neck, and apparently bulging shoulder; it was probably a large jar. Below the rim were at least three horizontal bands of shallow stabs, on the shoulder one or two bands of four-tooth comb-ornament set diagonally.

Pot B was also scattered in the south-west part of south chamber; the sherds mainly came from the top of the yellow layer. The colour of surface and biscuit is reddish-brown, the texture fine without grit, the surface hard and smooth but unpolished, apparently slightly rippled. The thickness is 5-6 mms. There is one piece of rounded rim, one of relief-shoulder; the shape is indeterminable, but the diameter of the pot seems to have been small. Just above the shoulder are two maggot-ornaments; another piece contains three dotted about, so they cannot have formed a frieze. The maggots are horseshoe-shaped of 5 mms. external diameter; the impressions are sharp, the transverse lines close together. Maggots dotted about are known from Glenluce.17

A great number of fragments of pot C were found, in all parts of the south chamber and at very divergent levels. Their texture is similar, and only one set of rims is identifiable. While the thickness of the rim is 11-13 mms., that of the other pieces varies from 16 to 4 mms., but it seems that the walls were much thinner, as one piece of rim thins down rapidly. Thus probably all pieces belonged to the same pot. The colour of the outside is yellow, the inside nearly black; the biscuit is flaky. The surface is undecorated and very uneven, partly owing to pebbles. The rim is irregular in level, and some pieces splay inwards. There are also fragments of what is probably a plain base rather than a shoulder. In this case the pot seems to have been bucket-shaped, of iron-age type; its height is unknown. It must be secondary in the chamber (see above).

Enough was found of pot D for it to be restored. All the pieces were lying near the south end of the south chamber, in black earth a little above the yellow; with them was the flint knife 39. The biscuit is hard and rather flaky, the surface hard and black, somewhat rough. On the base are irregular striations of a smoothing tool. The shape was a simple round-bottomed bowl with almost pointed rim, 7.7 cms. high, and of diameter 7.6 cms. at the rim. The thickness of the walls is 5-6 mms. To a depth of 4.7 cms. from the rim it is decorated with six irregular horizontal grooves, 1 mm. deep.

Pot E is a small black, almost cubical piece, with original surface on three sides. It was found with pot D, and may be part of a horizontal lug, wider on one face than on the other. Its connection with D is, however, unproved, and it may have been the shaft of a pottery spoon.

There may be also mentioned, from near the surface of the south chamber, a formless lump of baked clay (30), certainly not pottery, and perhaps recent brick or daub.

A very few pieces of pot F were found in the north-east quadrant of the central chamber, in the disturbed earth or on till. The colour is brown-black, the surface fairly hard, the biscuit gritty, the thickness 5-8 mms. There is a rounded rim splaying slightly inwards, but otherwise the shape is indeterminable.

There were a few small pieces of pot G, scattered in the north chamber, especially in the south-east corner. The colour is reddish, one piece being rather sooted. The sherds are crumbly, the surface rough, the thickness 4-5mms. One fragment may be a pointed rim with vertical striations below it. Both curves are fairly sharp, and the pot may have been a hemispherical food-vessel; but unfortunately, it cannot with certainty be assigned to the bronze age, nor is its type determinable.

Apart from flakes and rough lumps, there were four worked flint tools, all from south chamber. 15 is a knife of good flint, 43 by 16 mms. by 4mms. maximum thickness. One side is a flake surface, the other cortex. It is chipped at the end and along one edge.

25 is a roughly rectangular end-scraper of poor yellow-brown flint, which seems water-stained. A little cortex remains. North surfaces are uneven, as if they had not been artificially flaked. It is retouched at one end to form a roughly semicircular blade. The dimensions are 60 by 35 by 12 mms. maximum thickness.

26 is a rectangular hollow scraper of fine flint, 40 by 25 by 3 mms. maximum thickness. The lower side is a flake surface with bulb, the upper three flakes, and one scrap of cortex remains. In one corner is a finely chipped hollow, nearly semicircular, and 16mms. in diameter.

39 is a knife of red flint, perhaps broken at the butt. It is piriform, with a bulge on one side, where some cortex is left. The dimensions are 70 by 45 by 10 mms. maximum thickness. The lower side is a flake surface, the upper two meeting nearly at right angel. It has been chipped at the point and along one blade.  


1. Outside the determined cairn-limit on section BB, west, was a thin black layer containing hazel charcoal, overlying the soft yellow, probably subsoil, which is slightly bleached on top. This supports the view that here the original limit of the cairn has been discovered, and that at some unknown date a fire was lit against its edge.

2. Brown earth round the south-eastern upright.

3. Nos.36 and 37, close to the west central upright

4. West central and south uprights. In the latter case the yellow earth becomes harder round the lower packing-stones, and seems to have been rammed back after they were inserted.

5. The charcoal specimens were very kindly examined by Mr. M.Y. Orr of the Royal Botanic Garden. Edinburgh. The presence of ash is unusual in Mesolithic monuments in Ireland, though it is believed to be an indigenous tree.

6. Near the north-east side of the west central upright the top of the black earth was disturbed, and a shard of glass was found at a depth of three inches in it.This disturbance seems local, and may have been due to rabbits.

6a Kindly examined by Prof. Walmsley, who reports it to be adult incinerated human bone.

7. CB.N.H.P.S. (1932-3), p. 90.

8. Mr. Evans kindly allows me to mention this unpublished monument.

9. According to a recent newspaper report of Dr. Hencken's excavations.

10. Cp. Borlase, "Dolmens of Ireland", i. p. 208 showing an ogham inscription on one of the sidestones.

11. The base of the south sill-stone was sealed with very hard black material (see section AA). The adjoining stone on the west was packed with yellow earth. The most westerly stone in the north-west corner is bedded on to till with brown-yellow earth around it. The stone adjoining it on the north-east is packed with large slabs resting on till, but does not seem dug into it. The stone separating the central and north chambers (see section AA) is bedded about two inches into till, and packed round with yellow earth containing many pebbles; round the surface of the stone the earth is discoloured, probably by roots. The north-east stone of the chamber is bedded about nine inches into till, and again roots seem to have discoloured the yellow packing close to its surface. The east side-stone is bedded at least six inches into till, and packed round with yellow earth (see section CC).

12. See section CC. In the pit in the north-east part of the chamber there is one wedge-stone to the north-east (see plan), and another small one to the south.

13. A pocket of white clay on the west side of section CC, above the pit of the missing upright, seems accidental. Its limits westward could not be traced owing to the fallen side-stone.

14. The east end-stone is wedged tightly with small stones. Both it and its neighbour on the west are dug into till.

15. E.g. in the north-east corner and near the centre of the chamber. In the filling were also the scapula and part of the lower jaw of a rat.

15a. A loose slab was leant against the chamber on this side at the end of the excavation, but was found lying loose in the chamber.

16. Wood-Martin, "Pagan Ireland" p. 276.

17. Callander, P.S.A.S.,lxiii (1928-9), p. 29, fig. 54, 7.

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