Rockfield, Tralee, County Kerry

Prehistoric burial and ritual

Rockfield: Pyre
Cremation pit to fore, pyre to rear
Rockfield: Excavation
Rockfield: Excavation of features

Monitoring of the construction of the N21 Tralee to Castleisland road in July 1999 uncovered five sub-circular features. Kerry County Council funded the excavation of these sites

The central feature revealed itself to be small pit containing a cremation burial. The bones in this shallow pit had been subjected to intense heat, though the boulder clay beneath was unburnt. Radiocarbon (calibrated Sigma 2) dating showed that this cremation dated from 1440-1140 BC, the date being firmly placed in the Bronze Age.

Six meters to the south was a large circular pit 1.40m in diameter. The interior of this pit had been intensively burned, the heat penetrating the boulder clay to a depth of 10cm. Two channels, also intensively baked were cut into the base of the pit, while a linear U-shaped flue extended for 2.00m beyond the western edge of the pit. Two meters further south two truncated postholes were uncovered.

The baking of the boulder clay in the pit suggests that the heat within it reached very high temperatures in order to oxidize it, yet none of the burnt material survived. A radiocarbon (calibrated Sigma 2) date for this feature was returned at 780-380 BC, thus giving a date in the final part of the Bronze Age/ Early Iron Age. This date marks the final use of this feature. A similar pit excavated in the same townland in 2000 yielded a radiocarbon (calibrated Sigma 2) date of 390-60 BC. This pit was filled with cremated bone and charcoal. Both of these features are almost identical, the presence of cremated human bone in the latter would seem to suggest that they were both used in the cremation of human remains, and in effect functioned as crematoria.

The dating evidence indicates that the place was used over several hundred years, where there was obviously a continuation of ritual. Although not defined by any visible monument such as a mound or enclosure, the continued use of this sacred space over such a period meant that this place where the dead could be sent on their way to the afterlife became hallowed ground, and ultimately a monument in its own right.

This site is published:
Collins, T. 2003 An Excavation of a Crematorium at Rockfield Co.Kerry, The Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society, 2, 43-54.
Collins, T. and Lynch, L.G. 2001 Prehistoric burial and ritual in southwest Ireland, Antiquity, 75, 493-4.
Collins, T. 1999 More Kerry Pyromania, Archaeology Ireland, 13, 7.


See also other excavations:

Excavation at Quay Street / Quay Lane Galway

Excavation at Abbey Car Park, Tralee

Excavation at Tateetra, Co. Louth

Excavation at Clogher, Lixnaw, County Kerry

Excavation at Hermitage, Castleconnell

Excavations at Newtown

Excavation at Killybegs, Donegal