Archaeologists using rope access to record and excavate archaeological deposits at Woodstown Promontory Fort. Co. Waterford

Archaeological survey and excavation at promontory forts on Waterford’s Copper Coast

The CHERISH Project team at the Discovery Programme carried out archaeological survey and excavation-recording at Ballynarrid and Woodstown Promontory Forts, on the Copper Coast, Waterford from 21-25 June 2021. The excavation team used specialist rope access techniques to access the archaeological features in the eroding cliff face.

Ballynarrid and Woodstown Promontory Forts are two of twenty-nine promontory forts on the Copper Coast. These sites are under threat of coastal erosion, with archaeological deposits and structures visibly deteriorating along the edge of the headlands. The remains are difficult to access as they are located on the edge of cliffs. The team has completed specialist training, and used securely-anchored ropes and harnesses to access the archaeology, climbing up and down the edges of these headlands, recording the features that they can see. Artefacts, which will help to date human activity at these promontory forts were uncovered during this work, including a possible sling shot. Similar objects have been found during excavations at promontory forts in Wales, emphasising the benefits of this projects which brings together expertise from the two jurisdictions.

The team also accessed Green Island near the Woodstown Promontory Fort at Annestown Beach at low tide and completed a geophysical survey of the island. This survey uses specialist equipment to detect possible archaeological features below the soil. This survey will help the team determine if people in the past lived on the island if it once formed part of the promontory fort.

Project archaeologist Dr Edward Pollard said: “These are sites that are being lost. They aren’t being buried or hidden from view, they are being eroded away and destroyed. Through the CHERISH project we are gathering as much information about the sites now so that we can understand who built them, when and how they used them.” This information is key to understanding the relationship of these sites to the wider historic and modern landscape of the Copper Coast, and to understand how they are impacted by climate change. Dr John O’Keeffe, CEO of The Discovery Programme added “Through the CHERISH project we are gaining new insights into what archaeology is at risk around our coastline. We are also developing new understanding about how processes of change have happened over the centuries and how increased rainfall or more extreme weather events are now impacting upon the sites.

The team had carried out a walk-over survey, detailed terrain modelling through drone mapping, and geophysical survey to look below the ground surface before this new programme of research. The CHERISH team are very grateful to the landowners Thomas Beresford, Ted Cronin and John McKeown, for granting us permission to work on their land. These forts are located on private land and should not be visited without the permission of the landowners. The work was carried out under licence from the Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and is supported by the Heritage Council.