Brownshill Dolmen and the Beast from the East!

Project: Brownshill Portal Tomb

Location: Carlow

Year: 2018

So this is our first post of 2018! We’ve had a grand start to this year. Surveyors headed up north for a couple of weeks to undertake two separate surveys around two churches for research projects, and also paid a brief visit back to Meath. On top of these, some research projects from last year were wrapped up.

Panorama of Brownshill dolmen and earth resistance survey (Photo: C. Hogan)

This week Cian and Ciarán headed down to County Carlow to carry out a survey on the land surrounding the impressive and imposing portal tomb at Brownshill. The Neolithic monument is situated in rolling lowlands and positioned on the northeastern side of a small hillock. The capstone is reputed to weigh up to 150 tons and is thought to be one of the largest erected in Europe.

Brownshill dolmen banked in snow (Photo: C. Davis)

Earthsound were commissioned to investigate the area around the monument using an earth resistance meter. We started work on Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday morning members of Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society visited while work was ongoing. A small group were given a presentation on geophysical surveys, and following this assisted in collecting a portion of the resistance data in front of the dolmen.

Work had to be cut short due to the arrival of the ‘Beast from the East’! While the sun was shining during the Society’s visit, when they left so did the good weather. Snow started falling soon after, and coming up to the final grid of the day, a blizzard set in. Quite an experience doing a resistance survey in those conditions! On Wednesday morning, several grids of data were taken in a winter wonderland, with snow coating the ground and the dolmen, and the sun shining brightly. With icicles hanging from the van, the surveyors headed back West ahead of predicted worsening weather.


Cian talking with members of Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society (Photo: C. Davis)


Earth resistance meter and dolmen (Photo: C. Hogan)


Members of Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society collecting earth resistance data (Photo: C. Davis)

Almost at the end of the grid!! Ciaran surveying during a blizzard (Photo: C. Hogan)

Cian surveying before the arrival of the ‘Beast from the East’ (Photo: C. Davis)

And after – Cian in the snow with earth resistance meter (Photo: C. Davis)

Another year comes to an end!

Seasons greetings to all!

It’s come to that time of year again when the work is getting quiet and everyone is preparing for a new year. This year has been full of change and excitement for those of us at Earthsound – people coming and going; impressive sites visited; and wonderful data collected.

The year kicked off with a two-month stint down in the county of Cork. Taking up residence in Ballyvourney (and all the while enjoying the fantastic local brews offered by Nine White Deer brewery), Earthsound surveyed the lion’s share of the long-awaited N22 route upgrade. Cork was a popular destination this year, with various members of Earthsound heading down for shorter projects throughout the rest of the year – back to Ballyvourney, Castlemartyr, Carrigaline, Blarney, Clonakilty, Ballincollig, Kinsale, Ballincollig again, Kinsale again (I think that’s everywhere!).

Ciarán and Cian metal detecting at Kinsale (Photo – U. Garner)

Foerster cart at Ballincollig (Photo – C. Hogan)








Every so often a change of scenery was in mind and we headed somewhere other than Cork for fieldwork. Following on from the stretch in Cork, a couple more surveys for the TII popped up during the year, though they were much smaller in size. A couple of days in Westmeath and a week in Laois to undertake preliminary work for road-straightening jobs to come. Some private developments took us to Meath, Laois and Dublin.

Ciarán with Foerster cart at Castle Ward, Co. Antrim (Photo – C. Hogan)

The month of May was more or less spent north of the border. Two of the surveys were for solar farm developments. At the start of the month we were north of Belfast for a job of 15 Ha. At the end of the month we were south of Belfast, undertaking one of the largest private developments we’ve worked on – 26 Ha of geophysical survey. Between these two jobs, we spent a couple of days at the wonderful Castle Ward, Co. Down – the setting for Winterfell Castle from Game of Thrones. We were investigating the landscaped gardens in order to locate Queen Anne’s house and other garden features.

Darren instructing Ursula and Ciarán on the MSP40 (Photo – C. Hogan)

2017 saw quite a shift in terms of staff at the company. Hannah Brown (now Dr. – congratulations!) temporarily joined the survey team. In April, Ursula Garner and Ciarán Davis, recent graduates of IT Sligo, joined the company – bringing it up to largest it had ever been, at six employees. During the first couple of months we had some great training days in local fields and the green at Castlebar barracks. And after seven years of surveys, Darren Regan decided it was time for a change and headed off for sunnier climes in October.


Panorama of entrance to Doon Fort (Photo – C. Davis)

Research projects were the name of the game for this year. We were back for a second round at Knocknashee Hillfort with Queen’s University. Following last year’s MS survey of the entire hilltop, this time half of the summit plateau was surveyed using Earthsound’s first in-house frame – the Earthwalker. Vinegar Hill was in our sights twice in 2017. An ERT survey was carried out early on in the year, which was was followed up a few months later by involvement in a metal detection survey. We were working closely with the National 1798 Rebellion Centre and Rubicon Heritage on this very interesting project. This year also saw the first surveys for the Heritage Council’s ‘Adopt a Monument’ Scheme (run in association with Abarta Heritage) take place. Earthsound had the delight to undertake a detailed survey of the interior of Doon Fort – probably the best survey spot in the world! We spent a week in the westlands of Donegal, paddling in and out with equipment to carry out the survey. Following this, we headed in the opposite direction to Kilfinnane, Co. Limerick. Here, we carried out the first surveys investigating the lands surrounding one of Ireland’s most impressive mottes. After several years of looking for walls in Athy, we had the opportunity to put the experience gained there to practice in Castledermot and Kilkenny. The surveys at both locations proved fruitful, with walls and ditches being identified.

Panorama of interior of Doon Fort (Photo – C. Davis)

ERT survey at Vinegar Hill (Photo – J. Bonsall)

Ursula with the EM cart in front of Kilfinane Motte (Photo – C. Hogan)









Foerster cart with Newgrange and Dowth passage tombs somewhere in the background (Photo – C. Hogan)

The year wound down with a number of short surveys here and there: a quick jaunt down to Claregalway one morning to do some work ahead of a graveyard extension; a Saturday afternoon in Dublin city centre to carry out a radar survey; and a trip to Meath in order to check out a pipeline corridor.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas! And all the best for the New Year!

Commissioning an Archaeological Geophysical Survey: what we need to know and what you need to know

Be it through Channel 4’s Time Team or through homegrown heritage documentaries, people’s exposure to, and understanding of what geophysical techniques can locate has greatly improved over the past few years. Many members of the general public will have an awareness of techniques such as Magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar and will have at least a cursory understanding of what they are and what they’re used for. We have become used to hearing about the wonderful knowledge that the ever-developing technology employed by geophysicists can offer us about our past and this can be of enormous benefit in terms of informing people outside of the field of geophysics. However, this can sometimes lead to a somewhat distorted understanding of the constraints and limitations associated with our techniques as well as the full extent of the information which we can realistically provide about a given site.


Our Geophysical Techniques cover a wide variety of technologies from the most commonly requested and well-known methods such as Magnetometry and Earth Resistance to methods which may be used more infrequently and for very specific site types of archaeology, such as Induced Polarisation for the location of wooden trackways within peatlands. Earthsound have the capacity to avail of a number of varied techniques and, when possible, can deploy more than one technique over a given site enabling us to yield the maximum amount of information available about the archaeology which lies beneath our feet. However….

Where are you looking?

The first thing we as geophysicists need to know before we can discuss what approach or methodology to undertake on your site is its exact size and location. This is important for a number of reasons. Firstly it allows us to provide you with the most appropriate technique to find what you’re looking for. The geological composition of the bedrock of the site can heavily influence the choice of technique. Although the geological make-up of the island of Ireland is fairly homogeneous, comprising mainly of carboniferous limestone, there are many regions where the geology may have an adverse impact on a technique that the client might request. A good example is the use of Magnetometry in the northern part of the island, where a large amount of volcanic and basalt geology can severely impede the ability of Magnetometry to locate the more subtle magnetic signatures emitted by archaeological remains.

Geological dyke found in magnetometry

The above image shows a Magnetometer survey containing a strongly magnetic geological dyke located throughout the middle of the survey area (the long arcing black-and-white line running top-left to bottom-right). As you can see, the strong signature given off by the geological feature obscures all of the other ambient magnetism as well as any anomalies of potential archaeological significance.

Another reason for needing to know the location of the proposed survey area(s) is for sheer practicality. Our Magnetometer array, for example, has a span of about 4m x 3m and has a large turning circle. This, added to the fact that it can be quite heavy, can mean that a promontory fort located on a sheer slope on the edge of a cliff may be a little bit beyond our capabilities!

As with everything, we are always eager to accommodate our clients and if we feel that one technique might not be amenable to the requirements of the site, we will suggest another, more appropriate one.

What is the land used for?

Another related question is the current and past land usage of the site. One of the main things we need to know prior to survey is whether or not it is possible to move our instruments unimpeded and ensure the collection of the best quality of data possible. For example, if the land is being used for tillage or silage, we would only be able to carry out our survey once the crop has been harvested or if it is in the very early stages of growth. In addition to this, land which is boggy or poached will present difficulties for our surveying equipment, alternative methodologies may be deployed in some instances. Similar issues apply to livestock so we would request that any areas which are to be surveyed be emptied of cattle and horses in particular.

Example of unsurveyable terrain

It is also especially important to know whether or not there has been a history of dumping or burning at a site. If a given area has historically been used to dispose of waste (such as cars) or has been used as a location for bonfires for example, this will have an extremely large impact on the efficacy of Magnetometry in that area and will mask any archaeological anomalies. In that instance, it may be that another technique could be employed. However, this of course depends on the site in question and we are always happy to discuss the possibilities.

What are you trying to find?

Last, but certainly not least, it is always useful to know what, if any, archaeological remains are expected. The size and type of archaeological remains being prospected for, especially for research, will influence the  instrumentation and sample intervals deployed. This is not only time-effective but cost-effective as it means the survey will detect the items of interest.

Having a full suite of geophysical techniques means that we can find most types of archaeology, however, some techniques will fair better at finding certain types of material whereas others will be inapplicable. In the case of stone and masonry remains (such as, for example, a castle) a magnetometer will not be able to detect the stone material of the structure. In this instance, where there is a known stone-built monument or structure we would probably advise Earth Resistance or perhaps an Electromagnetic Induction Survey for your particular needs.

Processed data and interpreted image of a stone-built leper hospital found in an Electromagnetic data set (white represents stone/high resistivity)

Another consideration when specifying a technique appropriate to the type of archaeology being sought is the size and morphology of the archaeological elements being investigated. Narrow slot trenches, pits, post holes, grave cuts, relict flowerbeds or other small dug features will be extremely difficult to find using standard sample intervals. Very high resolution surveys can be used to locate small elements, however in the case of very small features such as stake holes, neonatal burials or small pits the archaeology is so ephemeral that even a very high resolution survey may not locate any remains. All of these things are taken into consideration along with the terrain and type of geology and we will happily oblige in recommending the most effective technique or combination of techniques for the archaeology being investigated and in full consideration of the environment we are searching in.

If there is anything else that you are curious about in regards to what we can do for you, then please feel free to contact us.

Annacarty Remembered: RIC Barracks Survey

Magnetometry survey at the RIC Barracks

Magnetometry survey at the RIC Barracks

Project: Annacarty Remembered: RIC Barracks, Co. Tipperary.

Year: 2016

Client: Wolfhound Archaeology, funded by Tipperary County Council, Ireland 1916-2016 and The Heritage Council.

Aim: In June 2016, we carried out extensive Magnetometer, Electromagnetic Induction, Ground Penetrating RadarEarth Resistance Surveys and Metal Detection surveys at the RIC Barracks in Annacarty as part of a large commemoration event which was also filmed by RTE’s new television series John Creedon’s Epic East. The film crew were very interested in the geophysical survey and obtained some great drone and GoPro footage of our work.

Community Engagement: 1 volunteer worked with Earthsound geophysicists for 1 day (volunteer labour contribution: €164). The survey was filmed for RTE television and culminated in a large commemoration on the last day of survey, attended by more than 220 people, with Earthsound geophysicists on hand to explain the survey, it’s purpose and findings.

Outcomes: The 2016 geophysical survey culminated in a large commemoration ceremony (see below) attended by local school children and adults, the Army and many local politicians. The survey results will be integrated in to a management plan for the site.

The geophysical surveys were carried out as part of a research project managed by Wolfhound Archaeology, funded by Tipperary County Council, Ireland 1916-2016 and The Heritage Council. The research formed part of the Annacarty Remembers event, which commemorated the events of the War of Independence and Civil War.

The school children lead the procession up the hill towards the Barracks.

School children lead the procession up the hill towards the Barracks.

Annacarty Barracks, which was originally constructed as an RIC barracks in the early 19th Century, saw considerable action during the conflicts prior to the foundation of the Irish state.

In the spring of 1922, the truce had been signed and the barracks handed over to the volunteers. The children of Annacarty N.S. were marched up the hill to the barracks by the principal, Mr. Slattery and sang Amhrán na bhFiann for the volunteers as they raised the tri-colour.

The procession recreated the original event in 1922.

The procession recreated the original event in 1922.

On June 10th 2016, the event was recreated by more than 220 school children, local residents and visitors. The building bears the scars of these battles but is otherwise virtually untouched since it was burnt out after a short but violent siege in 1922 during the Civil War.

The Annacarty Remembers gathering walks up the hill to the Barracks.

The Annacarty Remembers gathering walking up the hill to the Barracks.

The surveys were led by Heather Gimson and supported by Dr James Bonsall, Darren Regan and Cian Hogan, who used various geophysical instruments to map additional structures around the barracks and carried out a detailed photogrammetry survey.

The magnetometer cart at the RIC Barracks

The magnetometer cart at rest by the RIC Barracks while John Creedon does some filming

Recording bullet holes in the wall. In the meantime, the 'Bone Detector' takes a snooze.

Recording bullet holes in the wall. In the meantime, the ‘Bone Detector’ takes a snooze.

Magnetometry and EMI carts

Magnetometry and EMI carts

GPR in action at the RIC Barracks

GPR in action at the RIC Barracks

We enjoyed wonderful hospitality from the people of Annacarty, who really welcomed us to their village. Particular thanks are due to Tom Tuohy, The Parish Shop & Tea Rooms and the Crossroads Pub (which kept us – and the dog – in great health with lots of ice creams and drinks.

Duncannon Fort, Co. Wexford

Project: Duncanon Fort, Co. Wexford

Location: Duncannon, Co. Wexford

Year: 2016

Client: Stafford-McLoughlin Archaeology

Funding: County Kildare Archaeological Society and the Kildare County Council Community Heritage Grant Scheme.

Aim: Earthsound Archaeological Geophysics were commissioned by Ms. C. McLoughlin of Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology on behalf of Wexford County Council to execute a geophysical survey in land adjacent to the Duncannon Bastion Fort as part of a conservation plan being carried with assistance from the Heritage Council, within the townland of Duncannon, Duncannon Village, County Wexford. The fort contains a church and a castle and it is believed that it may originally have been the site of a promontory fort owing to the derivation of the name meaning ‘Conan’s Fort’. Our main objectives were to determine the presence or absence of buildings and possibly grave plots associated with Duncannon Fort which are reputed to lie within the survey area and to investigate for any possible metallic artefacts which may be related to the usage of the fort. Earthsound carried out a comprehensive geophysical study of the site which included Magnetometry, Earth Resistance, Electromagnetic Induction and Metal Detection.

Outcomes: The geophysical surveys have revealed an extensive range of potential archaeological features which suggest the presence of multi-phase occupation. This activity appears to be concentrated in the northern field, while the central and southern fields have been heavily impacted by later activity such as the construction of a cinder block wall and soil deposition. Within the northern field a series of parallel and interconnecting boundaries have been detected. These could relate to agricultural activity or be associated with habitation. A number of circular possible enclosures were identified. These are unlikely to be contemporary with the fort but may indicate occupation on the site prior to the installation of military activity. The presence of numerous possible pits and four possible industrial anomalies as well as a series of possible structures down the western extent of the northern field suggests a large amount of habitation activity once existed on the outer edge of the fort. When the geophysical results are combined with the metal detection ‘hits’ a complicated picture emerges suggesting that the fields, as well as being used for habitation, may have seen warfare or at least the practicing of warfare.

Merry Christmas

We’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, from everyone here at Earthsound.


Merry Christmas, from Earthsound!

It’s Christmas Eve Eve, and as I sit here writing this, I have the chance to reflect on 2015. It’s certainly been a year of changes. We were joined by Dr Rob Fry on a number of projects (including the largest we’ve ever worked on) in the Spring, when we invested in new staff and the latest state-of-the-art geophysical instruments and soil analysis equipment.

Earthsound2015_2We’ve worked on some fantastic projects this year, including Woodstock Castle (Athy), Lea Castle, the Kinsale Battlefield Project, the Wonderful Barn, the Dowth Estate, we returned to Rathnadrinna Royal Fort and we’ve worked with the School of Irish Archaeology at their amazing new urban outreach project Dublin Uncovered, based in the Liberties. In April we worked in partnership with IT Sligo Applied Archaeology students to survey part of the monastic enclosure at Drumcliff.

As well as our conventional geophysical surveys for both private sector and research projects, we’ve also carried out metal detection surveys and developed our soil analysis services: we’ve collected soils across medieval enclosure complexes (which we’re in the process of analysing, using a variety of geochemical and geoarchaeological techniques) and extensive geophysical and geoarchaeological soil analyses of the ‘mysterious pit fields of Roscommon’ with Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services. We’ve also launched our new digitizing service.  Over the last few months, you’ll have been as likely to find us in the field carrying out geophysical surveys as you would to find us auguring, coring or back at the office grinding soils or digitising plan and section drawings. Earthsound2015

We’ve also been out and about on the conference circuit. Earthsound sponsored and attended the Weather Beaten Archaeology Conference at IT Sligo and Earthsound staff attended the Neolithic Ireland: Europe and the Atlantic Conference in Sligo and presented at the European Association of Archaeologists Conference in Glasgow and the 11th International Conference on Archaeological Prospection in Warsaw, as well as continuing the Earthsound Lecture Series. It’s been an eventful year and we can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring.

Merry Christmas, Everybody and all the Best for 2016!


Dr. James Bonsall, Director

Great Connell Abbey, Newbridge, Co. Kildare

Project: Great Connell Abbey Research Project

Location: Great Connell, Newbridge, Co. Kildare

Year: 2012-2014

Client: Thomas A. Loughlin

Funding: County Kildare Archaeological Society and the Kildare County Council Community Heritage Grant Scheme.

Aim: Great Connell Abbey is a site of ongoing interest and has been extensively investigated and researched by Dr. Thomas A. Loughlin of the Irish Hellenic Institute, Athens, Greece and funded by the Kildare County Council Community Heritage Grant and Kildare Archaeological Society Research Grant. The abbey was founded in 1202 as a Priory of the Cannons Regular of St. Augustine, a cell of the Llanthony Prima in Wales. It was founded by Myler Fitzheny, Viceroy of Ireland, who was also responsible for the foundation of the abbeys at Laois, Clonfert in County Galway and Killaloe in County Clare. The site had a period of active usage of approximately 350 years and had a somewhat turbulent history having been ordered to forbid the admittance of Irishmen by King Richard II in 1380  and being destroyed by the native Irish approximately seventy years later and eventually being suppressed in 1540. The site gradually fell into disuse, with a Church of Ireland church being constructed to the north of the site in the year 1780.

Earthsound originally carried out a Magnetometry survey at the site in 2006 which revealed a large amount of the village and structures associated with the priory. In the two seasons of geophysics which built on this as part of Thomas A. Loughlin’s research project, the aim was to focus on locating unknown archaeological remains through the use of LiDAR as well as to investigate possible structures associated with the priory.

The aim was to locate archaeology associated with the priory lands including mill races and structures associated with the priory itself. This centred around the use of LiDAR, Magnetometry, Earth Resistance and Electromagnetic Induction surveys.

Outcomes: The 2012 season located a large enclosure with approximate dimensions of 300 m x 360 m which may represent the enclosing boundary of the entire settlement as well as a number of possible walls and boundaries, pits, structural remains and possible burial pits. A large number of internal ditches and features were also located.

The 2013 season managed to detect a large number of cut archaeological features as well as to identify a number of possible structural remains which may have been associated with an only recently identified mill course.