Basement (archeology)

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Souterrain (also earthhouse , Cornish : fogou ; Scottish Gaelic weem from uamh cave) is the name in archeology for partly very complex prehistoric underground structures, which were mostly built of stone or with larger stone parts, in parts of Ireland also without stone part - as earth-cut basement . In the case of basements, a distinction is made between “rock-cut”, ( Releagh ), “earth-cut”, “stone built” and “mixed” (usually a combination of “rock cut”, “stone built” or “stone built” and “wooden “) Basement differentiated. They are very common on the British Isles , and there are around 200 known basements in Brittany . There are few in Denmark and New England. Its purpose is unclear.

Excavation of a (stone-built) basement

Basements occur as independent structures, but they are often found lying in or next to other buildings such as round houses ( Rennibister on Orkney ), in Duns or Raths (Ireland), from which they are also accessible.


Basement of Tréhuinec near Vannes , plan and longitudinal section

There are around 200 basements in Brittany , concentrated in the departments of Finistère , Côtes-d'Armor and Morbihan . On the basis of ceramic finds and radiocarbon dates, with the exception of a few systems from the Hallstatt period, they were dated to the Latène period between 600 and 100 BC. Dated.

Systems known as basement can also be found in other regions of France. B. the Erdstall von Plancaille (French: Souterrain de Plancaille) in the Haute-Garonne department and the basement of Antogny-le-Tillac in the Indre-et-Loire department .


Main chamber of the Fogou of Halliggye; Cornwall

In Cornwall there are more than 30 specimens of a special type of basement, the Fogous ( Boleigh or Rosemerryn Wood in the Lamorna Valley near Land's End ; Halligye near Helston , Pendeen , near St-Just ), some of which ( Carn Euny , near Penzance ) also have round chambers. They differ from the Scottish basement through a much more complex construction.

The Cornwall Archeological Unit (CAU) discovered anomalies in the earth during a geophysical survey, and in 2003 Margaret Hunt began excavating the Fogou of Higher Boden . In the trenches and ramparts, finds from Roman times have been made, especially pottery, coins (dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD), clay spindle whorls , a copper-alloy brooch and a blue glass bead. There was evidence of fire pits. Bronze Age pottery was found in a rotunda, including the large edge piece of decorated Trevisk-style pottery , one of the largest to be found in Cornwall, measuring approximately 34 cm in diameter. The Fogou tunnel is 1.5 m high and is covered by a number of huge fall stones that are at ground level. A tooth, believed to be human, and pieces of black-polished pottery were found near the surface.


More than 3000 underground rooms, often only a few square meters in size, are found primarily in County Cork , Counties Galway and Sligo and in the north-east of Ulster on the Irish island . They are structurally far more complicated than the Breton, Cornish, Danish and Scottish basements. A basic distinction is made between “rock-cut”, “earth-cut”, “stone built” and “mixed” basement areas. Mark Clinton divides the construction methods in more detail into basement based on various features:

  • Benches nine times - in the sense of bank altars
  • Drainages
  • Trap doors
  • Trachea
  • Slabs with a soul hole ( English porthole slab 27 times only on the Dingle and Iveragh Peninsula )
  • Cesspools
  • vertical entrances
  • Buttresses
  • stages
  • Stair elements
  • Door jamb
  • Built-in walls
  • reused ogham stones

Basements were associated with churches, Promontory Fort in medieval structures, ring forts (which gives them the nickname ( English rath cave ) earned) in particular combined with old round house floor plans found.

The examined or restored facilities of Ballycatteen , Ballynavenooragh , Caherfurvaus, Cashel von Kilmovee , Clogher Fort , Dunisky, Guilford, Killally, Newrath, Oldbridge, Rathcroghan and Smerwick stand out. Many Irish basements cannot be visited due to the risk of collapse or backfilling. Replicas of the simpler kind can be found in "Archaeological Parks" of Craggaunowen , County Clare and the Ulster History Park , County Tyrone , Northern Ireland . The huge basement discovered in Newtownbalregan in County Louth is located next to the ring fort and has a decorated stone ( menhir ) as a ceiling plate, which is of Neolithic origin and was used here as secondary construction. Ogham stones were found in over 40 Irish basements (e.g. Drumlohan ) . The basement of Oweynagat in County Roscommon , also known as "Uaigh na gCat" , has Ogham stones as ceiling beams.

Basement made of wood

In the early 1980s, earthworks in the Rath of Coolcran in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland led to the discovery of an amazing structure. Due to the high groundwater level , the lower part of a wooden structure was preserved in the long and narrow trench of a basement. The basement consisted of two interconnected chambers and a corridor that extended to the outside of the town hall. The walls of the chambers consisted of the remains of upright oak planks, which reached heights of 0.2 m to 0.6 m. The chambers were divided by a wooden stud partition, indicating the existence of a connecting door. There was no evidence of the roof's design, but it must have been made of planks or logs cut in half. The discovery of the construction by Coolcran confirms earlier evidence that wood was used in the construction of the basement. It could be expected that the wooden structure would leave a collapse depression. Before the excavation, however, there was no evidence of the Coolcran basement.

Wooden roofs

Wooden or wooden roof basements have only been discovered during excavations in Ireland. An excavation in County Cork , Ireland had revealed the presence of (at least) three basements in the ring fort of Ballycatteen . A series of post holes carved into the rock in the floors of all three chambers of basement B indicated the earlier existence of a wooden roof in an otherwise stone-built structure. The lack of lintels in the other two basements led the excavators to believe that all three basements had wooden roofs. In Letterkeen in County Mayo , Ireland , a wooden roof was closed to the original presence in the earth-cut basement, through the presence of side post holes in the floor. In the excavation of the ring fort of Raheennamadra, in County Limerick in Ireland, the basement consisted, as with Coolcran, of two interconnected chambers and a corridor that extended to the exterior of the council. Again, the presence of post holes in the floor suggests the previous presence of a wooden roof in an otherwise stone-built structure.

Basement goods

Finds in basement are rare. However, found in several, e.g. B. Downview, in Westpark, near Belfast , flat pottery, which, although not datable, apparently dates from early Christian times in the northeastern part of the island. It is called Basement Ware , although it is more numerous in ring forts like Lissue and Ballyaghagan in County Antrim and in Crannógs like that in Lough Faughan in County Down or in settlements.


The basement of Tealing near Dundee - heavily distorted image

There are now almost 500 known basements in Scotland. Of these, 25 are on Orkney and 20 on Skye . There are probably many more. Well-known examples are Ardestie , Carlungie , Culsh , Kirkton , Raitts Cave and Tealing as well as Rennibister and Grain Earth House (both on Orkney). Kirkton and Pitcur and the basement of Kilvaxter and Knock Ullinish are on the Isle of Skye .

Many Scottish basements are in Aberdeenshire . In some parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland (Ardtole, Craig Hill) the underground passages are sometimes quite wide ( Borgie Souterrain ) and curved like a banana.

The corridors of Orcadian and Irish basements, on the other hand, are sometimes extremely narrow. The basement of Rennibister, Orkney, contained the bones of six adults and twelve children. The basement of Howe at Stromness and Rowiegar on Rousay (both on Orkney) were installed in decommissioned chamber tombs.


Basement at Løgten Mark

Seven basements are located in northern Jutland near Frederikshavn in Løgten Mark ( Denmark ). They are called there stenbyggede kælder , German: stone cellar , or jernalderkældrene , German: Eisenzeitkeller. Overall, the facilities have not been well researched and most likely date from the late Bronze and Iron Ages .

New England

In southern New England, 14 basement basements were discovered which, in terms of structure, largely correspond to the European ones. Famous are the Pearson Chamber in Upton, Massachusetts, and Hunt's Brook souterrain in Montville, Connecticut.

Time position Europe

A bronze needle in the basement of Letterkeen, County Mayo, attests to an early Christian date. The handmills of Cush, County Limerick, cannot be any older than the early Iron Age . Ogham stones have been found as a building material in basements. 15 were found in Ballyknock, County Cork. This shows that the structures did not emerge at the turn of the century. This also largely applies to the continental systems. The task of using the basement is characterized in the east of Scotland by the Wainwright plant in "southern Pictland". Evidence suggests that the Scottish basements were either backfilled or deliberately destroyed in the early 3rd century AD. The process of destruction goes hand in hand with a decline in ritual activity that was not previously noticed. At the same time a significant social and political reorientation took place, which is difficult to connect with the Roman invasion.


The purpose of the basement is not entirely unknown since the Windwick excavation. Interpretations as defensive structures, stables or storage facilities were rejected. Most likely a cultic function.


A special kind of basements are hypogea , catacombs and also in Germany and Austria occurring earth stables have, the structural similarities, especially with the Irish basements.

See also


  • Adrien Blanchet: Les souterrains-refuges de la France. In: Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française. Vol. 20, No. 3, 1923, pp. 119-120 .
  • Patricia M. Christie: Cornish souterrains in the light of recent research. In: Bulletin of the Institute of Archeology. Vol. 16, 1978, ISSN  0076-0722 , pp. 187-213.
  • Mark Clinton: The Souterrains of Ireland. Wordwell, Bray 2001, ISBN 1-869857-49-6 .
  • Pierre-Roland Giot: Les souterrains armoricains de l'âge du Fer. In: Annales de Bretagne. Vol. 76, No. 1, 1960, pp. 45-65 .
  • Rachel Maclean: The fogou: an investigation of function. In: Cornish Archeology. Vol. 31, 1992, ISSN  0070-024X , pp. 41-64.
  • Ian McNeil Cooke: Guide to Carn Euny Iron Age village & fogou and other nearby ancient sites (= Antiquities of West Cornwall and how to get there without a Car. Guide 3). Men-an-Tol Studio, Penzance 1991, ISBN 0-9512371-4-4 .
  • Ian McNeil Cooke: Mother and Sun. The Cornish fogou. Men-An-Tol Studio, Penzance 1993, ISBN 0-9512371-6-0 .
  • Jo May: Fogou. A Journey into the Underworld. Gothic Image Publications, Glastobury 1996, ISBN 0-906362-34-2 .
  • George Mudie: Excavations on the site of a late Iron Age roundhouse and souterrain, Glen Cloy, Brodick, Isle of Arran. In: Scottish Archaeological Journal. Vol. 29, No. 1, 2007, ISSN  1471-5767 , pp. 1-29, doi : 10.3366 / E1471576708000181 .
  • Seán P. Ó Ríordáin: Rock-cut basement at Brackcloon, Castletown Bere, Co. Cork. In: The Irish Naturalists' Journal. Vol. 5, No. 4, 1934, pp. 78-80, JSTOR 25532333 .
  • Seán P. Ó Ríordáin, Patrick J. Hartnett: The Excavation of Ballycatteen Fort, Co. Cork. In: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature. Vol. 49, 1943/1944, pp. 1-43, JSTOR 25505974 .
  • Jürgen E. Walkowitz: The megalithic syndrome. European cult sites of the Stone Age (= contributions to the prehistory and early history of Central Europe. Vol. 36). Beier & Beran, Langenweißbach 2003, ISBN 3-930036-70-3 .
  • BB Williams: Excavation of a rath at Coolcran, County Fermanagh. In: Ulster Journal of Archeology. Vol. 48, 1985 pp. 69-80, JSTOR 20567955 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ian Armit: The abandonment of Souterrains: evolution, catastrophe or dislocation? In: Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland . tape 129 (1999) , pp. 577-596 ( online [PDF]).

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