Fulacht fiadh

A fulacht fiadh (Irish pronunciation: [ˈfˠʊl̪ˠəxt̪ˠ ˈfʲiːə]; Irish: fulacht fiadh or fulacht fian; plural: fulachtaí fia or, in older texts, fulachta fiadh) are burned mounds, dating from the Bronze Age, found in Ireland. Most surviving examples consist of a low horseshoe-shaped mound[1] of charcoal-enriched soil, and heat shattered stone, with a cooking pit located in a slight depression at its centre. In ploughed fields, they are apparent as black spreads of earth interspersed with small sharp stones.[2]

Fulacht fiadh examples are multiple in Ireland. The majority were constructed during the mid to late Bronze Age[3] (c.1500- c. 500 BC), though some Neolithic and a few medieval examples are known.[4] In Great Britain and the Isle of Man they are known as burnt mounds, and similar objects are found in Sweden. Permanent structures are rarely found near to fulachtaí fiadh, but small hut sites are common and it is unknown whether early sites were built by permanent settlements or nomadic hunters.[5]

"Fulacht Fiadh" cooking pit, Irish National Heritage Park - geograph.org.uk - 1255093
Reconstruction of a fulacht fiadh at the Irish National Heritage Park in County Wexford, Ireland


Many historians suggest that the Irish word "fulacht" denotes a cooking pit. "Fiadh" in Old Irish meant something like "wild", often relating to animals such as deer. However, all acknowledge the difficulties in deriving a genuine etymology for the word "fulacht". As some historical texts clearly use the term "fulacht" to describe a cooking spit, a close reading of these accounts suggests that the term actually derives from a word meaning support and probably carries a deliberate reference to the Irish words for blood and meat.[6]


Fulachtaí fiadh are usually found close to water sources, such as springs, rivers and streams, or waterlogged ground. They were also sited close to sources of suitable stone where it could be obtained close to the surface. They required a source of fuel, so would have been close to woodland. They would also have to be in proximity to whatever was being processed by boiling in the trough. Once these conditions were met a fulacht fiadh could be constructed. Once the use of a fulacht fiadh had ended it was common for people to continue to make use of the local landscape, therefore fulachtaí fiadh tend to be found in groups strung out along water courses.


Fulachtaí fiadh generally consist of three main elements: a mound of stones, a hearth used to heat the stones, and a trough, often lined with wood or stone, which was filled with water and into which the heated stones were placed to warm the water. Troughs may be cut into subsoil or, more rarely, into bedrock. The site may contain the remains of structures such as stone enclosures or even small buildings, and sometimes multiple hearths and additional, smaller pits. They are almost always found near running water, or in marshy areas where a hole dug into the ground would quickly fill with water.

A number of the fulachtaí fiadh pits are approximately a metre wide by 2 metres long and maybe half a metre or more in depth. However, size can vary a great deal from site to site, from rather small pits lined with stones to pools conceivably large enough for people to bathe in.


It is postulated that these pits were filled with water and heated stones thrown in to create a pool of boiling water in which meat was cooked.[7] This is because when excavated, fulachtaí fiadh are found with associated charred, scorched and broken rocks. The Ballyvourney reconstruction also included successful attempts at heating the water and cooking meat in this manner.[7]

Other theories suggest that the sites may have been used for bathing, the washing and dyeing of cloth, and leather working. Supporters of these theories point to the fact that no remains of foodstuffs have been found at the fulacht fiadh sites. Some researchers believe the fulachtaí fiadh were multi-purpose and could have, at least in some cases, been used for all of these activities - cooking, bathing, dyeing, or anything involving hot water. Some fulacht fiadh reconstructions, such as the one at Ballyvourney, include circular, hut-type structures based on the post holes found at the sites; some believe these small buildings were used for the storing and preparation of foodstuffs. Another theory is that the small buildings on site were used for enclosing heat and steam in a manner similar to the Tigh 'n Alluis Gaelic sweat-houses (which were built of stone), however, this theory does not take into account the fact that the hot water trough is located outside the buildings (when a building is even present at all).[7]

In August 2007 two Galway based archaeologists suggested that fulachtaí fiadh were used primarily for the brewing of beer, and experimented by filling a large wooden trough with water and adding heated stones. Once the water had reached approximately 65 degrees Celsius they added barley and after 45 minutes transferred it to separate vessels to ferment, first adding wild plant flavourings and yeast. Some days later they discovered that it had transformed into a drinkable light ale.[8][9]


  1. ^ Other examples include oval, circular or irregular shaped mounds
  2. ^ Murphy (1997), 91
  3. ^ Brinley, Lanting, "The dating of fulachta fiadh", Burned Offerings, 1990, Wordwell, p55-56.
  4. ^ "Mayo Archaeology 15 of Travels in Time". Travels in Time. 2006. Retrieved October 7, 2006.
  5. ^ Power, Denis, "Archaeological Inventory of County Cork, Volume 3: Mid Cork", ColorBooks, P75. ISBN 0-7076-4933-1
  6. ^ Ó Néill, J. 2004 "Lapidibus in igne calefactis coquebatur: the historical burnt mound ‘tradition’", Journal of Irish Archaeology Vol. XII/XIII, 79-85
  7. ^ a b c O’Kelley, Michael J., 1989. Early Ireland – An Introduction to Irish Prehistory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 223–227 ISBN 0-521-33687-2
  8. ^ BreakingNews.ie - Ancient monument may have been Bronze Age brewery
  9. ^ Copy of Archeology Ireland article describing the brewing experiment


  • Higgins, Jim, 1991, A new group of fulachta fiad in Co. Mayo, in Cathair na Mart 11, pp. 31–34, 1991
  • O'Kelley, Michael J., 1989. Early Ireland – An Introduction to Irish Prehistory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 223–227 ISBN 0-521-33687-2
  • Harbison, Peter, 1988. Pre-Christian Ireland – From the First Settlers to the Early Celts. Thames and Hudson, New York. pp. 8, 110-112, and plate 65. ISBN 0-500-27809-1
  • Murphy, Cornelius. The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork. Department of Archaeology, University College Cork, 1997

External links

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Ballyvolane, Cork City

Ballyvolane (Irish: Baile Uí Mhaoláin) is a townland and suburb of Cork on the north side of the city, that borders Mayfield, White's Cross, Glenheights and Dublin Hill. The townland of Ballyvolane is in the civil parish of St. Anne's Shandon.The two schools in Ballyvolane are St. Aidan's C.C and Scoil Oilibhéir, and the local Roman Catholic Church is Saint Oliver's, built in the 1990s. Nearby archaeological sites, protected under the National Monuments Acts, include a number of burnt mounds and fulacht fiadh.In June 2012, several households in the area were damaged by flooding.

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Burnt mound

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A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

Cumberland point

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Drombeg stone circle

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Grattoir de côté

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Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.


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Lamoka projectile point

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Magh Adhair

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Pesse canoe

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Plano point

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They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


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It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


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Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

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