God Amend Thee, Sinner…

Most years so far the Day of Archaeology has coincided with the closing down of the west of Ireland, and in particular, Galway City and County. We’re in the middle of Festival Season with the Galway International Arts Festival just finishing and the Galway Races about to start.

Galway journalist, and ‘demonstrably the best rock ‘n’ roll interviewer in the world’, Olaf Tyaransen describes the feeling of all Galwegians well in a recent article:

“Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left” – Victor Hugo

No sooner has the Arts Festival ended than the Galway Races begin. All bets are off with this one. It’s like a mad race to the bottom. The city becomes a giant vomitorium, you can’t get a seat in a restaurant (not even Supermacs), and the hospital emergency rooms – or rather room – jam up with weeping women in silly hats who’ve slipped on their impractical stilettos.

After the Races:

There’s the Tuam Arts Festival, the Roundstone Summer Fest, the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, the Ballinasloe Horse Fair, Clifden Arts Week, and many more besides. Even the Aran Islands aren’t safe.

They have Tedfest. But that would be an ecumenical matter.

So, put simply, we’re in wind down at Moore Group. Most of us are getting away from the madness for the week. We’ll be taking ourselves away somewhere quiet and pleasant, where the noise of the helicopters and the chatter of the elites over their oysters and Guinness is a distant hum and a distant memory.

The Day of Archaeology therefore, revolves around tidying up all the outstanding jobs. Finishing and editing reports, getting out the all important invoices, chasing people for money, and by day’s end popping open a well deserved bottle of craft beer and leaving it all behind.

Beside me, my colleague Billy has been doing a bit of detective work – completing an assessment of a proposed development in a townland called ‘Goddamendy’.

He’s been investigating the origin of the townland name, which sometimes reveals clues as to the cultural heritage of the location. These names are a rich source of information for the land use, history, archaeology and folklore of an area. The placename can have a variety of language origins such as, Irish, Viking, Anglo-Norman and English. They can provide information on families, topographical features, and historical incidents. In terms of the built environment many names reference churches, fords, castles, raths, graveyards, roads and passes etc. Townlands are the smallest administrative land divisions used in Ireland and are in fact the only surviving administrative structure with a continuous history of development going back to medieval times if not earlier.

The names feature on the Ordnance Survey maps, the first edition of which was completed for the whole country circa 1842.  In the compilation of the Ordnance Survey scholars such as Eugene O’Curry and John O’Donovan were commissioned to provide the Survey with the anglicised forms of the Irish place-names, and it is these anglicised forms that have been in general use ever since.

Bill’s consulted the Placenames Database of Ireland – and Irish Names of Places by P.W. Joyce  to try to find the origin of ‘Goddamendy’, but had no luck with it.

Finally, Wikipedia tells him that the townland of Goddamendy is perhaps the only townland in Ireland containing a prayer in its name. Tradition has it that when a priest arrived late for the anointing of a dying man, the dead man’s relative cursed the priest, who replied “May God amend thee!”….

No citation for that, but it sounds reasonable to me.

I’m completing the report for a peatland survey we carried out along with wetland specialists last week. A total of 10 archaeological sightings representing five individual archaeological sites were identified during the survey. The sites identified consist of a Road – class 1 togher, a Road – class 3 togher and three sites classified as Structure – peatland.

The togher (trackway) is a substantial one of planks, roundwoods and limestone flags, identified in five locations and traced for 65 m running through the bog. Built with large timbers, roundwoods and limestone flags this togher represents a significant attempt to cross or access the bog.

Our GIS consultant, Nigel, of Impact GIS has created a lovely Photogrammetric model of the togher for your viewing and there’s a nice plan of it too.



For the smaller toghers, Professor Aidan O’Sullivan remarks in “Exploring past people’s interaction with wetland environments in Ireland” that “there is a growing sense that these were not structures designed to cross the bog, but to get into the bog”. Our trackway does appear to be aligned between two headlands so, in this case, it may have been an attempt to traverse the area. We’ve sampled it and will be forwarding for dating shortly. We anticipate an Early Bronze Age date, based on the depth within the bog it was noted.


Investigating the peat bogs of Ireland

I am the Bord Na Móna Project Archaeologist and this year we are inaugurating a new 3 year campaign of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental investigations in the peatlands of Ireland.

Re-locating sites in peatland

Re-locating sites in peatland, Cloonshannagh Bog, Co. Roscommon.

The Irish peatlands because of their waterlogged anaerobic environment are an internationally important repository of archaeological sites and artefacts as well as ancient environmental and climatic biofacts. They preserve evidence ranging from human remains, settlements and trackways and platforms to food and artefacts, plants, pollen, insects, amoeba and even the fallout from ancient volcanic eruptions.

Bord Na Móna is the state sponsored company with interests in energy, fuel supply, horticulture, waste management and the environmental markets, and has the responsibility to manage a large part of Ireland’s peat resource. The company owns and manages some 80,000 hectares of lands, the majority of which are peatlands. Archaeological survey of the peatlands over the last 30 years has resulted in the discovery of many archaeological sites and structures preserved within peat. Bord Na Móna has the responsibility to organise and finance the archaeological investigation of its peatlands in advance of peat harvesting. My role as Project Archaeologist is to work, under the terms of the Code of Practice between the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Museum of Ireland and Bord na Móna and identify the archaeological sites to be investigated. I am responsible for developing a programme of investigations and assisting with the selection of archaeological consultants to carry out the work through the EU tender framework. I also manage the implementation and delivery of the project investigations including analysis and reporting. Over the next 3 years we will be investigating more than a hundred archaeological sites in bogs in counties Longford, Offaly, Roscommon and Westmeath.

Medieval leather shoe from  Toar Bog, Co. Westmeath.

Medieval leather shoe found in Toar Bog, Co. Westmeath.

This week we are advancing the work by precisely re-locating and marking sites to be investigated. This will allow us to identify the best places to open excavation cuttings. The work involves finding the coordinates of the monuments identified during earlier surveys with GPS, checking their condition and deciding on the optimal placement of excavation trenches. The work is physically demanding and requires walking long distances over the bog and jumping across dozens of deep water-filled drains. The monuments include trackways and platforms that range in date from the Neolithic to the Medieval period and are visible at various depths in the faces of the drains and sometimes on the surface. Sometimes in the course of the work we make a new find, like the Medieval leather shoe illustrated above, that was identified by a keen-eyed member of the team earlier in the week. The moccasin shoe had a leather sole and was probably lost when an earlier bog walker stepped into a bog hole. Unable to retrieve it they had to make the long trudge back home with only a single shoe. Luckily we made it back with all our boots and equipment intact! The shoe will be conserved and analysed and sent to the National Museum for permanent curation.

ADS Peatland Excavations – some highlights from the season on the Final Day…..

The 2011 Day of Archaeology marked the final day on site for the ADS Peatland Team after a six week season.
Despite a late night last night the full compliment of 18 were out at Killaderry Bog, Co Galway at 8am this morning to carry out the final sampling, recording and tracing of sites. Led by myself, Jane Whitaker, Peatlands Project Manager with support from a second site director Nicola Rohan and a fantastic team of experienced archaeologisst we excavated 20 trackways ranging in date from the Bronze Age to the Medieval Period in three Bord na Mona Bogs in Co Galway.
Gowla Bog was first on the list and here our excavations were located within a small cluster of brushwood trackways, hurdles and platforms. A couple of different hurdle constructions were noted in very close proximity and as levels in the drained industrial bogs can be deceiving we will be relying on dating to assist us in untangling this particular spaghetti junction.

Some dates were already available to us following our fieldwalking survey a couple of years ago which is always a bonus when heading out on site.

Meanwhile, across the road in Killaderry Bog our team had been joined by 10 Field School students from the University of Florida and Prof Florin Curta. While bemused by the joys of a typical Irish ‘summer’ the students got stuck in and were let loose on the excavation of a plank, gravel and stone trackway dating to AD660-770.

This site is one of several that traverse the narrow neck of the bog. In this particular case the site runs alongside and in some places crosses over a substantial Bronze Age plank and roundwood trackway.
As noted above, todays work involved the final tracing and linking of the excavated sites. Re-cutting of the drains to facilitate the peat harvesting process and indeed the harvesting itself revealed additional sightings along trackways identified during our initial fieldwalking survey works. These were all cleaned, recorded and a GPS reading taken while other team members were furiously lifting, bagging and logging the final samples. Bord na Mona Project Archaeologist Charles Mount came out for a final visit.
All too soon it was time to count tools, load the jeeps with samples, bid farewell to the team and the ever patient staff in Bord na Mona and hit the road for the long dive home.
While we are all looking forward to scraping the last of the peat out of our fingernails, after thirteen seasons, 250 excavations and thousands of miles of Bord na Mona bogs walked we’re still looking forward to the next season already!
Next task is to write up the preliminary reports, select samples for dating and patiently await the results from our paleo collegues from Reading University……..

Coastal archaeology and community engagement

I’m Ellie, a project archaeologist with GGAT, and I’m currently working on a community project, Arfordir (‘coastline’ in Welsh) which involves working with volunteers to monitor and record the vulerable archaeology in the coastal zone of south east Wales.  The study area encompasses the coast of the Gower peninsula and Swansea Bay as far as the mouth of the River Ogmore.  This includes fascinating archaeology of all periods, much of which is at risk from coastal erosion, sea level change, visitor damage and other threats.

A view of the ruined Candleston Castle in the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr

Candleston Castle, Merthyr Mawr, in the new eastern part of the project study area

A large part of the workload of the project involves general admin, I spend the first part of every morning checking and answering emails from volunteers working on the project and liasing with colleagues.  The project study area has just been expanded to the east and a lot of new volunteers have been recruited in this area, so I’ve been organising a meeting and training session, and inviting interested people to come along.

We’ve also just started working in partnership with a similar project in Swansea, and I’ve been creating a leaflet advertising the opportunity to volunteer and get involved in this.  I’m also planning a series of guided walks around the study area so I can show volunteers some interesting archaeological sites and they can get some experience in recording and surveying.  In preparation for this, I’ve been creating maps showing the sites in the area and lists detailing what they are.  Finally, I plan to spend the rest of the afternoon writing a proposal for a spin-off from the Arfordir project, a small excavation on the foreshore of Swansea, investigating a series of wooden posts embedded in the Brynmill peat shelf.  In the past features in this peat shelf have been found to be of prehistoric date, so these wooden posts could be thousands of years old.  I’m hoping to spend part of the autumn excavating them with a team of volunteers so that we can find out.

A day of archaeology in the peatlands of Ireland

View Killaderry& Castlegar in a larger map

About me
As an archaeologist my work ranges widely from advising developers how to avoid impacts on archaeology and built heritage, to the preparation of the cultural heritage sections of environmental impact assessments, to the commissioning of field-based investigations such as geophysical survey and the traditional archaeological excavation. Part of my professional work involves overseeing the archaeological programme of Bord na Móna, where I act as Project Archaeologist. Bord na Móna is the commercial Semi-state body with responsibility for the development of the Irish national peat resource. Bord na Móna owns and manages more than 80,000 ha of land spread across Ireland. Most of this is peatland which has preserved a wealth of organic archaeological and palaeoenvironmental material. Once thought to be areas of wilderness we now know that the bogs were used by people for thousands of years.