Republic of Ireland

Education, Community and Irish Archaeological Research

Hi. My name is Christina O’Regan and I am the Fieldwork and Educational Director of Irish Archaeological Research (IAR). Three colleagues and I set up this non-profit social organisation in early 2011 with the aim of getting the public more involved with archaeology through education, workshops, and community events. We are all from commercial archaeological backgrounds and wanted to develop our experience in community archaeology.

A focus has been the delivery of school workshops, typically to second level students in years 8 – 12. These workshops begin with a general introduction to the archaeology of Ireland, followed by a practical session varying from how to make and decorate prehistoric-style pottery, learning about diet through artificial ‘poo’ dissection, hands-on interaction with genuine and replica artefacts and prehistoric hunting techniques. These workshops have been incredibly successful, with benefits for students and teachers alike.

My work in IAR varies from day-to-day as I develop workshops, plan for future events and shoot off a few emails to raise the profile of IAR within the archaeological and educational sectors.

For this year’s Festival of British Archaeology, we have decided to host two family-orientated events; the first at Glenariff Forest Park (July 21st & 22nd) and the second at Gosford Forest Park (July 28th & 29th). Our experience with the school workshops has shown us that the more practical the day, the better. Pottery workshops, archery, demonstrations of flint knapping and a children’s activity area will ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy. There will also be a mini museum, with an interactive artefacts table as well as information on the archaeology of the areas where the events will be held (Antrim and Armagh). The Northern Ireland Environment Agency have very generously granted us a loan of some artefacts from both counties and I joyously spent an afternoon sifting through their stores, picking out choice artefacts with the help of Andrew Gault from the Agency. We are also busy planning similar events for National Heritage Week in the Republic of Ireland, August 18th – 26th.

A trial run of the Open Air Museum at the Carnival of Colours, Londonderry showed us the enormous benefits this type of venture can have in increasing awareness of local heritage within communities.

Social media has been a lifeline for IAR with our Facebook page now ‘liked’ by over 1,000 people. The page allows us to announce all of our upcoming events as well as share archaeological discoveries and support other institutions and companies. Facebook also allows us to easily disseminate our free online magazine, Irish Archaeological Research and we have just put out a call for articles for the fourth (summer) edition. As editor of the e-zine, I envisage many late nights over the coming weeks organising layout and thinking up witty headlines!

For more information on any of our events see www.irisharchaeologicalresearch.com

 

Burials & the Last Day on Site

Who are we?

Irish Archaeology Field School is a research project and teaching dig based in the Boyne Valley in Co. Meath, Ireland. We have three sites, one at Blackfriary in Trim, a C13th Dominican abbey, one in Rossnaree, near Slane, a multi-period site, and one at Bective Abbey, a C12th Cistercian Abbey. Blackfriary is a community archaeology initiative with support from the Department of Arts, Heritage & Local Government, the local authority, and the American Institute of Archaeology Site Preservation Fund. The sites at Rossnaree and Bective are being excavated by our research partners, with funding from the Royal Irish Academy.

Blackfriary: A day in the life:

Blackfriary Abbey in Trim, Co. Meath is the site of the abbey has lain abandoned for decades and been surrounded by the expanding town. The abbey walls have largely been robbed out and the site is mostly under grass.

The current season’s research programme was designed explore the interface between the church and the cloister, which is situated immediately to the north of the church. The first month of excavation revealed lots of loose stone, evidence of the deliberate destruction of the abbey walls (the stone was likely reused elsewhere) and it is only in the last few weeks that we are finally accessing the base of the walls with foundations and stone work in situ. We are only using hand tools to excavate so there is a lot of mattocking and shovelling involved, to move a lot of material:

Plate 1: Melissa Clarke wields a mattock

While the cloister wall was found reasonably quickly, the north wall of the church was heavily robbed out, and we are also reaching levels that contain f burials, both disturbed and undisturbed.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in C16th, the abbey was no longer officially a religious centre. However people still considered the site as sacred and such sites were often used as graveyards in the centuries following. The abbey graveyard, lies to the south west of the church. There are also burials within the church. As yet we have found no conclusive diagnostic material to date them – we may have to wait for radio-carbon dates. What we do know is that we have 3 distinct burials, but we at least 6 individuals are represented by the skeletal remains recovered so far.

When a burial is uncovered, we first try to find a grave cut – that is the evidence that might remain of the grave that was dug for the burial. We then photograph it, to add to the record. The photo board notes the site registration number, the number assigned to this burial, area of the site in which it occurs, the date, and the initials of the photographer:

Plate 2: Malika Hays photographs Burial 3 prior to excavation

Burial 3 is that of a young child or infant; the remains are in reasonable condition however the bones are fragile and are particularly difficult to recover. The tools of an archaeologist include a standard trowel, and a leaf trowel for intricate or delicate work but is this instance we improvise with some wooden skewers; these are useful for precision and because the point is softer.

Plate 3: Malika excavating: using a wooden skewer for precision

Excavation of material this delicate is slow work: the soil must be cleaned off each fragment of bone and stored for sieving, and each bone fragment lifted and placed in a specific box for that burial. Given the age of the individual when he or she died, the bones are small and delicate, only partially fused in some instances. Some bones are so small they may not be identifiable during excavation and may only be recovered from the sieved material. We had barely made any progress on the excavation of this burial by the end of the day so the burial has been carefully packed with bubble wrap and covered to protect it and keep it from drying out overnight.

Rossnaree – today was a day of logistics:

The dig at Rossnaree finished up today. The site is in a rapeseed field and with the harvesters on the way, the heat was on to backfill the excavations, to ensure that all the recording of the archaeological features is complete and that every detail has been noted.

Behind the scenes though is the inevitable demobilisation of the site. At Rossnaree, there was a small crew of 8-10 people for most of the four week excavation. The contents of their site cabin fitting into the back of our small van:

Plate 4: Mattocks and sieves – tools of the trade

After loading up all the equipment, finds, samples, registers, plans and notebooks, all that’s left to do is close the gate behind us…. until next year!

Plate 5: The laneway to Rossnaree archaeological site, located in the Boyne Valley – Knowth passage tomb is just out of view behind the trees on the right.

References

A Day in the Life of an Investigator for the RCAHMW – Part II

Today I’ve had several different pieces of work to do, which makes it an average day for me.

After my morning cup of tea, I set about checking my work e-mails. The project I work for, the Atlanterra Project, are in the process of submitting the next financial claims for the work that has been done since January 2011. As part of this I have make sure I have all the relevant paperwork ready to upload, and this morning my in-tray contained some of the papers I needed, as well several e-mail attachments of previous project business meetings. Whilst it might not sound very glamorous and archaeology like, the project management element of work like this is very important, if perhaps not the most exciting part of the day. I do enjoy it though, as it helps me plan ahead for the next year of the project and work out how, when, why, where and what I’ll spend the project money on.

The Atlanterra Project is a European funded project with ten project partners from five countries (Wales, France, Spain, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland) working together to preserve and promote post-medieval mining heritage.

Among the work being carried out are projects on the creation of geological gardens; reconstruction and preservation of mining machinery; surveying and archaeologically recording mining complexes and collectively working on how best to provide public access to the information collected and diseminated during the life of the project. My own particular role within the project is to provide expert advice and guidance to the other project partners on ‘Physical and Digital Data Capture, Storage and Tender Specification’. Basically, if you want a site surveying, have you actually considered why it need to be done and what you will do with the data (which could be CAD drawings, CGI animations, or someone with a tape measure, ruler and piece of paper) once you have asked someone to collect it for you?

As part of my work on the Atlanterra Project, I carry out fieldwork surveying and recording mining heritage sites which are at risk. Two of the sites I have been out to survey as part of this work are Maenofferen Slate Mine, near Blaenau Ffestiniog:

http://heritageofwalesnews.blogspot.com/2010/10/survey-at-maenofferen-slate-quarry.html

and Mynydd Nodol Manganese Mine, near Bala:

http://heritageofwalesnews.blogspot.com/2011/06/surveying-19th-century-manganese-mine.html

After that, I worked on a talk I am giving at the National Eisteddfod next Tuesday. The National Eisteddfod moves around Wales each year, and this year is being hosted in my home town, Wrexham. With that in mind the RCAHMW Education Officer asked me if I could prepare something for a general audience. I decided to prepare something on one of the RCAHMW projects which is being prepared for publication – in some for or another – in the long term. That project is the The Workers’ Houses of Wales Project. You can find details of four of our National Projects here:

http://www.rcahmw.gov.uk/HI/ENG/Our+Services/Research+and+Recording/National+Projects/

http://www.rcahmw.gov.uk/HI/CYM/Ein+Gwasanaethau/Ymchwilio+a+Chofnodi/Prosiectau+Cenedlaethol/

and details of my talk at the Eisteddfod here:

http://heritageofwalesnews.blogspot.com/2011/07/welsh-workers-housing.html

http://heritageofwalesnews.blogspot.com/2011/07/tai-gweithwyr-cymru.html

Because my first language is Welsh, I’ve also been asked by CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments if I will guide a walking tour of the village of Cefn Mawr, near Wrexham, to explain its character and history. Details of my walk can be found here: 

http://heritageofwalesnews.blogspot.com/2011/07/walking-tour-exploring-urban-character.html

http://heritageofwalesnews.blogspot.com/2011/07/ar-daith-dywys-syn-cyflwyno-cymeriad.html

 

A day in the life of an Irish Managing Director / Archaeologist

My name is Colm Moloney and I am the Managing Director of Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd. We are one of the larger commercial archaeological companies operating in Ireland.

 

The office of Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd on Little Island in County Cork

In my working life Fridays tend to be meeting heavy but in July that all changes as the holiday season hits. This Friday (Day of Archaeology) I have a fine balance of some interesting archaeology and quite a lot of commercial activity. Here it is warts n’ all!

 

I started my day off at 8am in the office in Little island, County Cork preparing a news article for Seanda, the annual archaeology magazine of the Irish National Roads Authority. This summarises a group of 6 corn drying kilns from an amazing Early Christian site in County Tipperary.

 

At 10am I met with the Business Support Manager to have a look at the mail and discuss the forthcoming week and programming of work. Great news – we won tenders for three fieldwork projects!

 

Lunch is postponed as the archive for a site I will be writing up over the next year arrives at the office and needs to be stored away carefully. One box contains a complete and intact prehistoric pot. The most amazing things go through this office!

 

A complete and intact Bronze Age pot delivered to the office today

Next it was straight into an end of month financial review with the accountant and other directors. This involves checking that we have hit our financial targets for the month and then going through our forecasting for finance for the next 12 months. Once the forecasting is complete we meet with the sales team to discuss targets and what work we need to get in to keep the business going steady. While this may seem mundane and boring it is by far the most important part of my job particularly in the midst of a recession.

 

After lunch is spent working on the Bronze Age chapter for a monograph that we are writing on the archaeology of the N7 Nenagh to Limerick Road scheme for the National Roads Authority. Today I was producing a distribution map of Bronze Age settlements between Limerick city and Nenagh in County Tipperary – I love this part of my job!

 

This afternoon I have a strategy meeting for our new business – Know Thy Place Ltd. We started this in response to the recession and it is really starting to gather momentum. We are now looking at pushing the service in the USA and todays meeting will focus on how best to achieve this.  I have to admit this is all very exciting and it is great to be doing something positive to fight the recession.

 

My final tasks of the day involve reviewing the illustrations for an article I have written for the Tipperary County Journal with our Graphics Manager and making a start on a blog post for Know Thy Place on a family of troglodytes who lived in my home town of Midleton, County Cork during the early medieval period.

 

That was my day, I hope you enjoyed it!