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.

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 5 (Textile Finds)

Day of Archaeology: Blog 5 – Textiles

Moving onto and into our Leather & Textile store, we have two classic objects chosen by you, completely at random.

Our first randomly selected object, from shelf number 876, is a Roman leather shoe, excavated from site BUC87 – once the heart of Londinium. The LAARC holds over 5000 Roman and medieval shoes (we are the largest Archeological Archive in the world after all) and this artefact is a fine example of its type. The leather sole of the shoe has been preserved through waterlogged conditions but once exposed would quickly dry and shrink. Luckily the Museum ofLondon’s conservation department owns a magic machine called a freeze-dryer which, through the process of sublimation, leaves these leather objects in a very stable condition.

Roman leather shoe

Roman leather shoe from BUC87 – and shelf 876

 A common comment on archaeological Roman shoes is that they always seem very small. The leather may have shrunk somewhat after two millennia in the ground and the freeze-drying process may add minimally to this, but on the whole our Roman Londoners seem to have small feet…Perhaps a comparative study should be conducted with the many Roman skeletal remains held at the Museum’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology!

Our second object is a piece of post-medieval textile from site EAG87  (and shelf 809), excavated by the Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) back in the late 1980s. Archaeological textiles suffer from damage to both their texture and colour; however, our Curator of Fashion & Decorative Arts gets particularly excited about brown bits of wool!

Post-medieval cloth

Post-medieval cloth from EAG87 – and shelf 809

Again our textile much like other organics and inorganic, such as metal, has survived through waterlogged but anaerobic conditions. This fragmentary piece was probably part of the C18th backfill of a well excavated on this site.

Our last major store section holds our Environmental finds. These are typically extremely small objects that take up little space (hence the small shelf range) and include objects such as seeds, pollen and small animal bones etc. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us a number below, between 1 and 44 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…