west coast

Festivals, Shoes, Maps and Beer in Galway, Ireland

Some rights reserved by Mikenan1 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikenan1/) used under a creative commons licence

Moore Group is based in Galway, on Irelands rugged, windswept, wet west coast, and today marks the beginning of festival season in the City. So, despite the dreary weather, we’re all in festive mood here. The Volvo Round the World Yacht Race is due to finish in the harbour over the weekend, the Galway Arts Festival follows the week of festivities around the Yacht Race and the famous Galway Races follow that. Then, in early August we’re hosting our small boutique ‘Archaeology of Beer’ Festival in Headford, Co. Galway (Headfest). It’s been described as Ireland most boutique, boutique festival. This year, due to a lack of funding, we’ve downsized the gig, so it’ll be even more boutique!

This morning I’ve been focused on beer. I’ve been researching ancient recipes and brewing methods for a ‘wild’ beer. A wild beer is a beer which is fermented using windblown or other wild yeasts, and is something we’ve never really tried before. It could (and probably will) turn out awful… We’ve brewed two beers so far. One, a bog myrtle (Myrica Gale) and malt ale with some yarrow flavouring (Gale Ale), the second a simple hopped ale (so that people can taste the difference between a modern hopped ale and an ancient non-hopped herbal ‘gruit’ ale). We’ve already tasted our ‘Gale Ale’ and, it’s really nice, if I say so myself…. We had separated it into three batches – one is a ‘lighter’ ale of about 6% ABV, the second is stronger and is around 8% ABV and the third is a really strong 9.5% ABV ale. We’ve one more beer to brew and I’m trying to work out a recipe for next weeks brewday. On Headfest day we’ll be demonstrating our brewing in a replica fulacht fiadh using hot rocks to get our liquor to the right temperature. You can read more about our hot rock experiments on our blog

Unfortunately beer doesn’t pay the bills so we have other more mundane duties to perform today as well. I’m currently completing a constraints study on a large electricity infrastructure project. Essentially this entailed mapping and describing the existing, known, cultural heritage of the study area, using existing data sources and information. We’ve mapped all these data and today I have to review the mapping to ensure that it’s correct. It sounds dull, but there are some interesting diversions. For instance, comparing the first edition OS Maps with the second editions gives a picture of a remarkably changed landscape which mirrors the economic history of the 19th and early 20th centuries in Ireland. Despite the intervening famine there was huge development in the West of Ireland, with the construction of roads, railway lines, bridges and the introduction, and eventual dissipation, of large demesnes and designed landscapes. Whereas the early maps (surveyed in the 1830s and 1840s) depict remote clusters of houses and small landholdings in many cases reachable only by tracks, by the 1890’s or early 1900’s these remote locations are served by roads and other services.   Much of this growth in the latter part of the 19th century is down to the Napoleonic Wars when Ireland experienced a huge surge in economic circumstances (an early Celtic Tiger period) and the passing of the Land Acts in the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century which eventually dissipated the power of the Anglo-Irish landed gentry and created a large sector of small landowners throughout the country.

My colleague Billy, meanwhile, is busy preparing finds for deposition in the National Museum, cataloguing and boxing… He’s currently looking at shoes.

A shoe from post medieval Galway

The shoe pieces (44 in all) were retrieved from the Market House excavation (for more on the excavation see here) during the course of the Eyre Square Re-enhancement Project in the middle of Galway City in 2004. Most of the fragments were retrieved from a rectangular test pit excavated across the centre of the site representing successive metalled surfaces and dump deposits pre-dating an 18th century building at the north end of Eyre Square. The majority of the pieces come from post-medieval contexts consisting largely of footwear fragments and off cuts. Shoes are fascinating (I’m serious)… Here’s an excerpt from Billy’s report:

“The shoe styles found share similar characteristics with comparative urban excavations in Cork and Waterford and more locally from Barrack lane, Galway. The most common shoe type of the medieval period was the turnshoe, made as the name suggests by stitching a wet and inside out leather upper to a sole and then turning it rightside out so that the sewing is protected. The upper would then be wrapped around the foot and secured by either a strap, latched or using a thong. This simple template evolved through time for utilitarian purposes or simply as fashion dictated. Heels were initially made by sewing stiffeners inside the shoe to prevent wearing.

From the sixteenth century onwards heels developed into a series of separate “lifts” (“built heel”) stacked and pinned or sewed together. Similarly the upper changed from a simple wraparound piece to an overshoe consisting of a ‘vamp’ or toe covering, quarters covering the inner and outer sides of the foot, the tongue, a piece of leather to the front placed between two sides of a tied opening and the back strap. Another common shoe feature was a welt (sometimes called rand) or strip of leather stitched along the lasting margin between the upper and the sole to protect the seam and make the shoe watertight. Common shoes of the second half of the eighteenth century were the heavy brogue and the knee length boot. The native brogue (after the Irish bróga, meaning shoe) was a low heeled, heavy shoe of un-tanned leather with laces along the instep and no tongue with small perforations on the toe puff and quarters. This hardwearing footwear was practically designed for country men as a shoe that would drain water and dry quickly due to the lack of a tongue, and not get stuck in the mud because of their laces above the ankle. Knee length boots were an English introduction and were more expensive and associated with the landed gentry, given the restrictive laws for horse ownership during the penal law era.

Concerning leather as a raw material, cow hide was generally used in the manufacture of most shoe soles, welts and binds – it being the strongest and most resilient of the available skins. For the uppers, calf, goat or sheep skin were the preferred choices for reasons of flexibility and comfort.”

See – I told you, Shoes are fascinating!

As archaeologists it’s the ordinary things we find which inform our discourse with the past and which give me most satisfaction. The big finds and the big sites are, of course, part of the process, but it’s the archaeology of the ordinary that keeps me interested – the shoes, the nails, the bottles and pot sherds, all of which tell us a story and fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Writing, Tweeting, and Course Prep.

I am an archaeology news junkie. I like to read about it and write about it. So, like most days, I made several forays to my twitter site (http://twitter.com/bobmuckle) to see what is happening in the world of archaeology. I  tend to make several tweets a day, mostly related to archaeology, but occasionally I will tweet about issues related to the Indigenous  Peoples of North America or human biological evolution as well.

I have also been working on a column I am writing for the American Anthropological Association’s on-line “Anthropology News” . I write a monthly op/ed column called ‘Archaeology in North America’.  I just started drafting the column today and will revise and submit it tomorrow. It will appear on the Anthropology News web site sometime in July. The topic for the July column is on the emergent subfield of glacier and ice patch archaeology in North America, and the urgency to record the remains now being exposed by the rapidly melting ice and snow.

Another bit of writing I did today was to draft a report on my recently completed field project in the forests of west coast of Canada. I made a separate entry to Day of Archaeology 2012 on that (Archaeology of a Japanese Camp in Western Canada).

I am also drafting some syllabi for some courses I will be teaching in the Fall term. I am astutely aware that those great ideas for teaching that I have in June often translate into an enoromous workload for both the students and me in the Fall, so am trying to be cautious and reign my ideas in.  One of the courses I will be teaching is on the Indigenous Peoples of North America, and I am anxious to use my most recent book for that. (Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview).

Fife Ness Survey

We’re maritime archaeologists – that is, we’re interested in the remains people have left behind which tell us of humankind’s long relationship with the sea. In the past we’ve worked on sunken shipwrecks – victims of the Spanish Armada lost in the gales of 1588, East Indiamen wrecked on British shores at the start of their long voyage to the Far East, and most recently a small warship sent by Oliver Cromwell to invade the island of Mull off the west coast of Scotland in 1653. But not all the remains we investigate are under water. There is a veritable treasure-trove of information lying along our coasts, and that’s what we’ve been exploring today.

We’re working at Fife Ness on the east coast of Scotland, at the end of the peninsula which divides the estuaries of the Forth and Tay. Just off the headland is a dangerous reef, the Carr Rocks, which in the past has been a major hazard for shipping. In 1813 the great lighthouse-builder Robert Stevenson began erecting a stone beacon to mark the end of the reef, a difficult task because the rock on which it was to stand only uncovers for a few minutes at low tide. So the interlocking stones had to be prepared on land, and shipped out to be assembled as rapidly as possible on the reef.

What we’ve discovered is a circular jig cut in the rock, where workmen could dress the stones to shape, practice putting them together, and then load them onto lighters for the mile and a half journey to the reef. At the water’s edge is a ruined stone-built quay. This was once linked to the jig by iron rails along which trolleys carrying the stones were pushed. No trace of the rails survives, but holes drilled in the rock for supporting stanchions show where the line ran.

We decided that the best way to record these complex features would be to take vertical aerial photographs. But a ladder or even a telescopic mast can’t go high enough, while for safety reasons a conventional light aircraft isn’t permitted to fly sufficiently low. Neither system would have enabled us to take fully vertical pictures anyway. So we’ve obtained our own ‘eye in the sky’ – a tiny HexaKopter drone (www.mikrokopter.de) which is gyroscopically stabilised and linked to the Global Positioning System (GPS) for accurate positioning and altitude control.

It carries a camera which automatically adjusts itself to a vertical position (or whatever angle we want). A video link to the ground gives real-time feedback of what the camera ‘sees’, and when the framing is right a high-resolution digital photograph is taken. The photographs are subsequently rectified (adjusted by computer) to form an accurate plan. This is the first time we’ve used the system in the field and – joy of joys – it works! We’re now developing the tool as an ideal method for speedily and accurately recording archaeological features around our coastline, and elsewhere too.

Nearby is another feature we recorded during today’s visit. It’s a tidal mill, whereby the rising tide filled a reservoir held by a stone-built dam, and when the tide receded it flowed through a narrow channel with a water-wheel which drove a millstone. Again the HexaKopter gave us the photographs we need to plot the detailed construction of the partly-collapsed dam walls and show the complicated cuts and slots in the natural rock in which the vanished water-wheel structure was bedded.

We’re all in our various ways professionals, but we started this project as a private venture because we thought it would be interesting, useful, and fun. Dr Paula Martin is an archaeologist and historian who currently edits the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology; and Dr Colin Martin is a retired Reader from St Andrews University who specialised in shipwreck archaeology and aerial photography. Paula and Colin are both honorary members of staff at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology. Edward Martin is a commercial photographer with expertise in archaeological and museum work, www.em-photo.co.uk, and he flies the HexaKopter. As you may by now have guessed, it’s very much a family enterprise!

We hope you like our video and a selection of the photographs we took during our day in the field.




NPS Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School 2011

This is the last day at the 10th National Parks Service (NPS) Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School  based in Vancouver, Washington. Over the past 7 weeks the 18 students from Washington State University Vancouver, Portland State University and a few graduate students from all over the United States have come together to excavate a multicultural village, called Kanaka Village by the Americans due to the large Hawaiian population brought in by the English traders, that served to support the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post on the Columbia River in the 1830s and 40s.  We have been well trained in field techniques and methodology while investigating the purpose of a fenced-in open area in the middle of the village. We have also been interacting with the public on a daily basis. Interpretative training is a part of our curriculum and an essential part of our mission to raise awareness and foster public involvement in the history of the Columbia River and the Oregon-Washington coast. In addition to all this we have been attending regular lectures from visiting archaeologists on topics ranging from Saloon Archaeology to Fur Trade Archaeology in the Great Lakes region, and race and ethnicity in a constructed landscape in the American South.

The Hudson’s Bay Company Village was built along side the fort in the late 1820s as a place for non-officers or ranking company officials to live. The population dwarfed the fort population at its smallest with around 250 inhabitants and could swell into the thousands during the brigade season. It was the most culturally diverse area of the Western coast of North America for a significant portion of the 19th century with workers being brought in from across the globe by the Hudson’s Bay Company trading and interacting with over 30 distinct Native American  tribes at a major trading hub along the Columbia River. Most of the historic record of this era concerns itself with the lives and dealings of the officers and officials of the company and their perspectives of the villagers. Almost nothing is known about the daily lives of the villagers that is not revealed to us through archaeology.

Each of our trenches were investigating a different aspect of the open area in the village and students were rotated from trench to trench and would hone their interpretive skills informing any visitors who came to see what we were finding. Many times we would learn more from the public than they did from us but this is part of the beauty of Public Archaeology, each party walks away with a new outlook on the site.

This last week in our field school has been spent working on survey techniques. We have been camping at the Yeon Property, a new Parks Service acquisition by the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on the Oregon Coast. New properties must be first archaeologically surveyed in order to identify any sites of significance in the area and to set up an archaeological baseline to protect and preserve any cultural resources on the property. We have been split into three groups of 5 or 6 each and over the past few days have rotated between digging 1m deep shovel probes at regular 30m intervals, conducting pedestrian surveys through the woods and sea grass to the ocean, and mapping the property with hand held GPS devices and today is no different.  It will be sad to say goodbye to all of our new friends and the Fort and its Village which we’ve all come to know and love but this will be tempered by the knowledge that we got to participate in something special – a uniquely designed Public Archaeology endeavor that involves and educates the public and trains all of us students to enter the field as well-rounded professionals and future leaders in archaeology.


If you’re ever in the Vancouver/Portland area please come and visit the Fort and experience part of the rich colonial and frontier history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and US Army eras on the West coast of the Oregon Territory, you won’t be disappointed. For more information about the field school, Fort Vancouver, or Kanaka Village, please visit our website.


Discovering Bute’s Archaeology – a view from a Scottish island

“At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun.”


(thats the theory, anyway)


Welcome to the beautiful Isle of Bute on the west coast of Scotland – a hidden gem in the pantheon of Scottish islands.  My name is Paul and I project manage all things archaeological for the Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme, a four year multi partner project which aims to get people out, about and active in the landscape of the island – welcome to my day

Historic graveyards and community archaeology in Ireland

wrapped Monaghan headstone

Low impact headstone rubbing from Kileevan, Co. Monaghan, Ireland

A colleague of ours spent years recording the archaeology of an island off the west coast of Ireland. In the last few weeks of the project the team commenced the survey of the islands’ historic graveyard.

‘Finally,’ his neighbours said jokingly ‘ you are doing something useful around here’.


We know, as archaeologists, the value of our surveys, excavations and publications (http://eachtra.ie/index.php/journal/) but that value is not always apparent to the general public. We have found that community-based historic graveyard surveys (http://www.historicgraves.ie/blog) are a great way to introduce members of the public to our methods and to our ways of thinking and looking at the world.


In the course of this Day of Archaeology we hope to touch on the application of archaeological methods to historic graveyard surveys and to also present the sights and sounds of the Irish landscape.