Annual Archaeology Conference 2012
2012 was a great year for us, beginning the Rathcroghan Legacy Project with the Rathcroghan Conference, which ran from Friday 13th of April, through Saturday 14th April, and finished on Sunday 15th April, in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon, Ireland.
MONASTIC IRELAND - A GIFT OF THE NILE !
Alf Monaghan’s presentation looks at the history of early Irish Christianity from a different perspective - a Mediterranean perspective. It provides a tantalizing glimpse under the veil of history. It asks many questions and confounds some of the accepted theories about the history of early Christianity in Ireland. It traces links with ancient Egypt, connects Irish monasticism with the Desert Fathers and the early Irish Church with the Coptic Church. Recent Irish discoveries such as the Fadden More Psalter - Egyptian papyrus found in an ancient book of psalms from an Offaly bog - are clues pointing to a more substantial Eastern Mediterranean influence in early Irish Christianity, than has been acknowledged to date.
Audio of Talk - Powerpoint Presentation
Dr. Gerard Mulligan
Myth and Landscape
The ancient royal centre of Rathcroghan in Co. Roscommon, known in early Irish literature as Cruachain, represents an important archaeological site and a location endowed with extensive mythological associations. In particular, it is renowned as the seat of the great Queen Maeve and the starting point for great Irish epic ‘The Táin’. This talk will combine a consideration of these two fields of research, archaeology and mythology, to advance our understanding of this site while examining the position of Maeve as a goddess, queen and lover.
Audio of Talk - Powerpoint
Rathcroghan, it has vanished with Ailill – pursuing the archaeology of Christian kingship at Cruachu.
Notwithstanding the adoption of Christianity and literacy during the fifth and sixth centuries, early medieval Irish kingship retained some of the symbols and rituals of earlier pagan sacral kingship. This state of affairs was mirrored by early scholars’ attempts to accommodate and reorder the pagan past and its associated mythical topographies within an emerging literary Christian world order. This process is evident in the concept of the Irish ‘royal site’. Rathcroghan, Dun Ailinne, Emain Macha and
most notably, Tara were represented in early Christian and medieval literary and historical sources as the ancient ‘capitals’ of competing regional kingdoms and as the palaces of legendary, pagan kings and queens. However, more recent research has radically altered our understanding of these sites. Excavation and non-invasive survey have led to the discovery of many new components and to the extrapolation of intricate topographies and chronologies. Many elements previously interpreted as residential or palatial are now known to have been ritual monuments that actually date to the Neolithic, the Bronze
Age and the Iron Age. It is also evident that the geographies of these sites were constituted and reconstituted over time to reflect changing concepts of sacred space, ritual practices and ideologies. Recent scholarship has postulated that by late prehistory these places had become the focus of a type of sacral kingship.
Such a potent past could not be ignored, but nor could it be embraced fully by an increasingly Christian society. Rathcroghan, or Cruachu, the principal royal site in Connacht, was replete with abandoned earthworks that spurred the imaginations of generations of poets and antiquarians. A ninth century religious poem, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, feted the collapse and abandonment of pagan Cruachu – “it has vanished with Ailill” – which was contrasted with the rise of the great
monastic centre of Clonmacnoise. Nonetheless, other texts represented otherworldly royals as though they continued to dwell beneath the grassy mounds, while diabolical creatures periodically issued forth from the cave of Cruachu.
We know that despite such claims of abandonment, Cruachu continued to be an iconic place of kingship. It hosted assemblies, laws were promulgated there and royal praise poems acclaimed it as the seat of sovereignty. Less emphasis has been placed on the possibility that these places also served as royal residences in the early medieval period. Recent survey work undertaken by the
Discovery Programme has highlighted a particularly intriguing sequence of activity in the southern part of Rathroghan around an enclosure called Relignaree, the so-called burial place of the kings. This paper considers some implications arising from that survey.
Brian Shanahan is a NUI Galway Hardiman Scholar undertaking PhD research on landscape archaeology with a particular focus on County Roscommon. He was Assistant Director of the Discovery Programme’s Medieval Rural Settlement Project between 2003-2011 during which time he led excavations and surveys of many sites in County Roscommon including Relignaree.
Audio of Talk - Powerpoint
Cashel and Knockainy: Landscapes of Sovereignty in early medieval Munster
Cashel in Co. Tipperary is a royal landscape associated with the over-kingship of Munster and the dynastic federation of the Éoganachta. In contrast to the mythologies associated with early Ireland’s other major ‘provincial’ capitols, such as Rathcroghan or Tara, which invariably portray those landscapes as seats of a sacro-religious kingship from time immemorial, Cashel’s own mythologies portrays its kingship as a late development, associated with the activities of Conall Corc in the 5th century. Moreover, these same origin myths openly admit that the sovereignty of Munster could be vested elsewhere, and indeed, imply that this was the Éoganachta’s ancestral home, Knockainy in Co Limerick. That striking admission, is mirrored by the fact that Knockaniny represents a landscape whose archaeological iconography and mythical associations is eminently comaparable with other major late prehistoric ‘royal’ landscapes in early Ireland.
This paper will explore the idea that the tales regarding Cashel’s genesis represent mythic narratives, intended to be read as geographies of sovereignty. It will present some initial findings from archaeological research into landscapes of kingship in early medieval Munster. It examines the physical and mythical landscapes of Cashel and Knockainy, utilising LiDAR data and Geophysical survey, to analyse these landscapes as places of ceremony and power. It will explore how the developing notion of a ‘provincial’ kingship of Munster, vested in the Rock of Cashel, was promoted at the expense of Knockainy, an effect of the ascendancy of the Éoganachta within Munster. Moreover, the paper will muse upon how Cashel’s kings re-moulded its kingship c.800AD, as a seat of Christian authority specifically designed to rival the nascent high-kingship of Tara, Cashel’s ‘pagan’ antithesis.
Dr. Kieran O'Conor
The historical, literary and antiquarian evidence suggests that the moated site now extant at Cloonfree, near Strokestown, is the longport built by Aodh or Hugh O’Conor, king of Connacht, around 1300. This lecture will examine the literary evidence for the defences of the site and the nature of the buildings within it. A topic touched upon within the lecture will be what Cloonfree tells us about the way Gaelic princes displayed their power and status during high medieval times. The moated site series in north Roscommon will also be discussed in detail
Audio of Talk Powerpoint
Susan A. Johnston
Space and Place at Dún Ailinne, Co. Kildare
Susan A. Johnston is a Lecturer in Anthropology at the Gerorge Washington University, Washington DC.
The chief focus of Dr. Johnston's field research has been prehistoric Ireland, although she has also done public archaeology in the U.S. She is particularly interested in religion and ritual and their presence in the archaeological record. Geophysical survey of Dún Ailínne, a large ceremonial site of the Irish Iron Age.
One aspect that unites the four best known royal sites of the Iron Age is that they are important places. They are situated within ritual landscapes of long-standing significance and they also functioned as central places, and it is likely that these two are intimately connected. One way to understand this is through the “archaeology of place”, an approach that considers the means by which otherwise natural features are transformed into culturally significant places. We consider this connection at the site of Dún Ailinne, the royal site in Co. Kildare, using recent research. A geophysical survey carried out from 2006-2008 indicates that the hill supported a variety of complex structures from several different periods. We argue that the Iron Age use of the hill transformed it into an important place through the combination of ritual and political activity. Structures built on the hill were visible from the surrounding landscape, making visual statements about the identity of this place and those who observed it. Within the site, earlier structures were co-opted and incorporated through the use of ritual as Iron Age society became increasingly centralized. This was expressed through the hierarchical organization of the interior space at Dún Ailinne. In this way, royal sites emerged from the transformation of natural features into culturally meaningful places, reflecting the significant transformations of the larger society.
The Light Fantastic; A Preliminary Analysis of Airborne LiDAR data from the Rathcroghan Complex, County Roscommon.
Landscape & Geophysical Services, Ireland
Selected monuments in the Rathcroghan Complex were archaeologically and geophysically surveyed in the early 1990’s as part of one of Ireland’s earliest large-scale multi-method geophysical survey projects (Waddell et al. 2009). Geophysical surveys were carried out at a number of scales and discovered near-surface and internal archaeological features on, in and surrounding a number of monuments.
LiDAR data covering the core area of the Complex have recently become available. Processing and presentation of these data offers a number of exciting possibilities including; a systematic analysis of the visible and earlier geophysically-discovered monuments in a wider landscape context, discovery of possible extensions to recognised monuments, discovery of possible new monuments or archaeologically prospective areas. Digital output from this work will provide images and models at monument and landscape scales that could be used in the planned re-design of exhibits in the Cruachan Aí Heritage Centre.
Waddell, J., Fenwick, J. & Barton, K. 2009. Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon: Archaeological and Geophysical Survey in a Ritual Landscape, 249pp. Wordwell : Dublin.
Rathcroghan Mound and Environs; Magnetic Gradiometry Data Draped on a 3-D Topographic Model Derived from LiDAR data. (Adapted from Waddell et al. 2009). Positive magnetic gradient in black, negative magnetic gradient in white. LiDAR data by kind permission of Ordnance Survey Ireland.
Audio of Talk Powerpoint
Field Officer NUI Galway Department of Archaeology
Joe Fenwick received his B.A. degree from U.C.D. in 1991 and his M.A. degree from N.U.I. Galway, in 1997. Prior to joining the department he worked for number of major research projects including Knowth Excavations (U.C.D.), The Tara Survey (The Discovery Programme) and the ArchaeoGeophysical Imaging Project (N.U.I. Galway). He also worked for a number of years in the commercial sector, trading as Archaeological Ltd. As departmental Field Officer (Senior Technician), he specializes in the area of field research and scientific survey techniques with a particular interest in the major Irish royal landscapes of Tara, Co. Meath and Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, in addition to the Brugh na Bóinne area of Co. Meath. He is a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI) and the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (IAI). Joe Fenwick (School of Geography and Archaeology, N.U.I. Galway) will lead a tour of selected sites in the Rathcroghan complex of archaeological monuments on Sunday afternoon 15 April. This tour will be preceded by a brief illustrated talk in the Cruachan Aí Heritage Centre, Tulsk, at 2.45pm, before proceeding by car to Rathcroghan carpark, from where the tour will commence (c. 3.00pm). Those who wish to attend this tour may wish to car-pool as transportation to the various sites will not be provided. Those attending the tour are also strongly advised to bring suitable outdoor clothing and footwear, as clement weather conditions cannot be guaranteed and some of the sites and monuments to be visited are off the beaten track.
Audio of Talk
Dr. Jacqueline Wilson
Jacqueline Cahill Wilson is the Principal Researcher on the Discovery Programme’s Late Iron Age & Roman Ireland Project and will discuss this exciting project at the conference
The Discovery Programme’s latest research project is called the Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland (LIARI) project and it has been designed to characterize the environment, settlement patterns social structures and ritual practices of the people who lived and died in Ireland during the first five centuries AD. The aim of the project is to create a more complete picture of life in later Iron Age Ireland, a period for which there remain significant gaps in our knowledge about domestic settlement. There are also significant clusters of imported material that date from the Late Pre Roman Iron Age through the Roman period into Late Antiquity (Early Medieval period). The talk will outline how the LIARI project team is using the latest technology and scientific techniques to investigate the finds and the sites of interest around Ireland.
Jacqueline left Ireland to work in England in 1989 and spent 11 years working in Higher Education funding before returning to University in 2001. She received a First Class honours for her BA in Archaeology from the University of Bristol in 2004 and was awarded full funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to complete an MA in Archaeology at the University of Reading. After successfully completing her Masters she returned to the University of Bristol and received a further award from the AHRC for Doctoral research which was completed in 2010.
Jacqueline has lectured widely across all levels of students at the University of Bristol and for local historical and archaeological societies. Covering a diverse range of topics from the Iron Age in western Europe to the archaeology of Rome and the western provinces, she initially taught at the University of Bristol as a Graduate Lecturer and latterly as an Honorary Lecturer and was made a Visiting Research Fellow after she took up her appointment with the Discovery Programme in September 2011.
Jacqueline was invited to become a consortium member for the INSTAR Mapping Death project in 2009.
Audio of Talk - PowerPoint
Martin A. Timoney
The Pitfieds of Roscommon and Longford:
Sub-Rectangular Pits and Pitfields in Central North Roscommon and Longford
The sub-rectangular pits first came to my attention about 1972 in aerial photos in NMI taken by Gerry Bracken. I mentioned them in a National School article in 1990 and devoted a full article to them in JRHAS in 2009. Forty-one locations are known to me and I guesstimate that there are between 1,500 to 2,000 pits. These pits vary in length from 2 m to 8 m, though some are longer; they vary in width from 1.5 m to 2.5 m, and in depth they are reasonably consistent in depth at 40 cm to 70 cm. They are concentrated in central north Roscommon between Elphin, Castlerea and Carrowboy (south of Tulsk); additional ones are in Lisserdrea southwest of Boyle (credit Tom Condit), at Barrinagh (south of Garranlaghan, Ballinlough), and on a bog island in Derrynaskea (north of Corlea, Co. Longford), the latter only seen from the air. They are frequently found in ‘parallel’ ‘straight’ lines with occasionally another series approximately at right angles to the first. They occur where the limestone is close to the surface. Significantly, they are also to be seen rising diagonally across the slopes of glacial ridges such as in Southpark Demesne and south of Shankill Cross. I monitored the digging out of a pit for a slatted shed close to one pit in Toberrory. Nothing that I saw in the digging out of the layers of rock would provide any explanation based on natural causes for the formation of these pits; the rock was described by the excavator driver as ‘savage’. Geological and geomorphological explanations do stand up to scrutiny
and are a distraction from the debate. Local suggestions as to their use include sourcing clay, quarrying rock for walls, collecting water, storing potatoes, drainage, flax pits, damaging fields owned by a landlord and producing lime. One ‘archaeological’ suggestion was that the material was ritually dug out for offering as material for the construction of archaeological monuments. Each suggestion can be seriously questioned as we did during fieldwalking with the Discovery Programme. They lack local historical or folk tradition.
While I have no definative explanation Prof. Peter Woodman’s thoughts on Curatorial Responsibilities applies: “A second lesson of the alledged Sligo Paleolithic assemblage is that when a key assemblage is thought not to be of significance we still have a responsibility to retain the material for future reconsideration. It is a truism in archaeology to state that no generation has a right to assume that its interpretations of any assemblage are complete and infallible.” I have now left Co. Roscommon; these pits and pitfields, not pitfalls, are for an energetic fieldwalker to make sense of!
Martin A. Timoney, BA, FRSAI, MIAI, a native of Knocknarea, Co. Sligo, studied geography and archaeology at UCG 1966-1969, taught maths in Scarriff from 1969 to 1974 and all three subjects in Castlerea from 1974 to 1997. He works as a research archaeologist in Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Donegal. He has served Sligo Field Club in all capacities including Editor of A Celebration of Sligo, First Essays for Sligo Field Club, (2002). He lives in Keash with his wife, Mary B. Timoney, author of "Had Me Made: A Study of the Grave Memorials of Co. Sligo from c. 1650 to the Present", (2005).
Audio from Talk Powerpoint
Prof. John Waddell
'Crúachain and Emain Macha: archaeology and myth'.
The archaeology of Rathcroghan Mound will be compared to that of Navan Fort, Co. Armagh, and the contrasting mythologies of these two royal sites will be examined.
Emeritus Professor NUI Galway Studying the archaeology of prehistoric Ireland and the prehistoric relationships between this island and Britain and Continental Europe
Prof. John Waddell is a graduate of NUI, Galway (then University College, Galway) and Emeritus Professor of Archaeology. He studied at the University of Glasgow and worked in the National Museum of Ireland before returning to Galway in 1970 where he was Established Professor of Archaeology 1998-2009. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy. His research interests lie mainly in the archaeology of prehistoric Ireland and in the prehistoric relationships between this island and Britain and Continental Europe. His publications include studies of Irish early Bronze Age pottery and burials and a major synthesis of the archaeology of prehistoric Ireland. Fieldwork has included work on the Aran Islands and in the royal site of Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon.
The Sacred waters of Rathcroghan – evidence for metalwork depositions and human sacrifice
Dr Christina Fredengren, Director, The Lake Settlement Project, The Discovery Programme. Author of Crannogs.
This paper will deal with how the relationships between people and the watery landscape developed in from the Bronze Age to Early Medieval period in the landscape of Rathcroghan and is based on the project the Islands of the Dead. The study of Lake settlement is at the heart of Irish archaeology. Mesolithic occupation sites, Bronze Age wooden platforms, post-alignments etc., Iron Age structures and Early Christian crannógs in lakes have provided much of our knowledge of prehistoric and medieval settlement organisation, agriculture, industry, economy and crafts. This is because lake settlements typically have waterlogged, archaeologically rich deposits containing well-preserved structures, artefacts and palaeobotanical evidence. However there are major questions to be asked of all of this material, due to a lack of integrated archaeological research to date.
It is appropriate that the Discovery Programme has involved itself in lake settlement studies, as the subject can be associated with most of the major research developments in Irish archaeology from the initial antiquarian work of Wood-Martin, the major Bronze Age and Early Christian crannóg excavations of the Harvard expeditions, the Lough Gara project, the Moynagh Lough crannóg excavations, the published inventories and Sites & Monuments Records of the Archaeological Survey of Ireland and the development of the collections of the National Museum of Ireland and the Ulster Museum. There have also been some recent developments in lake settlement studies, such as the Crannóg Archaeological Project in Lough Ennell
Audio from Talk Powerpoint
Network analysis of the Táin Bó Cúailnge
Although the distinctions between them are not always sharp, myths differ from legends and folktales. Mythology entails a plethora of characters and timeless narratives outside documented history. Legends, on the other hand, are couched in a definite historical timeframe and folktales are intentionally fictional. It has been claimed that mythological narratives from a variety of cultures share the same universal structure, called the monomyth. Indeed, the Táin Bó Cúailnge has been compared to the Iliad and Beowulf. Before it was committed to writing by medieval Irish scholars, the Táin had an extensive oral tradition. However, the historicity of the Táin is questionable. Some argue that it corroborates Greek and Roman accounts of the Celts while others object that such tales have no historical basis.
This concept of universality also lies at the heart of network theory, a new branch of theoretical physics with very broad applicability. Striking similarities were noticed between the structure of an electrical grid, social networks and the wiring of the neural system of anematode worm, and network theory allows one to classify and compare these. The theory has since been extended to the study of transport, polymers, economics, particle physics, computer science, sociology, etc. It is an exceptionally useful tool to describe real-world networks.
Here we apply this theory to study networks of characters appearing in different mythologies. We characterise and classify mythologies according to their quantifiable network properties and then compare them across different cultures and countries. We also compare mythology structures to other networks, both actual and fictitious. Our focus at Rathcroghan is on the mathematical comparison of the Táin to both the Iliad and Beowulf, as well as to other networks, ranging from the real to the imaginary. Thus we attempt to shed mathematical light on the question of the Táin’s historicity.
Note: This work is part of a project supported by The Leverhulme Trust under grant number F/00732/I.
The Mound, The Hill and the Saint; the Hill of Slane Archaeological Project
Matthew Seaver (University College Dublin), Conor Brady (Dundalk Institute of Technology), Kevin Barton (Landscape and Geophysical Services) Project Partners; Meath County Council. Funded by Department of Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht, Environment Fund.
The picturesque hilltop at Slane overlooks the model village and its medieval bridge west of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site in County Meath. The Hill of Slane Archaeological Project was set up as a community based initiative to provide new information on the cultural landscape of the hilltop, to involve as many interest groups as possible in promoting the site and its connection to the wider archaeology of the Boyne valley. Hidden in the woods on the western side of the hill is a substantial mound set within a large concentric enclosure which itself cuts through an earlier low mound. This site is mentioned in the early medieval period as the Dumhach Sláine and is likely to be a complex composite prehistoric monument. The hill has a church dedicated to St Patrick with fabric from the pre-Romanesque to sixteenth century and was the site of an important ecclesiastical complex based around the relics of St Erc. In the later twelfth century the Anglo-Norman Fleming family built a motte castle at the Dumhach Sláine which was attacked and destroyed. The Flemings rebuilt the church and constructed a rectory and a chantry college based around a courtyard housing priests and choirboys to sing mass for the family. Geophysical survey, airborne LiDAR and aerial photography are providing exciting new information on the relationship of these monuments and the potential for further work.