Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Caitríona Moore: Investigation of what the crannóg inhabitants made, used and discarded | Drumclay Conference 2014 | Review

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Next to speak was Caitríona Moore. In welcoming her to the podium, Prof Aidan O’Sullivan described her as a skilled and respected wetlands archaeologist. In addressing the question of what the inhabitants of Drumclay ‘made, used and discarded’ she began by noting that over 6,000 artefacts have been recovered, but she only had 25 minutes to cover it all, so she’d better get on! There was a really wide range of wooden items discovered at Drumclay, and the evidence suggests that most of them were made on the site. While she stressed that she wasn’t being competitive, but to put the site in perspective, Deer Park Farms had ‘only’ c.3,500 finds. It is even more impressive when one considers the vast wealth and richness of the finds in comparison to the relatively small physical size of the site. Obviously, this remarkable survival is down to the organic preservation of over 7m thickness of archaeology. The types of items recovered include personal items (pins, bracelets, beads, and combs etc.), tools and utensils (axes, knives, tools used in textile production, and mallets etc.). Essentially, every aspect of life was represented within the artefact assemblage. The finds assemblage compares really well with other major sites of the same general period, including Deer Park Farms, Knowth, and even with medieval urban centres like Dublin, Waterford, and York. Obviously, the assemblage has much in common with other important crannog excavations, such as Lagore and Ballinderry.

Moore then chose to concentrate on the wooden artefacts. As she explained, ‘wood is the building block of Drumclay’ –the physical structure of the site was largely composed of wood and every craft represented here used wood in some way. Within the overall corpus of 6,000 finds Moore argues that the wooden artefacts are particularly outstanding and, as a group, is largely unparalleled. The Drumclay site produced some 1,000 wooden finds, a huge number from a single site. To put that in context, Moore notes that Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York produced 1,500 wooden finds – and that was a much larger area than the Drumclay site. Similarly, the large-scale excavations in Waterford during the 1980s produced around 600 wooden artefacts, while Fishamble Street in Dublin was about the same. Moore proceeded to show examples of the kinds of artefacts recovered from the site. These included a small keg with a lug-handle; a carved wooden platter from one of the earliest levels of the site; a wooden trough reused and built into the foundation platform. In the case of the trough, this can be paralleled with very similar finds from excavations in Waterford and the Loch Glashan crannog in Scotland. She next showed an image of the Drumclay cheese mould and explained that although some artefacts don’t always look particularly spectacular when they are first discovered, they can still be remarkably important. It had been discarded at the edge of the site and was later cut into when a post or stake was driven down through it, causing further damage. However, once it had been cleaned up it has become something of an iconic image of the Drumclay site. It has the appearance of a small, squat bowl, about 20-30cm across, and had 10 or 11 perforations in the base. It would have functioned by being filled with cheese curds and, once pressure was applied, the whey would have drained off through the perforations, leaving the cheese. While she showed similar examples from a medieval Italian manuscript and an excavated Roman example, she was quick to point out that she is not arguing for either of these as an origin for the Drumclay example. The base of the press is inscribed with a small Latin cross with expanded terminals. This cheese press without parallel in Irish archaeology. Moore notes that there are a host of traditional beliefs and superstitions surrounding dairying generally - and the production of butter specifically - and she suggests that the inclusion of a cross here was an attempt to ‘Christianise’ some of these practices.

The Drumclay cheese press
There is quite a bit of evidence for woodturning at Drumclay and the artefacts include cups, plates, bowls, and a number of gaming pieces. This is a particularly specialised craft and the evidence of woodturning waste indicates that – at least at a couple of points – it was carried out on the crannog. Moore showed one example of a turned wooden item that had cracked in antiquity and was repaired by being stitched together with copper wire. She notes that, despite the abundance of wood on the site, these remain important and valued items that were repaired rather than being disposed of.

There is really strong evidence of cooperage (barrel making) at Drumclay and Moore believes that there may have been a resident cooper on the site throughout its lifetime as staves were recovered from all phases of the site. She showed an image of a workshop floor with several staves – both finished and unfinished – along with some hoops for holding vessels together. Over 100 staves were recovered from the site along with wooden discs that would have served as the bases and lids for vessels as well as both metal and wooden hoops. Describing it as ‘one of the finest wooden vessels from Ireland’, Moore showed an image of a cylindrical bucket held together with wooden hoops and dowels. She noted that Drumclay produced one wooden bucket with metal fittings and a metal handle that is clearly a high status object. The site has also produced several fragments of decorated wooden vessels. These all came from the same part of the site, though it is currently unclear if they represent one or more vessels. The image she showed was of a vessel with a carved interlace decoration around the rim and poker work decoration on the sides. This is both incredibly fine work and an exceptionally rare survival. Indeed, the Drumclay assemblage of decorated vessels is an important addition to a very small corpus of known examples. She notes that many of the surviving examples come from the north of Ireland and cites a similar example from Cavanacarragh, near Lisbellaw, Co. Fermanagh. Other examples include artefacts from Castlederg, Co. Tyrone; Hillsborough, Co. Down; and Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim. This group of vessels are all currently dated to the late first millennium AD, but the Drumclay finds are going to offer opportunities to refine and revaluate the dating of the type. Other forms of decoration on wooden vessels include carved and pokerwork crosses.

Cathy Moore showing off one of the carved wooden vessels

The collection of small domestic pieces include a significant number of spoons. Some appear to be carved, while others may be turned. In the latter case, this would be a much more skilled operation. A number of the spoons also have decorated handles.

There are a significant number of finds from Drumclay associated with textile production, while some are of bone, a large proportion are wooden. These include spindles, distaffs, and wooden whorls. Examples of a weaving comb and a weaving sword indicate that loom weaving was undertaken on the site. The weaving sword, in particular, was very finely made and showed delicate grooves along its edge, where the loom threads had worn down the wood through long use.

While much of the leather recovered from the site was in the form of waste scraps, a reasonable number of boots and shoes were identified. Related to leatherworking is the wooden shoe last that may be paralleled with one from Deer Park Farms. The Drumclay last is the equivalent to a modern UK ladies size 5 (US size 7 or a European 37-38). Taken together, Moore suggests that there may have been a resident cobbler on the site, or that the residents were regularly visited by one.

There are two definite and one possible example of dugout canoes from the site. A number of finds of ‘boat timbers’ (planks potentially attached to the side of the canoe to extend it upwards) and wooden paddles (both complete and unfinished) have been recovered.

Cathy Moore on one of the open days displaying an example of the carved gaming pieces
A significant, if poorly preserved, find is the gaming board from Drumclay. It was broken into several pieces and severely compressed. Although not as elaborate as the famous 10th century example from Ballinderry crannog, it is definitely of the same type. These are known as tafl games and are found in areas touched by Viking influence, including Scotland and Iceland. Similar boards are known from Viking Dublin and at the crannogs of Lagore and Moynagh Lough. Some 15 gaming pieces of different designs have also been recovered. Most are quite simple and conical in shape, but finer examples produced by a wood turner are also known. Once again, they exist as both finished and unfinished examples, indicating that they are being produced on site.

One of the wooden gaming pieces
A number of items, interpreted as tuning keys for musical instruments, have been recovered and it is hoped that further analysis of the assemblage may identify other fragments. In her concluding remarks, Moore notes that this presentation has merely scratched the surface of what has been discovered at Drumclay. She also believes that when the full analysis of the corpus gets underway ‘we’re probably all in for a few surprises – I think it’s an amazing assemblage’.