Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Archaeology 360: Grianán of Aileach, Inishowen, Donegal

In 2020 the question ‘Where did you go on holiday?’ is a more potentially loaded one than I’ve ever known before. Back in February and March we had plans! Oh such plans! They involved airplanes and international travel, but they were not to be. Along came Covid-19 and all hope of such distant delights seemed to evaporate and vanish like a haze on a misty morning – or some other dollop of purple prose. We had the time to take and desire to get away from home, so we hunted around for a place to stay with access to good beaches and cool archaeology. That’s why we set forth across the border for the distant delights of Donegal. It might not come as a huge surprise to learn that I brought the 360-degree camera along for the trip and that the following series of posts all concern our family’s adventures in that gorgeous, beautiful county.


Our first stop on our trip was to see the magnificent Grianán of Aileach. In all my years in archaeology, I’d never managed to get to get to see it … wanted to … meant to … hoped to … didn’t … so here was my chance! I’ll not lie to you … after having built this site up in my mind for so long, I did rather worry that the imagined expectation might not live up to the real-world actuality. I need not have fretted! The site is superb, and the views are breathtaking. The Wikipedia article [here] notes that 'The main structure is a stone ringfort, thought to have been built by the Northern Uí Néill, in the sixth or seventh century CE; although there is evidence that the site had been in use before the fort was built. It has been identified as the seat of the Kingdom of Ailech and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland.', before going on to draw out some of the complexities of the site’s history, morphology, and interpretation. It’s well worth a read to get some context for this remarkable place.


I cannot urge you enough to go see it for yourself, but in the meantime, please enjoy this immersive 360-degree video of the site and its surroundings.



You can view it on an ordinary browser, but for best results we recommend the immersive experience that comes with an Oculus/Google Cardboard headset. Please feel free to Like and Share the video and Subscribe to the Archaeology 360 channel. If you’re feeling peculiarly generous and wish to help purchase snacks to sustain the Chapples Minor in the field, please drop something in the Tip Jar on the top right of this page.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Co Kilkenny: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum

The British Museum holds five items identified as coming from Co Kilkenny, along with one item located to either Longford or Kilkenny. The majority of these (3) are assigned to the Early Medieval period, followed by the Early Bronze Age (2). The six items are all different object types. Only two material types are represented in this assemblage: Metal (5) and Glass (1).

Bronze Age: Metal item
socketed axe
Copper alloy socketed axe; cast. Oval mouth with bevelled rim. Loop is set at base of the collar and its ends extend onto body. Cutting edge is moderately expanded but blunt.

Early Bronze Age: Metal items
flat axe
Copper-alloy flat axe; with a thin, slightly rounded butt.

Copper alloy halberd, asymmetrical blade with rounded hafting plate and straight, rounded midrib. Three rivet holes with two rivets in situ.

Early Medieval: Glass item
Glass, fragment of bracelet with two lines of white dots between three lines of white spirals, all on blue ground.
5thC-11thC (?)

Early Medieval: Metal item
Square open-work brass plaque depicting the Crucifixion: Christ flanked by Longinus, Stephaton and angels. Pierced with two rivets, for mounting to another object

The following item is listed in the museum catalogue as coming from either Longford or Kilkenny:
Early Medieval: Metal item
Longford/Kells, Co Kilkenny
Gilt copper alloy cruciform mount; four animals around centre square setting; animal head flanked by interlace at top and bottom; mask on right.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Archaeology 360: The Giant's Ring, Co. Down

I was going to post something completely different today. I had it all set up & all I had to do was hit ‘publish’, but I wandered on to Twitter and saw a tweet from UCD's Steve Davis (@AerialAndBugs) about a one-star Tripadvisor review of The Giant’s Ring, Co. Down.

Back in July 2015 user ‘mark r’ wrote a review under the title ‘Giants ring..Giant let Down’:

“what an embarrassment .i wouldn't bring any one here to see these 5 boulders in a field .that you cant find anyway .someone has taken all the signs away. good on them ..a really Boring place to see .apparently the rocks are a memorial to the will probably want to join them when you see them .sorry but its pants” [sic.]

Link to Tripadvisor [here]

My first instinct was to disagree with this awful review (and many commenting on Steve’s Tweet did exactly this). My second reaction was ‘Nobody mentioned the fact that the carpark there is a gay pick-up area?’ Indeed, once I had a look at Tripadvisor it became clear that the other three 1-star reviews all relate to that theme. I’ve nothing against how any consenting adults wish to find a modicum of physical happiness in this cruel world, but, personally, I have a one-penis-per-bed rule and I prefer that to be mine. I discovered the non-archaeological reputation of The Giant’s Ring in 1999 when I had a wonderful job as Site Supervisor working on Barrie Hartwell’s excavation of Ballynahatty 5, in the next field over. It remains one of my best and happiest memories in my entire archaeological career – the weather was gorgeous, I was working with dedicated, enthusiastic (read: naive) students, and the pay … oh, the pay was brilliant! It was at university rates & so much better than what I was getting working for a commercial company. How good was it? Well – it was so good I was able to go out and buy a mid-range VCR from Argos and still have money for the rest of the week. I haven’t even plugged it in in years, but I still have it. My kids discovered it in the back of a cupboard a while back and regarded it as some form of ancient, alien creation for a dark time before touch screens and digital downloads.

On your average morning the team congregated at the Archaeology Department at Queen’s and were loaded into two minibuses and driven the few miles to the site. One morning, part way through the season, Barrie came to me and explained that we had a new addition to our group. After all these years I can’t remember her name, but let’s call her Rebecca. However, on that first morning Rebecca would not be able to make it to the Archaeology Department in time to meet the bus. Instead, her dad was going to drive her to near the site – not at the site … but near. Rather than negotiate the tangle of back roads to get to the site entrance, it was agreed that Rebecca would arrive to the carpark at The Giant’s Ring and that someone would meet her and guide her across the field to an exciting day of excavation. Turns out that person was me. Sometime around 09:30 on a bright, late summer’s morning at the end of the last century the keen observer could have spotted me making my way across the freshly manured stubbled fields of Ballynahatty in the direction of the Giant’s ring carpark. From our vantage point at the excavation, we were well aware that the great earthwork and megalithic tomb were a much-frequented exercise and area for both dogs and their owners. However, on clambering over the fence, I was surprised to see that the carpark had quite so many cars. I was more shocked the several of these cars appeared to be occupied and by (exclusively) men who seemed more dressed for a business meeting than anything else. I wasn’t sure if Rebecca had already arrived, so I attempted to scan the faces in the cars for any clue as I stood there looking stately and heroic (these are my own rose-tinted memories, so believe me - stately and heroic I most certainly was!). After a short while I noticed that the occupant of one car appeared to be beckoning me over. Feeling foolish that I’d not spotted them earlier, I ambled over to the car and was (again) surprised that while there may have been ‘dad’ there was no ‘Rebecca’ in evidence. As the window rolled down, and definitely confused at this point, I spluttered out: ‘Er … are you Rebecca’s Dad’. I am now of the opinion that the middle-aged gentleman in search of affection seated in that car was probably as confused as I was with that question, but gamely decided to buy into whatever fantasy I was proposing. Unfortunately, his answer of ‘Sure, if you want it like that. I can be ‘Rebecca’s Daddy’’ did not bring the clarity I desperately needed to the situation. It was right about then that the real Rebecca hoved into view, being chauffeured by her real and actual father. After a few questions to confirm identity (I do try not to make the same mistake twice in one day!), I took the young student back across the heavily manured field and into the care of our excavation director. Later, when I related my story to Barrie, he looked at me wide-eyed and said ‘Oh, I thought you knew’. His good-natured laughter at my discomfit still rings in my ears!

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was back to The Gaint’s Ring with my 360 Degree camera perched atop my trusty bicycle helmet to record some immersive videos of the site for your enjoyment and delectation. I hope you enjoy the experience and are reminded how gorgeous the site is or, perhaps, why you should come visit in person. If meeting people for anonymous gay sex in carparks is your thing, it seems that there’s still a thriving, if discreet, trade available (as it were). However, the archaeological site is well worth the visit and certainly worth more than a single-star review!



You can view it on an ordinary browser, but for best results we recommend the immersive experience that comes with an Oculus/Google Cardboard headset. Please feel free to Like and Share the video and Subscribe to the Archaeology 360 channel. If you’re feeling peculiarly generous and wish to help purchase snacks to sustain the Chapples Minor in the field, please drop something in the Tip Jar on the top right of this page.