Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Classical History – Is it still relevant? by Prof. Mary Beard: Review

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I am delighted to welcome my very first guest writer to the blog. Aaron David McIntyre is an undergraduate student at The School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, QUB. His research interests include Lisburn in the Gaelic period and the archaeology of the Plantation era. He is also involved in politics with the Alliance Party. You can also follow him on Twitter.
Robert M Chapple

Aaron David McIntyre and Mary Beard

BBC Northern Ireland, in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund hosted the ‘Festival of History and Broadcasting’- a series of talks, discussions and lectures hosted by William Crawley between 21st and 23rd February 2012.

As an undergraduate archaeology student my interests are eclectic to say the least, but Rome and Classical archaeology never captured my imagination - so it was with some trepidation that I signed up to the ‘Rome module’ during my first year at Queen’s University, Belfast. It was here that I was converted to Roman archaeology by authors including Amanda Claridge and Alison Futrell. However the most influential author in my ‘conversion’ was Mary Beard and so when I heard that she would be talking on the issue “Classical History – Is it still relevant?” – I jumped at the chance to attend.

William Crawley introduced Professor Beard, describing her as a celebrity academic, public intellectual and, to some extent, a media don. When asked if she enjoyed this public persona she replied nervously “in a way”, relating to the audience how her blog had developed from an outlet to vent about her everyday experiences, to one which students, academics and the general public followed. This medium, alongside her publications catapulted her into the public domain and onto our television screens.

William Crawley moved the discussion towards Pompeii and Professor Beard’s recent BBC series (Pompeii: Life in a Roman Town). Beard recounted the story of her first visit to Pompeii as a student, describing the town as “gob-smackingly amazing.” However she was unable to “fit in any of the stuff [she] had learnt back in Cambridge” into the town itself. Over the next twenty years she believed that she had been unable to grasp the academic literature, until a “light bulb” went off in her head and for the first time it was clear that these previous studies where wrong, simplifying complex issues and papering over the cracks with unsubstantiated conclusions surrounding issues that, even today, are not fully understood.

As an example Professor Beard, with all her flamboyancy, stressed the fact that there were not 87 brothels in Pompeii, but only one. This overestimation she explained, came about due to “over eager archaeologists” claiming that each building with an erotic wall painting must indeed have been a brothel. In conjunction with the wall paintings, graffiti found in some buildings in Pompeii, along the lines of “You can have Tracey the bar maid for a six pence” were also a contributing factor to the belief in 87 brothels.  An older lady friend of Professor Beard mentioned that her local bus stop has similar graffiti, but that did not make it a brothel.

Professor Beard then broached the criticisms she has faced from other scholars for her particular use of language in the BBC series Pompeii, emphasising that her language is based on the way she would write. One such example was her use of the word “shit” while recording a piece in a Roman Sewer. Professor Beard qualified the issue with the audience stating “What was I meant to say? Here I am in a Roman sewer standing in excrement? No one talks like that”. Another scene filmed in the brothel about graffiti described “just what you’d expect [to find in a brothel]” and Professor Beard explained how when she translated the Latin she kept it in the vernacular and William Crawley praised her “use of language that is not dusty and driven by foot notes.”

The first thing that Professor Beard “put on the counter” during the discussions surrounding her BBC series was two-fold: “no dressing up… and no CGI”. She argued that b-grade ‘oh Marcus’ actors where not what she envisaged nor did she want CGI as there is “so much of Rome that really survives, there are so many paintings that the Romans did” – the collection of scenes of the Forum in Pompeii illustrate “a guy putting his shoe stall out and we have a slightly posh older lady giving some money rather remotely to a beggar with dog…  and you think, look - if we didn’t have this then we might as well reconstruct with CGI.”

During the filming of her Pompeii series, a parallel show was recorded for the Discovery Channel in a “complicated financial deal” that she was “too young to understand.”  Following both a clip from Professor Beard’s series and one from the American documentary “Pompeii: Back from the Dead” - it was clear to see the ‘Americanisation’ of story of Pompeii through the use of dramatisations, CGI and the amateurs quest to find out long lost secrets, when compared to the more intellectual and scholarly approach of the BBC series; which due to the direction of Professor Beard had been focused on the lives of those who lived in Pompeii prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Yet, Professor Beard believes that the American documentary does have a place, due to the entertainment factor of television in the USA, and it is tailored to suit that audience. She stated it is “pretty upmarket and you can see exactly why I hate it” with William Crawley describing such shows as the “Jeremy-Kyle-isation” of television. Beard highlights what she views as the main “faults with popular writing about the ancient world and popular broadcasting; is what it tries to do in papering over the cracks” by simplifying issues and describing theory as fact which does a “tremendous disservice” to the public.

William Crawley then approached the subject of Professor Beard’s pieces to camera, and how she seems to exude confidence, to which she replied “I treat the camera like a student. People often say you teach at Cambridge but you say doing television is like talking to your students but they’re all a) terribly clever and b) committed and knowledgeable and a captivated audience. I say: you come along to Cambridge and get an audience of 100 first years and you see if you think they are knowledgeable or captivated. You don’t win them by CGI tricks; you win them by saying: this matters.” The rawness of her dialogues to camera illustrates her genuine enthusiasm for Pompeii and the Romans, which was evident to all those in the audience.

Coming back to the television series, William Crawley questioned Professor Beard on the differences between the two audiences, in terms of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Professor Beard explained that television holds a greater place in American national culture than it does in Britain and “by and large the intelligent person wanting to find out things, doesn’t think that American television is where they’d go. It is much more for entertainment, much more commercially driven.” This led the conversation towards the issue of advertisements, which Mary is thankful that she was able to avoid thanks to the BBC and the license fee, which gave the programme “59 solid minutes with no let-up” compared to “Pompeii: Back from the Dead” which was filmed in several eight minute segments.

Mr Crawley asked Professor Beard what impact the experience of television had on the way she lectures at Cambridge to which she replied “almost nothing because I think it came the other way around.” Although her students have asked her to wear her now (in)famous red coat from the show and sheepishly ask for her to sign copies of her book thinking “god, they’d make great Christmas presents for mum and dad.”

There then followed a ‘Question and Answer’ session:
Q) How do you feel about being awarded the accolade of hatchet job of the year?
A: Professor Beard clarified that she was shortlisted for the title, but thankfully didn’t win it, describing this as the “perfect position to be in, being on the short list but not actually winning the hatchet.”  It was her review in ‘The Guardian’ of the book Rome by Robert Hughes that led to her shortlisting. The number of mistakes in the first three chapters should have caused them to have been “pulped” as “BC was confused with AD, emperors come in the wrong order and the emperor Antoninus Pius is said to be a Christian when he would be horrified to have been Christian. Basically every page had a howler.” Professor Beard concluded stating that someone had to say “this won’t do! But I was relieved not to be holding the hatchet.”

Q) When you say historians say there are so many brothels in Pompeii, did this have anything to do with the number of phalluses that were found?
A: “It was certainly all connected. One of the ways we want to imagine ancient Rome, and partly the Romans encouraged this, is as a fantastically oversexed place – so you get brothels everywhere, you get phalluses above the bread ovens… in the pavement.”
“I think for me, and I don’t know how you really work that problem out, but I think it isn’t quite about the ‘sexual-everything-going kind-of place’ that we imagine.” However Professor Beard went on to justify how people from modern societies come to this conclusion due to the amount of phallic symbols and erotic wall paintings. However taking her “absolute feminist line” on the issue, the phallus is the Roman way of saying “power, success and maledom … the sheer celebration of being a bloke.”

Q) What are your thoughts on the reasons for the decline of the Roman Empire? I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it was the sheer decadence of the woman …
A: “One of the paradoxes about patriarchal culture is that these guys in control are busy justifying the Roman tradition by imagining women as fantastically dangerous and in need of all the kind of male control that men can actually offer them, so what you have to remember is that there are loads and loads of images in Roman literature of women going wild and oversexed. Messalina, the wife of the Emperor Claudius, apparently challenged the prostitutes in Rome to a competition of how many encounters they could have in one night and of course Messalina won. You could fill ten volumes with pretty raunchy stories and every single one will be written by a man. We have almost no writing surviving from the Greek or Roman world written by women – imagine what we would understand about women in 21st century Britain, from simply having a collection of Page 3 of The Sun.” Mary concluded “if I really had a problem with working on patriarchal cultures I would never have decided to work on Rome.”

Following the Q&A session, the audience were shown a ‘first look’ clip from Professor Beard’s new BBC series, which is based on “real ordinary Romans” and their lives, through artefacts as well as descriptions on their tombstones, which describe amazing details about individual lives. However I shall not go into any more detail about the series, as have no wish to spoil anything for those anxiously awaiting its arrival onto our television screens.

From one twitterer to another
Following the talk I shiftily made my way out of the hall in the hope that I would be able to catch Professor Beard and ask her to sign my copy of her book, ‘Pompeii:  The Life of a Roman Town’ and I was not disappointed! While waiting across the corridor for Professor Beard to finish a conversation with a producer, she then approached me and said that she had seen that I had been ‘tweeting’ about her and the event. I have to admit that I was slightly star-struck at this point, but it was a pleasure to talk with such a distinguished academic who played such a crucial role in my appreciation of classical archaeology.

Finally, after walking back to my car in torrential rain, I opened my copy of Pompeii to see that Professor Beard had not only signed it, but personalised the inscription “With best wishes – from one twitterer to another Mary Beard.”

Note: It is difficult to convey Mary Beard’s flamboyant personality and dry humour in text. It was clear from the talk that Professor Beard is driven by enthusiasm and passion which will already be evident to her readership and I hope I have not done Professor Beard a disservice in this write up.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Booms and Busts in Europe’s Earliest Farming Societies: Review

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The PCC Lunchtime Seminar Series is run by the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at QUB in Belfast. I believe that they have been going for some time now and, although I’ve regularly been told about them and how I really should get along there, I’ve somehow not managed to make it. However, I promised myself that the next opportunity I got I would definitely attend – come hell or high water.  I spoke to a friend of mine who told me that the next one coming up (Tuesday 21st February 2012) was on Early Neolithic Farming. I liked the sound of that and I promised faithfully that I would be there. It only occurred to me the day before the lecture to enquire who the speaker was. When I was told that the speaker would be Prof. Stephen Shennan my heart just fell. I have nothing against the man, I truly don’t. Prof. Shennan is Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology. He is also Professor of Theoretical Archaeology, and Fellow of the British Academy. As I found out when I spoke to him after the lecture, he is a truly affable person with a ready smile and keen sense of humour. Nonetheless, for me his name is eternally associated with that part of my life, during the mid to late 90s, when I was embroiled in writing my MA thesis [also available: here]. I was working on a statistical and morphological approach to the ringforts of the Loop Head Peninsula in Co. Clare and Shennan’s book, Quantifying Archaeology, was my constant companion. There were certain sections of my thesis that relied so much on his work that I was afraid of being dismissed for plagiarism. I even had dreams about repeatedly typing ‘Shennan (1988) says/states/argues’ etc. By the time I completed my thesis, my copy of Quantifying Archaeology was in such a poor state it had to be held together with rubber bands. Yes, I was slightly terrified at being in the room with this man.

As it turned out there was no need to be. He began by outlining some concepts of Evolutionary Demography Theory. The concept is that for people in past societies, producing children were not so much a means to an end, but a good in their own right. There are also a number of trade-offs implicit in having children, not least of which is the number of children it is possible to bear, but how many of one’s offspring can feasibly survive to sexual maturity and become parents themselves. Changing environmental and technological conditions can thus alter the balance of these trade-offs, resulting in increased or decreased fertility. To illustrate this, Shennan showed a graph comparing the ages of women giving birth for the first time in a modern Mayan community and how the demographics changed after the introduction of electric pumps to supply water. In the pre-electric pump society around 50% of the women had given birth to their first child by the age of 21. However, the addition of the electric pumps allowed women to be freed from the drudgery of water carrying and resulted in an increased carrying-capacity for the society. In the latter situation almost 75% of women had had their first child by the age of 21. Shennan was quick to point out that the decisions to have children, what numbers, and at what time, are carried out a household level, but have large-scale population-level results. Thus, there are demographic consequences in acquitting a new adaptations and technologies, such as cereal- and pulse-based agriculture. Where we find evidence for population stability, it may be taken as evidence that a local carrying-capacity ceiling had been reached. Shennan sees the spread of farming in the Neolithic as a classic example of a dispersal opportunity acquired through greater technological achievement. There is also the fact that this form of agriculture is extremely portable – seed and livestock may be moved with relative ease. Shennan argues that this all leads to a significant increase in environmental carrying capacity that results in both increased fertility and eventual population growth. He argues that, contrary to some theories of the spread of agriculture, this is not a population ‘push’ process but a biological ‘pull’ process. This means that it is not a situation where an increased population is forced to develop more effective means of feeding itself (thus adopting agriculture). Instead, this model is one where the population acquires agricultural skills and then discovers that it can support more and larger families, leading to a population growth.

Shennan noted that while there is much in the published literature about the earliest beginnings of agriculture, many researchers appear to assume that once it is in place, there is little to be interested in. However, in examining the evidence from eastern France, the data shows a sequence of population expansions, interspersed with well defined gaps where the population contracts (Peterquin et al. 1996).[1] For example, Zimmerman’s (2009) analysis of Neolithic Bandkeramik sites in the lower Rhine basin. Here there is evidence for population growth at the beginning of the Neolithic, around 5300 cal BC. There then appears to be continued growth for over a century, followed by severe population contractions by around 4900 cal BC. To test these hypotheses, Shennan and his team (Sean Downey, Adrian Thompson, Kevan Edinborough & Mark Thomas) used summed radiocarbon date distributions as a proxy for the relative amount of population activity. This approach was then used to compare data from the pollen record with radiocarbon dates from across the UK. The methodology involved converting the pollen spectrum into ‘Land Clearance Category Reconstructions’ plotted against the summed and normalised, geo-referenced, radiocarbon dates. This was all then divided up into bins of 250 years. The available data runs from 9000 cal BP to around 3600 cal BP. The UK evidence shows an inferred population growth (what Shennan terms an ‘upward blip’) around 7600 cal BP. This is paralleled with a ‘downward blip’ in the amount of deciduous woodland. Essentially, the arrival of farming is shown to result in an increase in the population, coupled with a decrease in woodland. At around 5300/5200 cal BP there is an observable drop in population that continues to after c. 4500 cal BP. After this point there is an increase in deciduous woodland and (unexpectedly) an increase in semi-open pasture. Again, around 4400 cal BP there is a decrease in woodland and a corresponding increase in semi-open pasture that is taken to suggest an increase in population. One of the interesting conclusions to be drawn from this analysis is that it suggests that what we are witnessing is anthropogenic change to the environment – as opposed to climate change being the primary determining factor. To test the robustness of these dates and this methodology the dates were segregated by type. In this way dates from cereal grains could be separated from dates associated with upstanding monuments. In theory, if there is a genuine underlying trend in population growth, it should be mirrored by both sets of data independently. Certainly, this has been demonstrated to be the case during the earlier Neolithic, but there is a marked divergence in the patterns during the Late Neolithic, from around 4000 cal BP.

This model was then recreated for ten different regions in Western Europe. Within each of these regional studies, Shennan and his team took 1000 dates as a ‘bootstrap sample’ to model variation. For example, in the Scottish study there were 305 dated site phases. Here there is an observable population boom around 5500 cal BP. In Ireland, with 1031 dated site phases, there is a similar population boom at around 5500 cal BP, followed by a trough around 5000 cal BP. A further rise in population may be noted around the period 5000-4000 cal BP. In Germany, where farming was introduced approximately 1500 years before it reached Ireland, the Bavaria-Baden-Wurttemberg study area shows peaks at 7000 cal BP, 5500 cal BP and 4600 cal BP. There are also intervening troughs in population centred on 6200 cal BP and from 5200 cal BP to 5000 cal BP. Similar regional studies were carried out for the Low Countries (347 dated site phases), the Paris Basin (188 dated site phases), and the Rhone-Languedoc (340 dated site phases) areas (among others). In all of theses the general pattern of population booms and busts is repeated over and over.

Shennan then posed the question: are these patterns real? The fact that the radiocarbon data largely mirrors the pollen data suggests that, yes, they are real. However, there is still the possibility that these patterns are spurious and are merely the result of anomalies within the calibration curve or have appeared as the results of sampling errors etc. To counter such arguments, the team devised a set of statistical tests. As Shennan said, these are quite technical and difficult to take in. If I have understood him correctly, the test centred on simulating 50,000 randomly generated radiocarbon dates, spread across the time-period under discussion and broken up into 10 year bins. These were then assigned error ranges that mimicked the real distribution of the calibration curve and the standard deviations of genuine radiocarbon dates. Essentially, they recreated 50,000 simulated radiocarbon dates with the same level of precision/imprecision (or ‘fuzziness’) as one would expect from real dates. Added to this they factored in the known levels of population growth and taphonomic decay (that there is less probability of materials surviving from earlier vs. later contexts). Together, this model predicts an exponential growth of data (and population) over time. When the simulated data is compared to the real evidence some clear patterns of higher and lower than predicted activity are revealed. This means that the results may be interpreted as being a true reflection of genuine population trends within the data and not merely artefacts of the data itself. In the Wessex-Sussex and Irish regional studies the same patterns as before are noted, with rising population booms being followed by busts. The results are less marked for other regions, such as central Germany and southern France, though this appears to be due to their smaller sample sizes available for study. Shennan and his colleagues have been able to conclude that the pattern of boom and bust are clear and genuine occurrences.

A further question was asked – could there be any correlations between these results and climate patterns? The idea was that the results may still have been spurious and that the data was not indicating parallels between demography and climate, but merely reflecting the level of 14C in the atmosphere. The team used two climate proxies: the NGRIP and the Crag Cave, Co. Kerry, δ18O data. Again, a series of statistical tests were devised to eliminate all possible bias within the data. With the exception of the regional study of the Low Countries, no statistically significant correlation was found between the two sources. This again demonstrates the robustness of the data and the population expansion and contraction patterns already observed.

Finally, Shennan examined a number of other studies to compare their results with his own. Similarities were noted with dates from flint mining in Britain (Kerig et al. in press) which shows a marked rise in dates around 4000 cal BC with a major fall-off and minor peaks after that time. Parallels were also found in the dates associated with causewayed enclosures (this comparison was carried out before the publication of Gathering Time). In his concluding remarks, Shennan admitted that, in many respects, it is predictable that people would take reproductive advantage of the introduction of new technology that improved their lifestyles. However, there are, as yet, no firm reasons as to what caused these cycles of boom and bust. He argues that future research must take into account the demographic history of populations both as a cause and as an effect of the process. Even with all these ideas in mind, it is still likely that the socio-economic processes that drove these cycles were different for the growth and decline phases. Essentially, the appearance of agriculture may be associated with the initial population booms observed in the various study areas, but the probable reasons for the declines are much more obscure.

I hope that I have done justice to Prof. Shennan’s lecture and managed to convey at least the gist of his ideas and results. Nonetheless, I do sincerely apologise if, in the rush to write notes and keep up with the pace of delivery, I have misrepresented or misquoted the speaker. If so, please feel free to contact me, and I will endeavour to set the record straight.

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[1] I have not been able to give the full references to any of the literature referenced in the lecture – sorry.

Update October 2013: Archaeology Magazine have just published a short piece on this research here.

Science News have a slightly longer piece here.

The full paper:

Stephen Shennan, Sean S. Downey, Adrian Timpson, Kevan Edinborough, Sue Colledge, Tim Kerig, Katie Manning, & Mark G. Thomas 'Regional population collapse followed initial agriculture booms in mid-Holocene Europe' Nature Communications 4:2486 doi: 10.1038/ ncomms3486 (2013).

is available in html format and as a PDF.

Points indicate archaeological site locations and colours delineate the sub-regions used to estimate demographic patterns. From Shennan et al.
At a personal level, I'm delighted that the Irish Radiocarbon & Dendrochronological Dates project was used as one of the sources for the Irish material. It's a wonderful reward to see the data, so carefully and slowly gathered, being used as part of such a grand venture. Prof. Shennan was kind enough to provide this testimonial as to the utility of the IR&DD Catalogue:

"We found the Irish radiocarbon catalogue invaluable for our long-term multi-region approach to prehistoric demography using summed calibrated dates as a proxy for population. Without it we have found it more or less impossible to include Ireland in our study."

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Workingman’s Dead: Notes on some 17th to 19th century memorials, from the graveyards of Killora and Killogilleen, Craughwell, Co. Galway, Ireland. Part I

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PrefaceI think I originally started work on this paper around 1996. I certainly remember working on it around 2000 to 2001. By that time I felt that the paper was not coming together very well. In part, this was due to my attempt to shoehorn together some rather traditional concepts of gravestone art with my somewhat more unusual (read: crazier) take on a statistical approach to the subject (See Chapple 2000). Part of the reason I abandoned this piece was that while I felt that either approach worked well on their own, the two together did not quite fit. Attendant to that, I began to wonder what the audience would be for something like this – perhaps a bit too technical for a genealogical or art-focused reader, but a bit too pedestrian for a professional archaeological audience. In retrospect, another problem of the piece was its lack of focus. Essentially, I was attempting to pad-out a paper on vocational gravestones with some other memorials that interested me from the same corpus. Either on their own would have been too short to make a robust paper, but together they did not work – at least that was how I felt at the time. I have now slightly reworked the original text and cut it down to just the vocational stones, though I still hope to post Part II on some of the other interesting memorials at some date in the future.

Fig. 1. Map of south Galway, showing the location of Killora (A) and Killogilleen (B) graveyards. A Zoomable version of the map is available: here.

During the period from March 1995 to October 1997, the author was contracted by Craughwell Community Council and FÁS to monitor all archaeologically sensitive work conducted in the graveyards and Medieval churches of Killora and Killogilleen, in the Parish of Craughwell, Co. Galway (Fig. 1). The aims of this project, carried out under licence from the then Office of Public Works, included the cutting of overgrowth within the graveyard, and the trimming back of the burden of overhanging ivy from the standing structures. During this time the opportunity was taken to produce a complete record of the gravestone inscriptions from both sites (Chapple 1995a&b; 1997). In the course of this work a number of previously unrecorded gravestones came to light, adding significantly to the known examples from the locality. Other gravestones, while visible before the cleaning took place, received their first detailed recording and archaeological examination. Among the most important of these are a collection of six ‘occupational’ or ‘vocational’ gravestones, bearing depictions of the ‘tools of the trade’ of the deceased. Recent study has concentrated on viewing the corpus of surviving gravestones as a whole, where the contimium of memorial erection is perceived as instrumental to an understanding of the broad tradition of commemorative art (Chapple 2000). Such work has advocated a wholly statistical approach in dealing with a relatively substantial body of remains. This is partly for the perceived objectivity of the methodology where individual monuments are neither favoured nor ignored owing to their possession or lack of eye-catching artistic accomplishments. However, the tone of this paper is decidedly subjective and aims to present and discuss a number of the finest examples of post-Medieval gravestone carving from this area. The stones chosen represent some of the more unusual aspects of the local carving tradition within the corpus of memorials as a whole. Nonetheless, they are still interpretable within the context of the quantifiable trends of symbolic and artistic choice during the 17th to 19th centuries.

History and physical remains of the sites
The sites of Killora and Killogilleen are largely typical of small Medieval churches from all over Ireland. As such they represent the two chief, traditional burial grounds for the ecclesiastical parish of Craughwell and Ballymanagh. The church of Killora is located on a low hill and commands good views over the surrounding landscape, in particular to the south where the land is unwooded. The meaning of the name Killora may be translated as ‘Cill Eóra,’ the church of St. Eora or as ‘Cill Óthra,’ the church of prayers (OSNB, 27; O’Donovan et al. 1839, OSL 183/442; Holt 1909-10, 155.).[i] The earliest recorded reference to the site notes the death of ‘Florent Mac Aonglaigh, Archdeacon of Killoran’ in 1313AD (Connelan & MacDermot 1846, 118.).[ii] The church is also mentioned in a Papal letter of Innocent VIII from 1491, instructing Lawrence Odonchu to transfer control of Killora parish church to Theobald de Burgo of Tuam (Haren 1978, 394-395).

Although the standing remains of the church appear to date to the late 15th to early 16th centuries there is evidence for construction and alteration at a number of periods, starting in the late 12th to early 13th centuries.[iii] An area to the north of the site is noted on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1839) as a gleebe containing a souterrain, which raises the possibility of associated settlement from the Early Christian period onwards. It is difficult to accurately assess when the church fell from use, though from the general dates of the oldest gravestones within the church which appear to be in situ indicate abandonment around the middle of the 17th century (but see discussion below).

The church of Killogilleen is situated close to the summit of a low rise in undulating pasture land which falls away gently towards a small stream to the south-west. Similar to those relating to Killora, the earliest surviving references to the church appear to be two Papal letters of Innocent VIII. The documents date to 1491 and 1492 and relate to a vacancy in the cannonry at a number of churches, including Killogilleen and the subsequent dispute over who had the right to benefit from the available revenues (Haren op. cit. 319-329; 414). The Ordnance Survey Letters gives the meaning of the name as ‘Cill Ó gCillín in Irish, being denominated probably from a family name’ (O’Donovan et al. 1839; OSL 221/611; Holt 1909-10, 152). Joyce (1912, 1973, 141) is more explicit: ‘Cill-og-Cillín, the church of the O’Killeens, or as they now call themselves, Killeens.’

Also similar to Killora, the majority of the upstanding structure of Killogilleen church appears to be of the late 15th to early 16th centuries. However, the presence of a single block of masonry in the graveyard bearing fine diagonal tooling, typical of the late 12th to early 13th centuries, may indicate an earlier phase of church building. Again, the date of abandonment of this church is problematic. While the modern ‘chapel of ease’ at Ballymanagh was constructed at some time shortly after 1854, it appears likely that Killogilleen had been effectively abandoned considerably before this date (Fahy 1893, 423).

Fig. 2. Recumbent ‘Donohoe’ ledger displaying a ringed cross, calvary and the vocational symbols of a blacksmith: tongs, horseshoe, pincers and hammers (Scale 2m ranging rod in 0.5m divisions).

The vocational stones
The term ‘occupational’ or ‘vocational’ gravestone derives from the fact that these depict the usual implements associated with the profession of the deceased. As such they form a permanent, if selective record of past trade demographics. This selectivity is common to all aspects of gravestone studies of this period in that their survival is somewhat more sporadic at the earlier end of the spectrum. Also, as their use is relatively unusual, their occurrences possess the ability to radically skew perception of temporal shifts within these occupational demographics.[iv] While these caveats may be seen as substantial drawbacks, the fact remains that, especially in the absence of alternate records, these stones allow the ascription of certain trades to defined individuals. The alternative in the rural west of Ireland would be to presume that the vast majority, if not all, of the commemorated dead must have been farmers. While this is largely true, these stones serve to illustrate part of the range of available professions in this area during the 17th to 19th centuries.

Fig. 3. Detail of ‘Donohoe’ ledger displaying hammer, tongs and horseshoe (Scale 0.5m ranging rod in 0.1m divisions).

Prior to the commencement of work, only two of these stones had been recorded, both bearing occupational marks of blacksmiths. The first of these is a recumbent limestone ledger which measures 1.78m in length, and tapers from 0.54m at the top, to 0.45m at the base (Fig. 2). The slab is decorated with an incised, ringed cross calvary (i.e. a stepped base), and bordered by two incised lines. The panels formed by the intersection of the arms and the ring are incised, giving the impression of a false relief decoration. The external edge of the ring breaks at the points where the head and arms should be, but are left uncut. To the left of the shaft is an incised representation of a hammer, while to the right there is a similarly executed depiction of a tongs and horse-shoe (Fig. 3). The areas within the horse-shoe and between the mouth and handles of the tongs are lowered, giving the impression of a false relief decoration, similar to that on the upper portion of the cross. Below the stepped base of the cross is a carving of a pincers and a further hammer (Fig. 4) (Chapple 1995b, 17-18). While the pincers and the hammers are interpretable in a number of vocational frameworks, it is the inclusion of the horse shoe which bears out the ascription of the stone to a blacksmith.

Fig. 4. Detail of ‘Donohoe’ ledger displaying pincers and hammer (Scale 0.5m ranging rod in 0.1m divisions).

Although this example bears neither a name nor a year of death, it may be dated by parallel to similar examples of this form, which span the period from 1630 to 1680, making it the oldest vocational stone in the local corpus (Pers. Comm. Mr. J. Higgins). With regard to the former, a local oral tradition asserts that this stone is that of a blacksmith who lived in the townland of Carrigeen East, possibly in the area, today known in Irish as ‘Sean Ceárta,’ or the old forge (OS 6” Sheet No. 104;.Pers. comm. Mr. C. Potter, Craughwell). Griffith’s Valuation of 1855 lists only one forge in this townland, leased to a Mr. Lawrence Donohoe. This property is given as compromising a forge and land to an area of three acres, three roods, and eighteen perches (3.77 acres), with a total annual valuation of ten shillings for buildings (Griffith 1855, 111). Although there is a hiatus of almost two centuries between this record and the approximate date of the stone, it does not seem improbable that both the valuation and the gravestone relate to the same family. It appears that this stone originally lay in the western portion of the graveyard enclosure and was moved inside the church building, possibly during the 1950s (Chapple 1995b, 78; Pers. Comm. Mr. J. Kennedy, Carrigeen East). While this is the only stone of this particular type within the parish to possess vocational symbols, its basic form should not be thought of as in any way unique. Within the two graveyards there are four ledgers which are similar in almost every respect to the ‘Donohoe’ stone with the exception of the vocational symbols. At Killora one is a plain ledger without inscription (Fig. 5), while the other two commemorate members of the Hilane or O’Hilane family. One of these bears the inscription: “Pray for · the / sovle · of / M · Hilane”[v] (Fig. 6) while the other simply reads: “Donel · O · Hilane” (Fig. 7). A further uninscribed and undated ledger of this type also survives at Killogilleen graveyard.

Fig. 5. Recumbent unnamed and undated ledger displaying a ringed cross, calvary.

Fig. 6. Recumbent ‘M · Hilane’ ledger displaying a ringed cross, calvary.

Fig. 7. Recumbent ‘Donel · O · Hilane’ ledger displaying a ringed cross, calvary.

Interestingly, the most recent vocational stone in the parish is also that of a blacksmith (Fig. 8). This stone, also in Killora, measures 2.02m long, by 0.98m wide and bears incised text which, though worn, is legible as:

Erected by / MARY KENNY / alias Connare in memory / of her beloved husband / THOMAS KENNY / who died Decr. 4th 1865 / in the 52nd year of his age / May his Soul rest in peace

The lower portion of the stone bears an incised roundel with a moulded internal border, inside which are the false relief carvings of a crossed hammer and pincers (GAS SMR file: Killora 2; Chapple 1995b, 31). The form of decoration on this stone is similar to a one example at Kilmoylan graveyard, near Tuam, Co. Galway (Pers. Comm. Mr. J. Higgins). Although the symbols depicted do not include the obvious indicator of a horseshoe, the hammer and pincers alone may be taken to imply that the deceased was a blacksmith. This assertion is borne out by Griffith’s Valuation which records this Thomas Kenny as the leasee of a house, forge and garden, in the village of Craughwell, from the Marquis of Clanricarde. The whole had a total area of one rood and fifteen perches (0.34 acres), and a total annual valuation for rateable property of £2 (Griffith 1856, 48).

Fig. 8. Recumbent Kenny/Connare ledger (1865) displaying the occupational marks of a blacksmith: crossed pincers and hammer (Scale 2m ranging rod in 0.5m divisions).

The upper portion of this ledger, above the text, displays a large, rectangular panel cut in false relief. The panel bears a moulded internal edge, external to which is a broad border in a stylised foliage motif, carved in low false relief. At the centre of the panel a large, false relief roundel displays the ‘IHS’ monogram.[vi] A cross with an expanded terminal at the head, and arms patonce, fitched, springs from the lozenge shaped cross-bar of the ‘H’. A winged cherub head appears on either side of the roundel, in the upper corners of the panel; each above a depiction of a draped ciborium (lidded chalice). These choices from the repertoire of decorational motifs are themselves broad indicators which may be used to place the stone within the context of the temporal stylistic fashions of the area. For example, the ‘IHS’ monogram, in various forms, occurs on some 62% of the Craughwell series of gravestones making it the most popular single motif. The ideogram was introduced into the area during the 1760s and remained popular for the next century, before suffering a decline in the 1870s. The symbol shakily regained popularity until finally peaking in the 1930s before falling to the reduced levels seen today. The cherub first entered the Craughwell series as a decorative element during the 1790s, generally increasing in popularity until its apogee in the 1840s. After this time it dwindled in use until finally disappearing after the 1870s. Indeed, during this time its form was by no means static as a number of versions developed and flourished within the broad trend (Fig. 9). The use of the ciborium followed a similar path: introduced in the 1810s, reaching its peak of popularity during the 1850s and ceasing to be utilised after the 1870s. When taken together we see a gravestone with sits at the end of a declining tradition in local monumental practice. The interpretation is confirmed by the statistically generated classification system pioneered by this author where this stone falls in the Class A group (Chapple 2000). Essentially, this category represents gravestones which are characterised by a number of common variables and possess and average construction date of 1814, while their core area of popularity extends from the 1810s to the 1850s.[vii] Considering the stone’s probable construction date as the 1860s at the earliest, it shows a markedly conservative use of symbolic decoration. However, it may be stretching the evidence to attempt to equate this conservatism in the choice of gravestone with either the personal outlook of the stone’s commissioner or the perception of blacksmithing at this time.

Fig. 9. Graph of frequency of ‘IHS’ monogram in Killora and Killogilleen graveyards.

During the survey of the gravestones a concerted attempt was made to view the stones in as many different lighting and weather conditions as possible with a view to recording their fullest details. As a direct result of this approach, two stones with previously unrecorded occupational marks came to light which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. In both cases the decoration was invisible under normal conditions, only becoming obvious by the rays of the setting sun. The first of these is a recumbent limestone ledger which measures 2.0m long, by 0.76m wide. The stone has a slightly rounded head and a chamfered edge. It bears an incised text and though the right hand edge of the stone is slightly damaged the inscription is mostly legible (Fig. 8):[viii]


Fig. 10. Overview of ‘Brodrick’ ledger displaying the vocational symbols of a carpenter or wood worker: tennon saw and axe (Scale 2m ranging rod in 0.5m divisions).

Its upper portion bears a deeply incised ‘IHS’ monogram with a cross patée, fitched, springing from the omega shaped cross-bar of the ‘H’ (Fig. 10) (Chapple 1995b, 59). Beneath the cross-bar of the ‘H’ is what appears to be a lightly incised ‘V’, or possibly the much worn remains of an incised heart shape. On either side of both the cross and the monogram are lightly incised foliage motifs with a broad and shallow, incised band arching over them in a semi-circle. The upper left and right sides of the stone bear an incised foliage motif, while the last line of text is flanked on either side by an incised, meandering foliage motif of a somewhat similar style. The lower portion of the stone bears two incised panels with false relief decoration. The right hand panel is an inverted ‘L’ shaped and bears a representation of a hafted axe (Fig. 11). The left hand panel is larger and bears a false relief carving of a tenon saw in the upper left-hand corner of a rectangular panel. It would appear that this was the gravestone of a carpenter or wood-worker.

Fig. 11. Detail of ‘Brodrick’ ledger showing saw and axe (Scale 0.5m ranging rod in 0.1m divisions).

Close by is another slab whose occupational marks were also discovered by viewing under the light of the setting sun (Fig. 12). The stone measures 1.69m long, by 0.57m wide, with incised worn, but legible text on its upper portion (Chapple 1995b, 51). The upper left hand corner of the slab is broken, destroying portions of the text, though not enough to prevent an accurate reconstruction:


Fig. 12. Overview of ‘Nilan’ ledger displaying the vocational symbol of a plough (Scale 2m ranging rod in 0.5m divisions).

The portion of the stone above the text bears a somewhat crudely incised cross potent. As with many stones of this type, the occupational marks are confined to the lower portion of the stone, below the text. The decoration gives the overall impression of a stylised plough, presumably the occupational mark of a farmer or ploughman (Fig. 13). It is composed of a large, and crudely incised, representation of a plough-sock, in the form of a rough, inverted triangle to the left. To the right is a further incised element, resembling a stake with a pointed lower end, intended to represent the coulter of the plough. These two elements of decoration are linked by two incised horizontal lines, now very faint. This use of the plough-sock and coulter as occupational symbols is common west of the Shannon, and there are similar examples at Claregalway Abbey, and Loughrea (Pers. Comm. Mr. J. Higgins).

Fig. 13. Detail of ‘Nilan’ ledger displaying the vocational symbol of a plough (Scale 0.5m ranging rod in 0.1m divisions).

During clearance of undergrowth within the church the edge of a gravestone was discovered protruding from beneath a thin layer of decayed foliage. A decision was made to uncover the stone for the purposes of recording. It proved to be a further stone bearing the occupational marks of a plough-sock and coulter. However, unlike the previous example mentioned, the elements of the plough-sock and coulter are disarticulated and set at angles to each other, and are partially over-carved by the lower portion of the text (Figs. 14&15). This is a recumbent limestone slab with a gabled head, measuring 1.84m long, by 0.55m at the top, tapering to 0.45m at its base (Chapple 1995b, 17). The upper portion of the stone bears an incised ‘IHS’ monogram with a cross with expanded terminals springing from the cross-bar of the ‘H’. Below this the slab bears the incised, worn but legible text:

James Coys / Stone 1779 / Erected by / John Foord / in memory / of his Father / o Lord have / mercy on him

Fig. 14. Overview of ‘Nilan’ ledger displaying the vocational symbol of a plough (Scale 2m ranging rod in 0.5m divisions).

Fig. 15. Detail of ‘Nilan’ ledger displaying the vocational symbol of a plough (Scale 0.5m ranging rod in 0.1m divisions).

On close inspection, the inscription appears to be of two periods; the earlier portion comprising the first two lines, while the remainder is incised in a slightly different style. It appears that the first part of the inscription was associated with the incised occupational marks of the plough-sock and coulter. These symbols obviously predate the cutting of the lower portion of the inscription on the stone as the ‘r’ of the word ‘mercy’ in the eighth line of the text is super-scribed to avoid one of their angles.

Only one vocational stone is recorded from the graveyard of Killora. The stone is a rather worn and weathered table tomb, with a rounded head, standing on four ashlar blocks. The upper stone measures 0.89m wide x 2.01m long. The upper portion of the stone bears a “JHS” monogram, with a cross with expanded terminals springing from just above the cross-bar of the ‘H’. Below the cross-bar there is a small false relief roundel which appears to bear a very worn, incised cross potent, presumably a representation of an Eucharistic ‘host’. The incised letters “IN” and “RI” appear below the arms of the cross and are separated by the shaft. A small area between the letters of the monogram is incised to give the impression of false relief. To both left and right of the monogram are two, incised, concentric circles, with, perhaps, six incised ‘spokes’ radiating from the central circle. Below this, in very worn, but mostly legible text, the inscription reads:

Lord have mercy on the soul  / of John Crowe who depart / ed this life April the 12t.h. 1837 / Aged 78 Years Erected / by his beloved wife Elen / or Crowe for them and / Their Posterity / Martin [Gan?]et /  Sculpture

In the area between the main body of text and the mason’s name are the representations of a shepherd’s crook lying horizontally, above a pair of shears (Fig. 16). The edges of both implements are incised with the areas around the crook head and between the blades and spring of the shears incised to give the impression of false relief. It seems likely that these are the vocational symbols of a shepherd or farmer.

Fig. 16. Detail of shears and crook on Crowe table tomb. Illustration by Damien Kavanagh.

Although making up only a small portion of the corpus of surviving memorials in the two graveyards, the six vocational stones do add to our knowledge of this place in a meaningful way. As I said at the beginning, in surveying rural west of Ireland gravestones, the default supposition is usually that those commemorated were of farming stock. With these stones we can begin to change that assumption and recreate a fuller understanding of this early modern society. Yes, there were farmers (or ploughmen), but there were also shepherds, blacksmiths and a carpenter – all occupations that are necessary in such a rural community as this.


Chapple, R.M. 1995a Archaeological report on the graveyards of Ardnamoran, Ballynacreeva, Killora, and Killogilleen, Craughwell, County Galway. Unpublished pre-disturbance report.

Chapple, R.M. 2000 A statistical analysis and preliminary classification of gravestones from Craughwell, Co. Galway. Journal of the Galway Archaeological & Historical Society 52, 155-71.

Connellan, O & MacDermott, P. 1846 The annals of Ireland, translated from the original Irish of the Four Masters. Dublin.

Fahy, V. Rev. J. 1893 The history and antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh. Dublin.

(GAS) Archaeological Survey of Galway, Unpublished Reports. Killora 2.

Griffith, R. 1855 General valuation of rateable property in Ireland. Union of Gort. Valuation of the several tenements compromised in the above-named union situate in the Counties of Galway and Clare. Dublin.

Griffith, R. 1856 General valuation of rateable property in Ireland, County of Galway. Union of Loughrea. Valuation of the several tenements compromised in the above-named union. Dublin.

Haren, M.J. (ed.) 1978 Calendar of enters in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Lateran Registers 1484-1492. Vol. XV: Papal letters of Innocent VIII. Dublin.

Holt, E.W.L. 1909-10 An abridged transcript of the Ordnance Survey Letters relating to parishes in, or partly in, the Barony of Dunkellin, Co. Galway. Journal of the Galway Archaeological & Historical Society 6, 123-69.

Joyce, P.W. 1912, 1973 The origin and history of Irish names of places. Vol. 2. Wakefield.

Kelly, S. 1975 Topography of Craughwell (2) The Blazer 3, 25-6.

O’Donovan, J. (et al.) 1839, O’Flanagan, M. (ed.) 1928 Ordnance Survey Letters: letters containing information relevant to the antiquities of the county of Galway collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Vol. 1. Bray.

O’Donovan, J. (ed.) 1856, 1900 The annals of the Kingdom of Ireland: from the earliest times to the year 1616 by the four masters. 3rd edn., Vol. 3. Dublin.

(OSNB) Ordnance Survey Name Book 1839 Parish of Killora, Co. Galway. Microfilm copy.

Walton, J.C. 1980 Pictorial depiction on east Waterford tombstones. Decies 14, 67-83.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the following who have given generously of their time and knowledge: Mr. P.J. Callanan, Secretary, Craughwell Parish Council; The librarians and staff of The James Hardiman Library, NUIG; Galway County Library; and Island House, Galway County Library Headquarters; Professor E. Rynne; and Mr. Jim Higgins. No amount of thanks can repay my wife, Jeanne, for the hours she has spent standing in cold, windswept graveyards; for time spent advising and proofreading and especially for her understanding when it may appear that my devotion to her is momentarily eclipsed by gravestones.


[i] See also Kelly (1975, 25) for alternative versions of the name.
[ii] However, O’Donovan (1856, 1990, 550-551) suggests that the church referred to in this passage is to Killery in the Barony of Tirerril, Co. Sligo.
[iii] See Chapple (1995b, 6-10) for a review of the structural evidence.
[iv] The occupational stones represent a mere 2% of the surviving corpus.
[v]  In so far as possible the style of the inscribed text has been accurately reproduced, though to conserve space line-breaks are here indicated by a slash mark, thus: /.
[vi] The monogram may be interpreted in a variety of ways, including an orthographical derivation of the first three letters from the Greek Iesous. Among the most popular explanations is that it derives from In Hoc Signo [Vince] (In this sign, conquer). However, Walton (1980, 70) argues that although the monogram may ultimately stem from the Greek, by the beginning of the 17th century it would have been generally understood as standing for Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, saviour of mankind).
[vii] Class B stones are characterised by a reduced set of potential rubrics and decorational variables. In general these stones are of a later period, with an average construction date of 1929 (their core period ranges from the 1900s to the 1950s). Class AB is characterised as a semi-distinct, intermediate stylistic grouping, with an average construction date of 1875. Gravestones of this rank possess elements common to both previous groupings and are considered as representing a stylistic nexus between the other Classes (See Chapple Ibid.).
[viii]  Illegible portions of the text, where possible, have been tentatively reconstructed and are enclosed in square brackets, thus: [ ].

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