Saturday, September 29, 2012

Idle thoughts: Edward Carson, the Ulster Covenant, and the Bronze Age

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On the 28th of September 1912 Sir Edward Carson became the first person to sign the Ulster Covenant. I’m writing this on the 29th of September 2012 in East Belfast. As the closest Saturday to the anniversary, Ulster’s Loyal Orders and their associated bands are out in force. Even here, sheltered from the Upper Newtownards Road, I can still hear the pounding drum beats and the high, tinny sound of the fife. In my back garden you can clearly hear the drone of the police helicopter high above, obscured somewhere in the broken cloud. 

Personally, I don’t ‘do’ politics. These days, all I’m looking for in my elected representatives is to ensure that I can go on living a quiet, peaceful life and that we are never again dragged into the dark days of sectarian murder and hatred. On the other hand, this is a huge event that’s happening on my doorstep – it would be remiss of me not to go and take a look. With that in mind, I took a walk to the end of my street with my family to get a sense of the scale of this huge parade. I have no comment to make on the rights or wrongs of such large-scale marching, nor on any point of modern politics (and I would be grateful if any readers wishing to leave a comment would refrain from the same). However, it did make me think of what the archaeologists of the future would make of Belfast and our political divide in, say, a thousand years. In the year 3012 the Belfast Archaeological Research Project (BARP) would find that all the flags and emblems of both sides had long since rotted away and that even the paint on the kerbstones and gable walls had not stood the test of time. The physical remains of the city could tell you stories about the differences between rich and poor – some sets of house foundations set within larger grounds could be equated as belonging to the better-off end of society as opposed to smaller, more cramped terraces in other parts of town. But what of our political differences? There are rich and poor on both sides, so there will be no discernible differences between the houses of one side and the other. Similarly, our material culture is pretty uniform, so there will be little to differentiate our refuse. Despite jokes about the distance between eye-sockets, there is no physical difference between our skeletons. I once heard that the Catholic church insisted that there be a large underground wall (not visible on the surface) built in the city cemetery to divide their dead from those of the Protestants. I have no idea if this is true, but it may cause some head-scratching for the archaeologists at BARP. Similarly, most churches and places of Christian worship are pretty standard in plan, so there will be little to tell them apart. That said, there may be questions as to why we appeared to require so many ‘ritual/ceremonial structures’. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not belittling anyone’s right to express their culture/religion/politics in any way they like (nor anyone else’s right to be offended by it) – I simply don’t care. My point is just that, despite our perceived modern differences in belief, that archaeologists at BARP would have extreme difficulty in telling us apart – who were the Unionists and the Loyalists? Who were the Republicans and the Nationalists?

Going beyond our modern time, this line of thinking eventually got me derailed into considering what Ireland may have been like in, say, the middle of the Bronze Age. Could it have been similar to today? As archaeologists we look at the material culture of the period and, to a large extent, perceive homogeneity. The people of the time lived in broadly similar structures, and while there were a variety of ways of disposing of the dead, they are essentially ‘Bronze Age’ in character. Similarly, while their material culture – tools, weapons, etc. – show chronological development we would be hard-pressed to divine subtler divisions relating to political/religious world views. In Cleary & Kelleher’s excellent monograph on the Neolithic site at Tullahedy (I’m working on a review of it for this blog, honest!), Farina Sternke observes that the main focus of stone tool production was the creation and refurbishment of leaf/lozenge-shaped arrowheads. She asks the questions – what was the need for such an arsenal? If they were for the defence of the site, then who were the ‘enemies’? Although it is beyond the scope of her work at Tullahedy, she suggests that an examination of the site in the context of place and territoriality in Neolithic Ireland as a viable avenue for future research. When it comes to examining changes to sites and monuments over time, it is relatively common to invoke changes in polity and ritual as explanations. In my own case, I presented just such a narrative as a means of explanation of how a presumed central burial at a ring barrow ended up in the ditch at Gortlaunaght, Co. Cavan. The pottery was Early Bronze Age, but the dates from the charcoal in the ditch were Late Bronze Age. My scenario (presented, I hasten to add, as only one possibility among many) was that changing cultural practices and political upheavals in the Late Bronze Age may have resulted in the deliberate ‘slighting’ of older monuments to demonstrate the wielding of power by a newly enfranchised elite. As I say, it’s a commonly enough used device in explaining and understanding change in archaeology.

In the whirl of today’s commemorations, my idle thoughts have led me to a new question. What would it have been like several hundred years into this new Bronze Age religious/political sphere? In terms of archaeological visibility, everyone is now living a nice, modern, Bronze Age lifestyle in their nice roundhouses, with their occasional bronze weapons and gold jewellery. But what of the people? Are they really that homogenous? Could there not have been societal divisions where part of the population still associated themselves with the ‘incoming’ set of ideas, while another considered themselves to be ‘native’ in their background. At a remove of several generations from the genesis of such a society all such distinctions are (in terms of the physical evidence, at least) unimportant – in today’s terms Unionists and Nationalists are vastly politically different, but they share a material culture: both sides have flat-screen TVs, broadband internet, and drive VW Polos (etc.) – it’s not like one side are all ‘modern’ and the other lot are grimly living in the 17th century, with their muskets, horse-drawn carts, and exciting, woodblock printed monthly journals. Similarly, in my hypothetical Bronze Age scenario, you can accommodate multiple traditions with competing/mutually exclusive mental cultural maps and landscapes, yet sharing a near identical lifestyle.

The other idle though of mine today was about the strong cohesive (and simultaneously divisive) power of such ceremonial activities as marching and parading. I know there are plenty who see it as an oppressive force, deliberately and aggressively flaunting its authority and ascendancy. On the other hand, the scene near my house was of large numbers of people feeling part of a shared history, culture and community. These views are mutually exclusive, but each has something to recommend them. As I say, I have no interest in passing comment on modern political divisions. Initially I was thinking of the fantastic corpus of Irish Bronze Age Horns and how they could have been used in just such a way – loud droning instruments to attract attention: invoking positive feelings of inclusion and acceptance in one social group and precisely the opposite in another. The serious suggestion in all of this that, perhaps, we should attempt to move beyond studies of manufacture and deposition of these instruments and begin to look at them in terms of the political/religious power that they may have had – not just to bind a society together, but to highlight differences too. I’ve probably already pushed this argument too far, but I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb: in writing all this it has just struck me how similar the gold lunulae and gorgets are to the sashes worn by the members of the Orange Order. Both can be seen as demonstrating affiliation with one particular cultural ideology. Perhaps the Bronze Age goldwork too had specific connotations that evoked differing responses from different groups of spectators. I’m not sure how one would go about searching for, or drawing out, such threads of cultural dissonance, but perhaps they are there to be found by the right researchers. In any case, they can’t ever be found unless someone raises the possibility that they might exist at all. Overall, I am suggesting that we need to develop a more nuanced approach to past societies, and attempt to see beneath any apparent homogeneity and reflect how different elements within that society regard the outcomes of power shifts and religious/ceremonial changes.

In the meantime, I present a small selection of photographs from the parade as it passed near my house and remind ourselves that, despite whatever political views we have that may divide us, we have culturally much more that unites us!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The William Dunlop Archaeological Photographic Archive

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Preface: This is a slightly longer version of an article submitted to the Ulster Archaeology Society's Newsletter, edited by Duncan Berryman (@ArchaeologistD). The on-line version is available to read: here. If you have an interest in the archaeology of Ulster, please consider joining the Society - it is a wonderful resource that deserves our support! 

It doesn’t take me to tell the readers of this Newsletter that Billy Dunlop was for many years the energetic heart of the UAS. His long-term editorship of this Newsletter, while impressive, was but one of his achievements. He was involved in just about every aspect of UAS life, from committee work, to attending lectures and field-trips to, in 2000, holding the position of President of the Society. With his passing in September of last year, I lost a valued friend and a trusted mentor (read my tribute to Billy here). In this I am not alone - many of us felt the same way about Billy. He was many things to many people: friend, mentor, confidant, travelling companion, and father figure to a generation of archaeologists.

In the time after his death many of us contacted the Dunlop family to offer condolences on their loss and whatever help and assistance we could. I was honoured to have been among the small group invited by the family to assist in the redistribution of Billy's personal library. While some books went into my own collection, and some went to charity shops, I tried to ensure that as many as possible went to younger archaeologists (read about it here). My reasoning was that many of the volumes were still good quality research and reference resources and deserved to see regular use. I also thought that passing on these books would help ensure Billy's legacy with a generation of graduates who hadn't been lucky enough to meet him in person. Having run through all these thoughts, I simply settled on the idea that, legacy or not, it would have been what Billy would have wanted. This process took several weeks and multiple trips to the family home in Gilnahirk to load up my car with more and more boxes and bags of books. Towards the end of this process we had to ask the question 'what is going to happen to Billy's photos?' Here was a difficult problem. Going back to the mid 1970s, Billy had been taking photographs of archaeological sites. As far as I can see, his exploits peaked in the mid to late 1980s, but he was still actively taking photographs and (usually) cataloguing them up to a few years before his death. The primary difficulty was that, unfortunately, no one in Billy's family has a particular interest in archaeology. While they realised that Billy had put an awful lot of time and effort into creating and cataloguing this collection, there was no one who wished to retain and curate it. The way it was put to me was: if I was interested, I was free to take it away, but otherwise it would be disposed of. Here was another problem - as much as I admired and respected Billy, he wasn't a great photographer! True, some of his photographs were quite important in terms of being informal records of life on a number of the big research excavations of his day. However, the vast majority were of various excursions, through UAS or other bodies, to sites and monuments. These were simply 'tourist snaps' - for the most part these could be easily replicated today. My initial opinion was that these represented very little worth, either as archaeological documents or beautiful images.

In all honesty, I was filled with angst about this - I didn't want to bring yet another box of stuff into my home that would sit in my attic gently decaying for the next few decades. Similarly, I did not fancy the idea of allowing this material to be dumped. Eventually my inner hoarder won out and I (very reluctantly) agreed to take the archive home to join the other detritus I've picked up in a life in archaeology. Over the next couple of months I started to go through the various packets of photos and examine some of their contents. My first impression was that the candid shots of life on excavations were interesting and valuable as an archaeological resource in themselves. Billy's photos gave a glimpse of all the things that are a normal part of life for professional archaeologists, but not usually seen in the finished reports - the team having lunch; someone setting up the dumpy level; people trowelling away in a trench; well-known and respected senior figures in the profession, sunburnt and in shorts, squinting at section faces. I immediately thought that these were exactly the sort of image that people would be interested in seeing - part of the history of Irish archaeology. Closer examination of what I had initially dismissed as 'tourist snaps' revealed that these, too, had some measure of worth. Firstly, many were decent photos of interesting sites. While this is all well and good in itself, I felt that there were more than enough photographs of Irish archaeological sites already available on the Internet. Billy's photos had other things that made them special - in particular, some captured unique moments that are unlikely ever to be replicated. To give one example: what are the chances of getting Prof. George Eogan, and Sir Colin Renfrew (the latter carrying a briefcase) on to Maeve's Cairn in the Carrowmore Complex. No disrespect to any of those named above, but I reckon that it's a pretty unlikely situation that is unlikely to happen any time soon. But here's the thing - it did happen! In 1982 there was an international conference to discuss the results of Göran Burenhult's excavations at Carrowmore - and Billy was there to record it! It is fleeting moments like these that Billy captured - wonderful little snippets of life ... of never-to-be-repeated scenes ... all otherwise lost, had it not been for Billy and his camera. In other cases Billy's snapshots - many of which are dated - may yet prove useful to students and those charged with the long-term management and preservation of these sites. Simply put, Billy's photos show the site as it was at a particular time and in a particular condition. Analyses of these images, in conjunction with other resources, may allow for fuller understandings of the vegetational and conservation histories of some sites, and assist in the planning of future conservation works.

Whatever the aesthetic/historical/sociological value of these images and their future research potential, they were never going to be appreciated by anyone if they could not be seen. For this reason, I put together a small website with the rather grandiose title of: ‘The William Dunlop Archaeological Photographic Archive’, along with a page on Facebook to promote it. While the Facebook page was originally intended merely as a tool for promoting the collection, it has evolved to be much more than that. I cannot hope to match Billy’s expansive travels and knowledge, and sometimes it has been hard to decipher his writing. This is where the Facebook page has proven to be an amazing resource in its own right. From time to time I have posted pictures there, some with only a little information (perhaps a year and a county), sometimes with no information at all – and always with a plea for information and assistance. I have yet to be disappointed at the response from enthusiasts and professionals alike. Sometimes it only takes one or two comments to put me on the right track, other times it can take a number of people commenting and suggesting places over several days, but we have always gotten there in the end!

Much of my free time in the early part of 2012 has been taken up with scanning, cropping, and general manipulation of the photos. To date, I’ve uploaded over 700 photos, covering 11 Irish counties along with dedicated albums to a further seven major archaeological excavations. I have tried to upload them in relatively small batches, so as not to overwhelm ‘the market’, and (hopefully) to build up a following. I had no particular goal in any of this, other than to allow Billy’s photos to be seen by the world – professional archaeologist and enthusiastic amateur alike. To date, the collections have received tens of thousands of views from all over the world. I frequently receive emails from strangers, telling me how they discovered the collection on the internet and have been inspired by the images to either read about Irish archaeology, or (in a small number of instances) come visit this island. Even more gratifying has been the correspondence I have received from a substantial number of Billy’s friends, sharing reminiscences about field trips and excavations long past.

I have often wondered if I have done the right thing – would Billy have approved of my sharing his photographs in this manner? I can only believe that the effort he spent in cataloguing his collection suggests that he did want it to be seen by others. While such ‘social media’ as Facebook may well have been unfamiliar to Billy, I am equally certain that he would have approved of the manner in which his images have sparked research and good-natured debate. But most of all, I think he would have approved of people from diverse backgrounds taking an interest in our shared heritage and learning to value and appreciate it.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Archaeological fashion in the 1930s

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To the general public, archaeologists are associated with one fashion item: the fedora hat. Amongst ourselves, we frequently berate each other (and our younger selves) for such fashion faux pas as denim shorts, trowel holsters, and stripy jumpers … at least in the days before Health and Safety turned the profession into a day-glow sea of fluorescent high-viz vests. But there was once a simpler time … a happier time … a time when archaeology not only knew fashion … we knew STYLE!

I was sent the accompanying photograph by Eoin C Bairéad (who is responsible for the regular ‘News from the Net’ feature in Archaeology Ireland). The splendidly turned-out archaeologist is Liam S. Gógan (1879-1979). He joined the National Museum of Ireland in 1914, and from 1936 until his retirement in 1956 he was Keeper of the Art and Industrial Division. Gógan was also a well known Irish-language poet and his Selected Poems have just been published by Coiscéim, in an edition by Dr. Louis de Paor. The book includes the above photograph of Liam, excavating ‘late in the 1930s’. While much of Europe was getting excited by marching and coloured shirts around this time, Gógan cuts a dapper figure, deep in concentration, as he wields a massive trowel around a slab-lined inhumation. Although the combination of tweed overcoat, raincoat, and broad-brimmed hat are unlikely to be replicated on any modern excavation, it is the perfectly adjusted wing collar that speaks to us from an age of elegance and refinement long gone from field archaeology.

As Eoin himself says: “While it is a truth universally recognised that sartorial standards among Archaeologists have declined almost as much as the Irish economy, I am still impressed with Liam's style, particularly the wing collar.”

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: Archaeology Ireland 26.2 (Issue 100)

Summer 2012. ISSN 0790-892x

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Sometimes it’s the little things that make you realise your age – and not always in a good way. The grey hair, the aching joints, your colleagues disbelief that ‘you’re how old?’ … these are definitely not great ways to be reminded of your advancing years. But there are other ways, too. Ways that make you proud to have been part of something; that allow you to say ‘yes I was there … and yes, I am that old!’ I would definitely put the arrival of the 100th issue of Archaeology Ireland into that latter category! While the inception of the magazine was (just) before my entry into archaeology, I have been a long-time reader, subscriber and occasional contributor to it. I remember the first time I saw it for sale – it was in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway (not the current fantastic temple to the printed word in Middle Street, but its much more humble origins on Dominic Street) in 1989. I got chatting to Charlie about archaeology books and he said something along the lines of ‘if you’re serious about archaeology, you’d better take a look at this magazine’ and handed over a copy of Archaeology Ireland. And so a love affair, now in its third decade, was born. I would contend that Charlie's advice then is as good today: ‘if you’re serious about archaeology, you’d better take a look at this magazine’.

As one might imagine, the publication of the 100th issue gives ample opportunity to look back over the last quarter century in Irish archaeology. First off the block is Eoin C Bairéad in the article ‘Go maire tú an céad - may you live to be 100!’ In just a few short pages, he sums up the major events of the magazine over a quarter of a century. He charts its development from a small sized, black-and-white publication to the latest, full-colour, A4 format. Along the way we’ve seen boom and bust and always Archaeology Ireland has been there to document it.

Prof. Audrey Horning and Nick Brannon continue the theme in examining the path of Irish archaeology as a whole over the last 25 years. ‘Irish archaeology 25 years on - upwards, downwards and outwards’ notes how some things never change: we’re still concerned with the problems of publication, and dissemination of our results, but also how other aspects of archaeology have changed. In particular, they note that the scope of the discipline has broadened from the prehistoric and Early Christian periods, to include landscape, environmental, underwater, and urban issues too. The authors see contraction within the profession – we are once again in a period of economic turmoil, and many jobs have gone in the sector. As John Waddell argued for in another period of economic strife, what we need now is long-term planning. We need to put in place robust procedures for dealing with large paper, digital and artefactual archives. While Horning and Brannon argue that some positive steps have been taken in the Republic, the situation in Northern Ireland is more worrying. Almost euphemistically they note that ‘the state sector has steadfastly avoided the issue of long-term curation, turning a blind eye to the de-accessioning of excavation assemblages by commercial companies’ – it almost seems forgivable when you put it like that! What has actually been happening is nothing less than the wholesale abandonment of our cultural heritage by these commercial companies. I am given to understand that one company called up its past clients and informed them that they could either come and collect the artefacts/archives from their sites, or they would be charged for future storage. To the best of my knowledge, this has led to large collections, from significant excavations, passing out of any form of archaeological curation. I wish I could report that the collections were being adequately cared for, but I doubt it! It is likely that the vast majority of this material has permanently disappeared from view and will be forever lost to scholarship. While the topics of ‘professionalism’ and ‘factionalism’ are, to my mind at least, continuing sloughs within the profession, there is some ray of light at the thought of ‘inclusion’. The authors, quite rightly, see the rise of ‘community archaeology’ as a strategy for keeping our relevance as a profession and preserving our jobs. But whatever its origins, carefully crafted community and cross-community projects have the potential for immense social and archaeological good.

Prof. Gabriel Cooney, in ‘From Amstrad to Apple - making Archaeology Ireland happen!’ recalls his time as editor and of those heady, pioneering days of the magazine’s infancy. He contemplates the differences between now and then – the ease and power of electronic communications and publication, versus the rudimentary capabilities of an Amstrad computer and squinting at illustrations on a light box. For me, one image that takes me back is the feeling of combined terror and consummate professionalism as I carefully annotated illustrations using letraset … those were the days! Cooney looks back to his first editorial for the magazine – the project’s stated aims were to provide information on important developments within the profession and act as a forum for debate. While times have changed, the magazine continues to adhere to these important goals. Cooney rightly sees the challenge facing archaeology in the current economic climate as not just maintaining our ability to ‘assess, manage and sustain for the future the archaeological heritage which has been developed since the 1980s’, but communicating that value to the widest audience. Archaeology Ireland has done this remarkably well for 25 years, and is as necessary now as it was on the day its first issue rolled off the presses.

In ‘Homage to Archaeologia’ Patrick F. Wallace, former Director of the National Museum of Ireland, looks back on our archaeological deceased. By his own admission, it is a selective chronicle that focuses on Dublin, urban archaeology, Vikings and boats. I’ve read the published works of many of those mentioned here. Quite a few were inspirational to me in various ways throughout my career, dispensing good advice and encouragement. In particular, I remember the late Tom Fanning – a remarkably dedicated archaeologist and my first site director. I worked for him in 1989 on the excavation of Rinnaraw, Co. Donegal and there are some photos from that season available here. I can only quote Wallace’s words: “raise a glass to these extraordinary men and women who have shaped the subject we love in the last 25 years”.

Breaking away from the celebrations, Martin Fitzpatrick, in ‘Murder in Tisaxon?’, describes the discovery of human remains and a souterrain in Co. Galway. The bones were from a male (17-25 years of age) who was struck by a socketed iron arrowhead, which entered through the side of his skull. As there was no evidence of healing, it is surmised that death was either instantaneous or occurred soon after receiving the blow. Analysis of the arrowhead suggests a 9th to 10th century date. Some distance to the north, the souterrain creep was discovered. It was constructed with stone walls, and a stone-lintelled roof. Fitzpatrick recounts the argument, put forward by the late Etienne Rynne (and others), that Tisaxon is related to Mag nEo na Saxon in Co. Mayo, and may have been a refuge for monks following the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD. He ties the most recent discoveries into the long-term series of finds in the Tisaxon/Templemoyle area, which include burials, a graveslab and an Early Christian hand bell. His conclusion is that the young man died in a conflict at the site, and that he may have been only one of a number of burials in the area. It is obvious that there is still much to be discovered in this fascinating place.

In ‘True or false? The crane revisited’ Padraic de Bhaldraithe replies to some of the issues raised by O'Toole & O'Flaherty’s (2011) discussion of The Eurasian crane, Grus grus and its relevance to the field of Irish palcenames. He disputes, as far as I can see, pretty much every aspect of the arguments put forward by O'Toole and O'Flaherty. Instead, he sees that the majority of the usages of Corr in Irish placenames are not related to cranes, but to other topographical features such as marshes, hills, etc. I cannot pretend that I understand enough Irish, nor am I sufficiently well versed in the methodologies of placename studies to offer a coherent perspective of my own. However, I can say that the article makes for fascinating reading, and I hope to see further discussions and deliberations on the topic in future editions of the magazine.

Christine Baker, in ‘Excavating an archive’, discusses her assessment of Leo Swan’s archive for the Early Christian monastic site at Kilpatrick, Co. Westmeath. Swan, funded by the Royal Irish Academy, dug the site over a number of seasons from 1973 to 1981. As Baker explains, the site produced evidence of habitation, agricultural practices, metalworking, as well as international trade. Summary reports on the site are available via the wonderful website for the years 1973, 1975, and 1980-84. Unfortunately, the excavation remained unpublished at the time of his death, and much of it has lain undisturbed in his private study since. The primary phase of Baker’s work has been the collation of the paper archive for the site – no small achievement, considbuering the passage of time and the inevitable loss/degradation of data. Baker is quick to point out that despite initial impressions to the contrary, Leo’s record keeping was immensely detailed and methodical. This initial assessment has shown that, while the excavation was very much of its time, the archive is substantially complete. While any further exploitation of the archive will be without the insight of its original excavator, there is still much to be learned from it. This current phase of work was, like the original excavations, funded by the RIA. Having established that there is much of value in the archive, I can but hope that this funding is continued, so that this important site is finally brought to full publication.

In ‘Remains of a second pre-Romanesque church at Inchcleraun on Lough Ree’ Con Manning draws our attention to a number of relatively neglected sites. The small island of Inchcleraun, Co. Longford, contains the ruined remains of an Early Christian monastic site with several churches. To illustrate how neglected the study of the site has been, Manning notes that the ‘only article ever written on Inchcleraun’ was by F. J. Bigger in the 1900 edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (available here | JStor access required). While it may be the only substantive paper on the site, it is not alone! Bigger was obviously very taken by the remains he discovered here, particularly the inscribed cross-slab he noted (Bigger 1900, 80), as later the same year, he was inspired to use it as the model for the ‘faked’ grave of St. Patrick. Manning directs our attention to the north wall of Templemore church, where the remains of an earlier church are visible. Here a portion of the wall is built in a different style, much closer to the stonework of the mid 10th century shrine chapel to St Diarmuid. However, unlike St Diarmuid’s, this new discovery does not possess external antae. On this basis he dates it slightly later, to the 11th century. This fascinating discovery is an important addition to the corpus of pre-Romanesque churches in Ireland. Unfortunately, on the same visit that produced this discovery, Manning also noted that the site had been comprehensively worked over by illegal metal detectorists. The author urges anyone seeing such activity in progress to contact the authorities and note down any car registration numbers, etc.

Next, David A. Wheelan describes two examples of ‘Lismore Castle ice houses’, Co. Cork. These are 19th century structures, unusually (in my experience) combined into a single complex. These two examples were used primarily for the storage of salmon from the River Blackwater and were in use until the Second World War. The plan and reconstruction drawings (by Walter Quirke) that accompany the piece are excellent and deserving of special mention. For anyone interested in gaining a broader knowledge of this topic, I would recommend the excellent Shire Album by Buxbaum (1992).

From my first excavation, I was aware of Tom Fanning’s saying: ‘Heaven lies under the balk’. I was not, however, aware that ‘The Gates of Heaven’ were to be found in Kilranelagh graveyard, Co. Wicklow. Chris Corlett describes a rare survival of the possible original entrance feature to an Early Christian enclosure. While all above-ground traces of the church and monastery here have long disappeared, the entrance has survived to mark its place. Corlett sees it as a deliberate means of controlling and restricting access to the ‘inner sanctum’. Although he has no direct evidence for dating the site, he tentatively suggests a 7th or 8th century origin for the site. While I was previously unaware of these stones, a quick search of the internet suggests that they are relatively well known, if their function is not well understood. One source suggests that they may be a stone pair, while another opines that they may be the remains of some form of megalithic tomb. While Corlett’s idea is attractive to me, I think it requires substantial further research to prove the point. In particular, I believe that it needs to be ascertained that this is not merely a post-Medieval grave marker, however unusual the form – I look forward to any new results and revelations!

I’ve also been looking forward to Michael Stanley’s paper ‘The 'red man' of war and death?’ It was mentioned some time ago in a discussion on the Facebook group ‘Togher: Irish Raised Bog Archaeology’ and I’ve been excited about it ever since. As an aside, I would point out that the ‘Togher’ group is an excellent example of professional archaeologists using social media as an effective means of communication, discussion and dissemination of ideas – if you’re serious about Irish wetland archaeology, it’s the place to go! Anyway: Stanley first describes the Bronze Age alder-wood figure from Kilbeg, Co. Offaly. It is a piece of curved alder roundwood, interpreted as depicting a human form of indeterminate sex. The condition of the wood, without root or insect damage, is taken to suggest that the item was buried soon after creation, though it may first have spent some time upright. Six other ‘red men’ have been recovered from Ballykilleen, in Cloncreen bog, also in Co. Offaly, and are of similar date. The author places them within the broader contexts of Irish and European anthropomorphic figures, albeit at the more abstract end of the continuum. As such, the Kilbeg and Ballykilleen examples appear to form a defined regional group, even within the Irish examples. I shan’t attempt to repeat and rephrase all of Stanley’s suggestions for how the idols may have been used and what they meant. Instead, I will confine myself to observing that the multifaceted and nuanced approach he adopts is not just an excellent means of conveying the complexity that these items represent, but showcases the multitude of competing ideas and theories that an archaeologist has to assess when interpreting the function and life history of any artifact – it’s just nice to see it done so well! The main theory being promoted here, though, is that the choice of alder for the wood was a deliberate one. When cut, alder quickly turns from white wood to a blood-red colour. Stanley posits that the colour may have been symbolic of blood and that the artefacts were deposited as effigies, in lieu of actual human sacrifices. The idea that this is a precursor to the Iron Age escalation of actual human sacrifice is intriguing, to say the least. Parallels with the disposal of the Balluchulish figure, finds of human remains form Irish bogs, along with folkloric evidence are woven together to produce a convincing case that the Offaly ‘Alder Kings’ were sacrificed to, perhaps, ‘make amends’ for the society and change its fortunes.

Mick Monk and Orla Power tackle the subject of cereal drying kilns in ‘More than a grain of truth emerges from a rash of corn-drying kilns?’ They show that the NRA-funded excavations, in particular, have led to the identification and excavation of almost 800 examples of the type. Analysis of the resulting data mountain has led to some interesting results. With the exception of a few dates in the Bronze Age and earlier portion of the Iron Age, the genesis of the cereal drying kiln appears to have been after 100BC, though their use was concentrated in the period from the 4th to the 13th centuries AD. The similarity of the figure-of-eight kilns to Romano-British parching ovens, may suggest an origin in the Roman world for this particular type, at least. Even when taking the selection bias of the motorway routes into account, there does appear to be defined and genuine concentrations in north Leinster. This area also boasts the earliest examples of the type and the authors argue that cereal drying kilns originated here, before spreading into south Leinster, then to the midlands, before heading to the south and the west. Possible reasons for the explosion in the use of cereal drying kilns during the 6th century include the environmental effects of volcanic eruptions in 536AD and 540AD – possibly leading to wetter weather which required cereals to be dried. However, the authors point to the fact that other palaeoenvironmental and historical data suggests that there was a population explosion going on in north Leinster, from the Iron Age, right into the Early Christian period. Such a population increase would necessitate new and innovative methods of securing the maximum amount of food resources, possibly requiring the use of the kilns. However, socio-political factors may also have been at work, too.

Over the years there have been several suggestions as to what burnt mounds were used for. The stock answer is that they were for the cooking of food, though the idea that they were used for brewing beer has, in the last few years, gained popularity. In ‘Barking the yarn' and 'walking the cloth'’ Fiona Reilly uses the combined environmental analyses undertaken at a site at Coonagh West, Co. Limerick to argue that, this site at least, was used for textile production. Analysis of the pollen from one of the troughs included a number of types that may have indicated grain-processing, flax/hemp retting, or brewing. However the included large amount of alder pollen may be indicate that the site was used to produce dye – catkins are traditionally used to produce a green dye. Trace element analysis recorded unusually high levels of lead and zinc, but reduced levels of chromium. Taken together with the plant macro-remains, it is argued that these form a cogent case for the site having been used in the dying process. What has been lacking in some theories of burnt mound function is direct evidence of what actually occurred there, frequently coupled with a belief that a ‘one size fits all model’ is required: either they’re all for cooking or they’re all for bathing etc. Reilly’s paper shows a maturity that recent debates on the topic have brought to the fore – these sites are superficially the same, but may have held widely differing functions. Her triumph is bringing together the diverse threads of the various analyses to weave together (there is no escaping the textile-based puns here) a coherent argument for the Coonagh West site having been used for dyeing. I would also compliment the NRA archaeologists who approved the necessary time and money to undertake these varied analyses. The fact that such a variety of analyses were attempted indicates that the on-site survival must have been significant, but there was obviously a willingness to direct those resources at what could easily have been regarded as yet another ‘boring burnt mound’. Reilly notes that the site is currently being written up for more detailed publication – I’m certainly looking forward to it!

Muiris O'Sullivan and Liam Downey are back with the latest instalment of the ‘know your monuments’ series. Their latest topic is on Napoleonic period ‘Martello and signal towers’. As the authors clearly state, their work draws heavily on that of Kerrigan (1995). As with all the papers in the ‘know your monuments’ series, it is a short, but information packed, introduction to the subject at hand. On a personal note, I was actually quite surprised to learn that less than 50 of the distinctive Martello towers were ever built. Of the ones that were, they were mostly constructed on the east coast, around Dublin. My surprise stems from my feeling that they were such a ubiquitous part of my childhood in south Galway. I now realise that the reason for this was that two of the three built in coastal west of Ireland were practically on my doorstep. Finavarra and Aughinish, Co. Clare, were so frequently seen on family outings that I appear to have been left with the deep and abiding impression that they’re everywhere along the coast!

In ‘Fishamble Street Project: inventory and insect analysis’, Eileen Reilly, Lorna O'Donnell and Adrienne Corless introduce readers to the NMI funded ‘From Landscape to Streetscape – what insects tell us about urban life in Viking age Dublin’. The first part of the work involved cataloguing of the bulk soil samples from Fishamble Street II and III excavations, between 1979 and 1981. Of the surviving material, 104 samples were chosen for detailed insect analysis. This general assay of the samples archive has shown the high quality of both documentation and survival, which will assist in the targeting of future research. The insect analysis is currently underway and is scheduled for completion in October 2012 – yet another publication I look forward to seeing!

Rob Chapman, Norman Moles, Richard Warner, and Mary Cahill are back to continue the discussion on the source for Irish gold during the Bronze Age (see Warner et al. 2009; 2010). Specifically, the authors are responding to Ian Meighan’s (2011) contention that the geology of the Mourne Mountains would have been unsuitable for the emplacement of ‘hard-rock’ gold. Meighan proposes that the gold in the Mournes is glacially derived from the Sperrins, 100km to the north-west. The authors argue that there is little if any evidence for transportation of the gold, as, in many instances, it is still attached to the original quartz host. Similarly, the chemical signature of Mourne gold is different to that of Sperrin gold, nor can any dispersion trail be found between the two sites.

Susan Johnston provides a brief, but informative, obituary of the late Bernard Wailes. For the majority of us involved in Irish archaeology, Wailes will be first remembered as the excavator of the Royal Site at Dun Ailinne. While many archaeologists I know bristle at his unorthodox naming conventions, there is no mistaking which site you’re talking about when you overhear someone discussing ‘the mauve phase’ or ‘the rose phase’. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but this beautifully written obituary imparts some idea of his personality – enough to make me feel that I too have lost a friend.

Taken all together, what are we to make of this 100th edition of Archaeology Ireland? In itself, it represents a marvellous publishing feat – as my groaning bookshelves will attest. For me it has made me realise that we were looking at this the wrong way about … we thought that we were contributing to the magazine, but it was contributing to us – the archaeologists we became and how we developed as professionals was deeply influenced by the contents of Archaeology Ireland. We thought that we were chronicling the ancient past, but the magazine was simultaneously chronicling its own times too – all the ups and downs of the last 25 years – they’re all in there too! To the magazine, its writers, publishers, editors – the lot – I say thank you for having had a great idea and for sticking with it. Thank you for creating a magazine that I’ve been able to contribute to – some of my proudest achievements in the field are chronicled on your pages. Thank you for providing a means of feeling good about my age! Here’s to the next 25!

Bigger, F. J. 1900a ‘Inis Chlothrann (Inis Cleraun), Lough Ree: Its History and Antiquities’ Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 30.1, 69-90.

Bigger, F. J. 1900b ‘Miscellanea: grave of Saint Patrick’ Ulster Journal of Archaeology 6.1 (2nd Series), 59.

Bigger, F. J. 1900c ‘The grave of Saint Patrick’ Ulster Journal of Archaeology 6.2 (2nd Series), 61-64.

Buxbaum, T. 1992 Icehouses. Shire Album No. 278. Shire Publications. Princes Risborough 

Meighan, I. 2011 ‘The sourcing of Irish Bronze Age gold’ Archaeology Ireland 25.4, 31-32.

O'Toole, L. & O'Flaherty, R. 2011 ‘Out of sight, out of mind? On the trail of a forgotten Irish bird’ Archaeology Ireland 25.1, 13-16.

Warner, R., Chapman, B., Cahill, M. & Moles, N. 2009 ‘The gold source found at last?’ Archaeology Ireland 23.2, 22-25.

Warner, R., Moles, N., Chapman, R. & Cahill, M. 2010 ‘The Mournes: a source of early Bronze Age tin and gold’ Archaeology Ireland 24.4, 18-21.

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