Monday, October 22, 2012

Archaeology from the Interzone: Applications of the Burroughs-Gysin cut up method to problems in the Neolithic of Britain and Ireland

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my background as a field archaeologist. Many will also know of my attitude to archaeological theory: not so much 'ambivalent' as 'uncomfortable'. I started my university education a long time ago, when (at least in the west of Ireland) archaeological theory was not regularly considered and discussed, much less taught. In this, I am very much a product of my time and place. At one time (for a dare), I read Johnson's Archaeological Theory: An Introduction, but unfortunately found it quite impenetrable. I have, belatedly, attempted to get my head around the famous Transit Van excavation, by recreating my own version of it. The experience was equally intellectually exhilarating and challenging, as the process allowed me to break down some of my 'anti-theory' biases. This was coupled with a large number of thought-provoking comments on the blog, and in other social-media, which helped to confront my own ingrained thought processes. I would hardly say that I have come out the other side of this cerebral 'journey' as a whole-hearted convert to archaeological theory, but there is now an accommodation for all within my approach.

Just when I though I was 'becoming comfortable' with archaeological theory, I was asked by Stuart Rathbone to read an early draft of the paper you see below. Stuart is a field archaeologist of many years standing. He is co-author (with Victoria Ginn) of the rather wonderful book: Corrstown: A Coastal Community. Excavations of a Bronze Age village in Northern Ireland (reviewed here). He is also the central figure behind the Campaign For Sensible Archaeology, a clarion call for no-nonsense reporting and discussion in archaeology. In this paper, Stuart has stepped into a very different archaeological world: he advocates the use of the Burroughs-Gysin cut up technique as a method of gaining new and different insights into the archaeology of Neolithic Britain and Ireland. I will not pretend that this is an easy read - but it is rewarding. My initial fear was that it was a daft idea - definitely not 'sensible' - but his results are extraordinary. Whatever any reader thinks of the method, I feel that the results - these unlikely mergings and mashings of colliding sentences - brings forth something extraordinary: genuinely new insights into archaeology. For this reason, I am proud to introduce Stuart as the latest guest-blogger and honoured that he has chosen to share this wonderful, not-sensible, paper here.

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“Scientists, I hope, will become more creative and writers more scientific” The Third Mind

William Seaward Burroughs was one of the great outsider icons of 20th century America, and his most famous novel, The Naked Lunch, is widely acknowledged as a classic of mid 20th century experimental literature (Burroughs, 1959). His fiction is bizarre and difficult to read, graphic in the extreme and was subject to obscenity prosecutions (Lotringer 2001, 51-2, 331-343). He also wrote highly explicit works of auto biography which describe a life almost as strange as his fiction. An unrepentant heroin user, unapologetic homosexual, accidental wife killer, devotee of weird science, intercontinental bohemian, gun nut and shotgun artist, his accounts of his life are always engaging and  offer an easier read than much of his fiction (Burroughs, 1953; 1985; 2001). In interview he was lucid and candid, often extremely critical of contemporary politicians and demonstrated a formidable range of interests (Lotringer 2001). Widely regarded as one of the key figures of the ‘Beat Generation’ he was older than the other beat writers and in many ways ploughed his own furrow. Indeed Burroughs himself constantly denied ever being part of the ‘Beat Generation’ claiming repeatedly and somewhat disingenuously that it was an American movement and that he was in Europe at the time (Miles 2000, 6).

The existence of a ‘Beat Generation’ has been questioned by other participants in the movement who highlight the small number of people involved. Gary Snyder claimed that “it consisted of only three or four people, and four people don’t make up a generation” (Charters 2001, XV). This view is rather restrictive but whilst those numbers could probably be increased tenfold, the number of direct participants remains extremely low. Covering the same theme Hettie Jones joked that “at one point every one identified with it could fit into my living room, and I didn’t think a whole generation could fit into my living room” (Charters 2001, 618). Whatever the reality of the ‘Beat Generation’ it is clear that a series of writers, most prominently William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Herbert Hunkle and Gregory Corso,  were part of an extended social network and produced work exploring similar themes at roughly the same time. These shared themes include drug use, sexual relationships, mental illness, the nature of art, the nature of spirituality and the relationship of the individual to the divine. Burroughs’ work stands somewhat apart in its focus on prose over poetry, the graphic and lurid descriptions of sex and drug taking, and the use of the infamous ‘cut up’ technique.

Throughout Burroughs’ work there are repeating themes, some of which relate to topics that may be of interest to the archaeologist. At an early point Burroughs had taken a formal interest in the subject; after completing a degree in English Literature at Harvard in 1936 he undertook some post graduate studies in anthropology and archaeology (Lotringer 2001, 48). Historical and pseudo historical figures feature as characters in his fiction and are discussed, manipulated and misrepresented in his nonfiction. Without doubt the two most important historical characters in Burroughs’ work are Hassan i Sabbah, the leader of the Arabian Hashshashin sect in 11th century Iran, and Captain Mission, the alleged leader of a pirate utopia in Madagascar during the 17th century, but who is widely regarded as a literary invention of Daniel Defoe (Burroughs 1981). Locations are often drawn from historical sources or drawn from his travels around the Americas, Europe and Africa. Occasionally his work verges into ethnographical territories, although with a clear focus on acquiring and taking drugs and the workings of the local homosexual scene (Burroughs & Ginsberg 1963). Time in Burroughs’ work is fluid and often non-linear; journeys can be made forwards and backwards in time either through design or accident. Different methods are used by his characters for temporal relocation, but they never utilise the large machinery of science fiction. Typically time travel occurs at death, during sexual climax, during drug induced trances, through the use of the ‘cut up’ technique, or through a combination of any of the above. 

The Burroughs-Gysin cut up technique was first conceived by Burroughs’ friend and collaborator Brion Gysin whilst the pair were living in the ‘Beat Hotel’ in Paris in 1957 (Lotringer 2001, 66-7; Wilson & Gysin 2000, 63). Gysin having accidently cut up some newspapers with a scalpel recombined the cut up texts to make new ones. After showing the method to Burroughs they experimented with it for some time before co authoring two of the first cut up publications, ‘The Third Mind’ (the title referring to the third presence that had been unconsciously released by the two collaborators during the cut ups) and ‘The Exterminator’ (Burroughs & Gysin 1960; Sobieszek 1996, 55-73). Gysin also contributed to ‘Minutes to Go’, a collaborative effort that included pieces by Gregory Corso and Beiles Sinclair (Burroughs et al 1960). Subsequently Gysin abandoned the technique claiming that the results were “absolutely unreadable, nobody could read them, you just – William himself said he couldn’t read them a second time...uh, they produced a certain kind of very unhappy psychic effect...” (Willson & Gysin 2000, 62). Burroughs continued to experiment with the technique, and the related ‘fold in’ method, for a considerable period of time publishing several books of largely cut up text that had been re-edited into some semblance of order, ‘The Soft Machine’, ‘The Ticket that Exploded’ and ‘Nova Express’ (Burroughs 1961; 1962; 1964). Subsequently he continued using the ideas generated through cutting up texts to inspire slightly more conventional works, in particular in the ‘Wild Boys’ and ‘Western Lands’ trilogies (Burroughs 1971; 1973; 1980; 1981; 1984; 1987). The cut up technique has clear similarities to the automatic writing techniques used by surrealists and spiritualists during the earlier part of the 20th century. Gysin argues, perhaps unconvincingly, there was little or no direct influence, but this link has been explored at length by Robson (Robinson 2011, 5-17; Willson & Gysin 2000, 65). Further experiments moved beyond simply cutting and rearranging texts to involve the manipulation of images, sound recordings and film footage. Again these experiments led to rather indigestible results, but the sort of cutting and rearranging of sounds used on recordings like ‘Break Through in Grey Room’ have some similarity with early experimental hip hop artists such as ‘The Beatnigs’, and Miles has claimed these audio cut ups are a direct precursor of early industrial music (Miles 2000, 7; Sub Rosa 1986). Many recordings are now available, perhaps the most successful being ‘Spare Ass Annie and other stories’, a collaboration between Burroughs and former ‘Beatnig’ Michael Franti (Island 1993).

Burroughs frequently refers to the use of the cut up technique within his fiction, and it is one method through which his characters can affect temporal translocation. The clearest example of this is found in the routine, ‘The Mayan Caper’, first published as part of ‘The Soft Machine’ collection. In this work the protagonist first uses cut up techniques to travel back to the height of the Mayan civilisation and, once he arrives, uses cut up techniques to reverse the mind control machines that the priestly cast are using to subjugate the population and instigates a revolution (Burroughs 1961). This routine clearly reflects Burroughs firmly held belief that the cut up techniques were inherently powerful and could be used to influence genuine change in the real world (Lotringer 2001, 155; Robinson 2007, 6-8).

Applying the Burroughs-Gysin cut up technique to problems in British prehistory
The worlds of literature and archaeology have occasionally collided. Typically this has been where accounts of monuments or excavations are included within works of fiction and have subsequently been mined for information relevant to archaeologists as any other historical source might be assessed. Following a more traditional literary analysis method a recent study has looked at the influence of archaeology in the works of Thomas Hardy (Davies 2011). A series of papers published by Bournemouth University following a TAG session examine the role of archaeology and its practitioners in Science Fiction books and TV shows, and even explores imaginary archaeologies that exist in fictional settings such as Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ (Russell 2002; Brooks 2002; Brown 2002; Boyd 2002). A more recent paper has examined the various references to archaeology in the TV show ‘Futurama’, and the way in which archaeology is repeatedly used as a source of complex metaphors by the script writers (Hall 2011). Whilst this may establish some form of precedent for the following study, it has to be acknowledged that the nature of Burroughs’ methods means the idea that anything useful generated by its application would obviously need to be treated with great caution. In defence of this I can only offer the old platitude that fortune is supposed to favour the brave...

A long standing problem for archaeologists attempting to understand the Neolithic period is the separation of religious and more practical aspects of life that is locked into the modern mindset. It has been convincingly argued that this sort of separation may not have been part of the Neolithic world view and that all aspects of life may have been infused with symbolic and religious meaning (Topping 1996, 163-70). Despite this acknowledgement the problem of describing a more cohesive world view seems to constantly challenge archaeological writers. For example critical studies of houses from the Neolithic have often sought to emphasise ritual aspects of the building and have subsequently interpreted building foot prints in various non domestic ways, such as cult houses, feasting halls, seasonal meeting places, mortuary houses and comparisons have even been drawn with the cursus monuments (Barclay 1996, 73-5; Cross 2003; Loveday 2006; Pryor 2003, 139-46). Unfortunately it seems that whilst superficially acknowledging the way which domestic activities may not be separated from religious and symbolic ones, these explanations tend to move interpretations fully into the religious realm and properly unified explanations have remained elusive.

The Burroughs-Gysin cut up method represents an admittedly avant-garde method through which such a unified understanding could potentially be achieved. By taking various texts dealing with different aspects of the Neolithic period and subjecting them to cut up style manipulation it may be possible to generate ideas and explanations that are not directed by our modern preconceptions. Ideas generated by ‘the third mind’ are not created through rational argument but through random associations in an automated and undirected way. Whilst the resulting cut ups would inevitably be unpalatable to the reader, it is suggested that useful concepts might be generated that could be used as the starting points for new discussions that would not be so directly derived from modern viewpoints.

Burroughs’ himself was clearly fascinated by the actual process of physically cutting up pages of text, and imported great symbolism and mysticism to this destructive process. However Burroughs’ was ever drawn to pseudo science and occultism. He spent considerable lengths of time inside one of Wilhelm Reich’s Orgon Accumulators and seemed convinced, for a while at least, that he had met an Artificial Intelligence in London during the early 1960’s known as CONTROL (Kerouac 1957, 89; Lotringer 2001, 78, 114-5). This aspect of his work need not occupy our attention nor dissuade us from adapting the cut up technique to suit our purposes. The following experiment only focuses on the method of rearranging sentences and words to generate new ideas that would not be easily reached through logical thought.

The method used here was simply to copy sections of text into a Microsoft Word file and mix them up using the copy and paste functions. The font colour of text belonging to different sources was changed so that during the mixing process the origin of any text could be identified and the degree of rearrangement that had been achieved could be tracked (Figure 1). The included texts were sourced simply from whatever material relating to the Neolithic had been accumulated on a portable hard drive that was conveniently to hand. Passages were selected from pieces discussing a wide variety of topics including houses, enclosures, settlement patterns, warfare, burial, territory, drug use, art and so on (Sources listed in Appendix) that seemed to cover a wide range of aspects of Neolithic life. Passages included several pieces I had written or contributed to, several pieces I was very familiar with and had read on different occasions, and several pieces that I was still trying to find the time to read for the first time. The selections were exclusively made from discursive sections, and were skimmed over to check for relevance but not read in depth. The cut up process thus began during this initial phase and segments were somewhat rudely snatched out of larger passages, rather than being included in their entirety. Academic debris (References, figure numbers etc) were removed from the text prior to the commencement of the cuts, as were all of the original paragraph breaks.

Once the selected texts had been assembled and assigned colours they were subject to six separate ‘cuts’ or passes, each one being saved as a separate file. Figure 1 illustrates the degree of rearrangement achieved at the end of the 2nd, 4th and 6th cuts respectively. A seventh cut was attempted but by that point all sentence structure had totally broken down and the result was mostly a long string of unconnected words and phrase fragments, and this final cut was discarded. Reading through the different cuts interesting phrases were identified and saved individually. The most useful of these are presented below, with minor alterations to make them scan more easily to the reader; where it has been necessary to add in additional words to enable the text to be read the addition is shown in italics. The original source of each section of the cut up is indicated by a numerical superscript tied into the list in the appendix. Each selection is followed by a brief examination of the interesting points that occurred to the author as the text was encountered. No attempt has been made to create a larger narrative from these cut ups, they are simply offered as interesting places to begin further discussions.

Figure 1. Changing the font colour of text from different sources provided a simple method to monitor the level of destruction wrought upon the original sent ence structure.


The First Pass

1)      It has been suggested that the house at Ballyglass, Co. Mayo, was deliberately demolished in order to construct the overlying court tomb. Cooney lists an array of possible reasons why such houses¹ use substances and techniques to alter perception and consciousness; a neglected aspect of past cultures².

This cut up highlights how the use of narcotic substances and decorative techniques may have meant that being inside a Neolithic long house could have been a far more vibrant experience than is reflected by the foundation slots and post holes that are encountered during archaeological excavation. Such ideas are familiar from the archaeological literature however, and often revolving around ethnographic parallels (eg Richards 1996; Hugh Jones 1996). If such an enhanced experience was taking place within the building it might have a relevance to why the court tomb was subsequently constructed over its remains. Again the presence of house found underneath tombs has been the subject of a great deal of discussion, and this cut up brings no new insights, it has been included here as it marked an early indication that the cutting process might actually create useable results (Grogan 1996, 57; Jones 2007, 136-7).
The Second Pass

2)      clearfires³ ⁴ before the cairn or chambers were built⁴.

The term ‘clearfires’ is a very interesting one, as it suggests a particular type of fire that we do not presently have a specific word for. As an example of what we could term a ‘clearfire’ might be the burning of mortuary houses prior to the construction of long barrows, as had apparently happened at Raisthorpe, Street House Farm and  Kemp Howe all in Yorkshire, Lochill, Dumfies and Galloway and Dalladies, Grampian for example (Russell 2002, 59-60; Piggott 1972, 34-5; Vyner 1984, 185-191). The term ‘clearfire’ also suggests we should be looking for other specific types of fire, and investigating the way in which fire was used, and controlled for different purposes. For instance, a ‘dayfire’ could be seen as a quick and well controlled burn, quite different to the ‘clearfire’ which might be large and rage uncontrolled, or a ‘slowfire’ which may have been a long duration burn. This cut up highlights that there may be many different types of fire and that during excavation we should attempt to identify them more precisely. Magnetic readings of burnt soils can inform us about the temperatures achieved and duration of burns, but these are not presently undertaken routinely (James Bonsall pers comms). Combined with full species identification of charred remains it might be possible to identify more accurately the different types of burning we encounter.

3)      Its outer wall was⁵ for communication between disparate groups. As discussed, the tor enclosure evidence fits well into the lives of a society that continued a fairly mobile existence; indeed, the enclosure of specific tors at certain places in the landscape would seem to argue more strongly for a reference to⁶ occupants of the area¹.

This cut up seems to reinforce the idea that walls and boundaries were more than simple, functional, divisions of space and may have had particular meanings that were being communicated to particular groups and possibly to denote limits of access for cultural rather than functional or economic reasons.

The Third Pass

4)      The decline of the Neolithic settlement at this site may have been due to a number of factors¹; art was apparently derived from endogenous visions associated with some form of mind-altering practice²

This cut up suggests a link between art and settlement patterns that would not normally be found in our discussions. Could changes in art really influence settlement patterns? Changes in art styles, such as the development of Groovedware, are observed to occur concurrently with larger shifts in culture, but could the changes in art, especially if connected to narcotic practices, be seen as a cause rather than an effect of cultural change?

5)      conflict ensued with the formation of a quasi-political unity⁶, “The serpentine beads¹”. This may have involved the use of hallucinogenic substances²

This cut up suggests the presence of a social group named after a specific artefact type, certainly a possibility, but ethnonyms are a difficult subject that probably can’t be explored with much purpose during this period. More interestingly it links the use of hallucinogenic substances to the formation of political groups and to the development of conflict, possibly even warfare. A convincing argument has been made that the style of megalithic art found in Ireland and western Britain can be attributed to the use of strong hallucinogens, however we might usefully examine how the use of such substances effect other aspects of the societies we study (Dronfield 1995; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2005, 39-59). 

6)      data from² Quartz seems to have been important to the Neolithic people⁴

This simple cut up highlights the importance that some Neolithic people placed on quartz, which is often found in different guises at burial sites and other locations. For example huge numbers of rounded quartz pebbles were brought to the Neolithic enclosures at Billown on the Isle of Man, whilst quartz crystal rods have been recovered from several court tombs, such as Annaghmare Court Cairn, Co
Armagh and Creevykeel Court Cairn, Co Sligo, and quartz pavements were constructed around the exterior of the Boyne Valley passage tombs (Waterman, D.M. 1965, 35; Jones 2007, 108; Darvil 2003, 119; Stout 2002). The reasons for this have never been firmly established but this cut up presents the interesting idea that quartz was specifically a substance from which information could be acquired, perhaps as a means of communicating with an ancestral or other form of supernatural realm.

The Fourth Pass

7)      This may have involved the use of hallucinogenic substances or² early Neolithic agriculture⁷

Again this cut up emphasises the role of hallucinogens in Neolithic society. Here the cut up presents hallucinogens as an explanation that is equal in weight to Early Neolithic agriculture. This triggers the amusing, but not perhaps useful notion, that the motivation behind the Neolithic colonisation of Britain and Ireland may have been the search for hallucinogens rather than the expansion of agriculture. More seriously this cut up, by juxtaposing two normally unconnected topics, reminds us of the long delay that occurred between the arrival of the Neolithic package on the shores of northern Europe and its eventual introduction into Britain and Ireland. The halt of the expansion suggests more complex motivations than simple expansionist drive fuelled by economic considerations.

8)      the house¹ chamber³

This simple cut up immediately brings to mind the shared architectural features seen between the houses at Barnhouse and the Maes Howe passage tomb on Orkney. The term ‘house chamber’ and the obvious juxtaposition, ‘chamber house’ could be useful terms to discuss the relationship between domestic and megalithic architectural traditions. However it should be emphasised that this relationship has been identified long ago by more traditional and logical methods and has already been discussed at length by Richards, amongst others (Richards 1993; Garrow et al 2005).

The Fifth Pass

9)      amongst the fragmentary remains of⁸ reoccurring assemblage³

This final cut up has a seemingly innocuous meaning, but was selected originally for its rather pleasingly ‘beat’ rhythm. However on reflection it may be pointing to a useful idea concerning the way in which we interpret artefacts assemblages, specifically regarding the point at which fragmentation occurred. Whilst we often think of finds assemblages as being incomplete due to all manner of post deposition processes, in many instances these assemblages may never have been complete. The author has recently discussed the meaning of small fragmentary assemblages found in isolated prehistoric pits, but fragmentation in other contexts, such as areas outside of tombs for example, or in areas around settlements, could be usefully explored (Rathbone 2012). Contemporary activities may have been taken place amongst, and actively involving, fragmentary assemblages. The sorts of complex spreads of different materials found in the court and chambers of tombs such as Rathlackan, Co Mayo, may be interpreted as assemblages that have become disturbed over time (Byrne et al 2009). However another reading of the same evidence would be that the instead we should think of these areas as more akin to middens, with ceremonies taking place amongst the debris left behind by previous events, and ever more material accumulating over time. In this scenario assemblages would not be seen as disturbed and incomplete, they would be interpreted as never having been complete or well ordered in the first place.

The above discussions are offered as points which could be expanded on in more depth elsewhere. Rather than being presented as evidence of the cut up technique producing new insights, they are simply offered as what Burroughs might refer to as ‘Ports of Entry’, starting places for new discussions. Certainly the cut ups present several examples where the normal order of cause and affect appear interestingly reversed, and there are several examples of places where intriguing links are made between processes which would normally not be strongly associated with each other. However how much any of this really results from the actions of ‘the third mind’ rather than simply reflecting some of my own long term concerns, in particular the general absence of sensible discussion about the role of drug taking in Neolithic Society, the lack of a holistic understanding of Neolithic society and the overemphasis on ritual behaviour, is not entirely clear. In effect random occurrences in the cut ups may have reminded me of ideas I already held, although I do not think that such a process would account for all of the points of interest that were identified. As Burroughs himself put it, “What appears to be random my not, in fact, be random at all. You have selected what you want to cut up. After that, you select what you want to use” (Lotringer 2001, 262).

Two concepts were generated by the cut ups that I feel could be genuinely interesting to explore in greater detail. The first is the idea of examining different types of burning events during the Neolithic, although the technical aspects of such a study are beyond my own rather limited range of skills. The second is the notion of events taking place amongst unsorted and already fragmented spreads of artefacts, and this is something that I may explore in the future, specifically in regard to the activities taking place in and around Irish Court Tombs, but perhaps also looking at examples of ‘structured depositions’ found in house foundations and enclosure ditches. The results of the excavations that took place at the intertidal site, The Stumble, in Kent may be particularly important in this regard as that excavation suggests that the sheer quantity of broken and unsorted material that would be present around areas of Neolithic activity may have been grossly underestimated (Brown 1997).

This attempt to use the Burroughs-Gysin method has therefore been an amusing, and not entirely unsuccessful experiment. It would seem extremely unlikely that such a technique would find much favour in the archaeological community, and it is far from certain that any discussions subsequently presented that had their ultimate origin in a cut up text would be well received. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The current post-modernist paradigm in British archaeology is not one I am particularly at ease with, and it is only from that sort of theoretical ‘anything goes stance’ that this sort of technique could be reasonably justified (Rathbone 2010). Personally I typically favour a far more traditional and evidence based approach to archaeology, and this sort of exercise lies well outside of my academic comfort zone. The words of the art critic Terence Kealey ring a resounding note of caution, “We live with the post-modern insights by ignoring them in practice whilst acknowledging them in theory” (Quoted in Flemming 2006). Ultimately perhaps a more fitting place for such a discussion would be in a literary study relating to the work and influence of Burroughs rather than in an archaeological publication. Having said that time will tell if this experiment does lead to further publications and that may be a better measure of the success, or otherwise, of this experiment.

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Russell, L. 2002 Archaeology and Star trek: Exploring the past in the future. In M. Russell (ed) Digging holes in popular culture: Archaeology and Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 19-29.

Russell, M. 2002 Monuments of the British Neolithic: The roots of architecture. Stroud: Tempus.

Sobieszek, R.A. 1996 Ports of entry: William S Burroughs and the arts. London: Thames & Hudson.

Stout, G. 2002 Newgrange and the Bend in the Boyne. Cork: Cork University Press.

Topping, P. 1996 Structure and ritual in the Neolithic house: Some examples from Britain and Ireland. In T. Darvill & J. Thomas (eds), Neolithic houses in northwest Europe and beyond, 157–170. Oxford: Oxbow.

Vyner, B.E. 1984 The excavation of a Neolithic cairn at Street House, Loftus, Cleveland. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 50, 151-195.

Waterman, D.M. 1965 The court cairn at Annaghmare, Co Armagh. Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 28, 3-46.

Wilson, T. & Gysin, B. 2001 Here to go. Clerkenwell: Creation Books.


Sources for cut ups

1) Purcell, A. 2002 Excavation of three Neolithic houses at Corbally, kilcullen, Co. Kildare. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, X1

2) Dronfield, J. 1995. Subjective Visions and the Source of Irish Megalithic Art. Antiquity 69, 539–549

3) Byrne, G., Warren, G., Rathbone, S. McIlreavy, D. & Walsh, P. 2009 Archaeological Excavations at Rathlackan (E580) Stratigraphic Report. Heritage Council.

4) Marshall, D.N. and Taylor, I.D. 1976 The excavation of the chambered cairn at Glenvoidean, Isle of Bute. Proceedings of the society of Scottish Antiquaries, 1976-7, 1-39

5) Parker Pearson, M.; Pollard, J.; Richards, C.; Thomas, J.; & Tilley, C. 2006 The Stonehenge River Side Project 2006 Interim Report

6) Davies, S. R 2010 The Early Neolithic Tor Enclosures of Southwest Britain. PHD Thesis Birmingham University

7) Caulfield, S., Warren, G., Rathbone, S., McIlreavy, D. & Walsh, P. 2009 Archaeological Excavations at the Glenulra Enclosure (E24) Stratigraphic Report

8) Johnston, P. & Tierney, J. 2011 Ballinglanna North 3, Co. Cork: Two Neolithic Structures and Two Fulachta Fiadh. Eachtra Journal 10

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland (LIARI) Project Conference

I'm delighted to welcome a new guest writer to the blog. Philippa de Barra is a Cork-trained archaeologist, and human bone specialist. She is currently working as an intern with The Discovery Project, and one of the team doing sterling work to organise and promote the upcoming The Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland (LIARI) Project Conference in Dublin. I have asked her to tell us a little about the conference and some of the interesting research that the project is attempting to coordinate. If you have the opportunity to get to Dublin for what promises to be an amazing weekend, you really should go ... otherwise, read on for a taste of what you'll be missing ...

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This weekend, The Discovery Programme’s Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland (LIARI) Project will hold a conference in Trinity College Dublin.  ‘Ireland in a Roman Worldi’ takes its title from the Project’s multi-disciplinary research goals, which focus on the period AD 0–500, a period that has until quite recently remained somewhat under-researched within Ireland.  In many respects, the dialogue about Rome’s relationship with Ireland and the social and cultural meaning of Roman finds in Iron Age contexts has been neglected, in part because the culture-historical narrative of the island traditionally placed it well beyond the influence of the Roman Empire.  Over the past 10 years individual researchers both inside and outside Ireland have been reconsidering past interpretation with an emerging consensus that the growing body of imported material, dating to the entire Roman period through to Late Antiquity, could no longer be ignored.  This is the first core research project at the DP which utilises innovative technology to target areas of rich archaeological potential using high resolution aerial survey, GIS and LiDAR.  Alongside these we are employing the latest scientific methods in isotope analysis that can reveal the origin of people, their animals and their material culture and more excitingly trace their pathways across Ireland and beyond her shores.

One of the most important aspects however, is the fostering of collaborative relationships between the Project, individual researchers, higher education institutions and research bodies within and outside Ireland.  The project team has invited a variety of academics to speak at the conference, many of whom are already collaborative partners with LIARI, in order that we begin to co-ordinate and share knowledge across parallel aspects of the research.  It is important to remember that we are considering engagement with the Roman administration in the Irish Iron Age, rather than suggesting occupation, as any direct military involvement has yet to be demonstrated.

After delegates are welcomed by Professor Terry Barry, Chairman of the Discovery Programme, Jacqueline Cahill Wilson will open the conference with an overview of the LIARI project’s findings to date. She will also outline the team’s hopes for the conference and the programme for future work.  Conor Newman will present the first paper entitled ‘Ireland in Late Antiquity’.  This should help set the Irish scene for our delegates.  Edel Bhreathnach will then look at evidence for literary and linguistic links across the Irish Sea, and what this may tell us about Ireland’s relationship with the Roman Empire.

The second session will take us across the sea to Scotland, led by Fraser Hunter.  Dr Hunter is principal curator of the Iron Age and Roman collections in Scotland, and he will explore Roman influence on local identities in Scotland.  We will also hear from Anthony Corns, acting CEO of The Discovery Programme, who will outline how the technologies mentioned above can play an important part in the LIARI project.  Both speakers will be introduced by UCD senior lecturer Aidan O’Sullivan, who previously participated in the LIARI workshops.

After lunch, delegates will be welcomed back by James Eogan.  The next three sessions concern life on the frontiers of the Roman Empire.  Andrew Gardner will look at the Roman west, such as the Lower Rhine region, but also the maritime frontier between Britain and Ireland.  David Mattingly will then bring us as far as the Libyan Sahara, which has revealed a range of cultural interactions between Rome and the Garamantes, and ask what this may mean for Irish researchers.

From there, we travel beyond the Rhine into what is known as the “Barbaricum”, led this time by Hans-Ulrich Voss of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.  Dr Voss will detail Romano-Germanic interactions and he will introduce us to the Corpus of Roman Finds from central Europe.  This is similar to the database on which the LIARI project is working to complete.

Travelling further north to Scandinavia, Thomas Grane will talk to us about another area that was traditionally considered far enough away from Rome to escape threat.  And yet here too, we have evidence for cultural influences.  Back to Scotland then, with Bill Hanson at the helm, where we will look at what the incomplete conquest of that region might have meant for Roman intentions with regard to the Irish.  This fourth session will be introduced by Ingelise Stuijts of the Discovery Programme, who also contributes to the LIARI project through paleoenvironmental analysis.

The final Saturday session is dedicated to doctoral research papers and it will be introduced by Ger Dowling, the Research Archaeologist on the LIARI project.  Fiona Gavin will start with her research into silver pins from Late Iron Age Ireland, the earliest known assemblage of Irish silver.  Research into Roman finds from the southeast and the potential information they hold when viewed in their Irish contexts will be discussed by Sean Daffy.  Finally, Patrick Gleeson will present a paper on the development of royal landscapes in Late Iron Age Munster, examining regional identities and sacral kingships.

The second day of the conference will be opened by Jacqueline Cahill Wilson. She will introduce Dr Jane Bunting, from the Hull Geography department, who will speak on whether it is possible to translate pollen diagrams into vegetation maps, in particular in our period of interest in county Meath.  Dr Bunting will be followed by Dr Elizabeth O’Brien who is the Principal Researcher for the INSTAR Mapping Death Project but also Chair of the LIARI Project committee.  Dr O’Brien will present her research on how the burial record provides interesting evidence of population mobility and societal change such as the introduction of inhumation burial in the Late Iron Age, key components of which are the results of the collaboration with LIARI using isotope analysis.  Alistair Pike and Chris Standish will then speak together about their research employing isotope geochemistry and the on-going collaboration between them and the LIARI project recently featured on the University of Bristol research website.

In the final session, introduced by Gabriel Cooney, the penultimate paper by Peter Wells, from the University of Minnesota, will look at material culture as communication.  In particular, he will consider objects bearing Roman writing.  This again relates to LIARI’s interest in artefacts inscribed with both Old Irish and Latin, such as the ogham stones of Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  Finally Richard Hingley will show us how the ruins of the Roman Empire were appropriated for later political gain in Victorian and later Britain and how this enabled the characterisation of people of the north and west of Britain as ‘Barbaric’ or ‘Celtic’ while those south of Hadrian’s wall could use their ‘ancestral civility’ (through their supposed wholesale Romanisation) to justify territorial domination over their northern neighbours.

Following our last question and comments session, the conference will be closed by Tomás Ó Carragáin, who will also provide an overview of the weekend.

So why should you come to the conference?  We have invited some of the most distinguished scholars across a wide range of subjects, periods and disciplines to come together and offer their input to our research.  This is a unique opportunity for archaeologists in Ireland and further afield – it will not happen again!  If the Iron Age, the Romans, the Celts, or the Classics are part of your research interests, then you should be here to listen to these papers and to put your questions to our speakers.

While running such a conference is expensive, and that has had to be reflected in the ticket price, we want to include as many voices as possible.  If you can’t make it, we intend on having a Twitter question session on Sunday, and we will tweet throughout the conference.  You can start sending your questions to the project team and our speakers now via #liaricon2012 .  We also hope to release podcasts of the individual sessions in the near future.  Get involved by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

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