Saturday, September 27, 2014

Drumclay Crannóg: The life and times of a Fermanagh lake-dwelling | Conference | September 27 2014 | Some photos

I'm just back home in Belfast after a fantastic day in Enniskillen at the Drumclay Crannóg: The life and times of a Fermanagh lake-dwelling conference. I'm hoping to put together a comprehensive set of posts covering all the lectures given, but in the meantime, here are a selection of my photos from the day:

The amazingly skilled wood worker was part of a living history display
His lathe is foot powered!

An example of his remarkable work

The Lady with the Spinning Thread!
Living history reenactor showing the use of distaff and spindle whorl

Ricardo the bone & antler worker's table

Dr. Nóra BerminghamWeaving together the excavation results

Have you ever heard 200 people simultaneously say 'wow'?
You would have today as  Caitríona Moore delivered
 Investigation of what the crannóg inhabitants made, used and discarded

Ricardo's bone combs - including a reproduction of the
Drumclay bird-headed example

Prof. Aidan O'Sullivan (L) and Nora Bermingham (R) talk
combs with Ricardo

Nora Bermingham discusses spinning

Ricardo surveys his handiwork

How meta is this? Me photographing Nora Bermingham photographing
Ricardo holding the replica of the 
Drumclay bird-headed comb!

Two wood experts meet! Cathy Moore talks to the woodworker,

Nora Bermingham gets a masterclass in comb making

Dr. Eileen Reilly: Dirt, hygiene and health on early medieval settlements.
Perhaps right after lunch wasn't the right time for this!

Dr. Emily Murray delivers Farming and animals

Ian Riddler delivered an amazing insight into medieval life and what
your comb says about you in: Teasing apart the bone and antler objects

The Man in Black: Prof. Aidan O'Sullivan speaking on
Why people chose to live on lakes and why Drumclay is the best
waterlogged site in the world!

Final words: Dr John O'Keeffe draws together the strands of the
day's papers and provides some final thoughts!
I just want to thank the organisers and presenters of this conference for all their hard work to produce such a great day ... there's so much to think about. Knowing how slowly I write, it may be a while before I can present any detail on who said what. Until then, I hope these snaps help convey some of the excitement and exhilaration of the day!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Island Life | Part II | White Island

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White Island from the jetty
Following on from our trip to Boa Island, we decided to head for White Island, about 10 miles to the south-east by road, and still in Lough Erne. This one you can’t drive to, so we had to get a boat from the Castle Archdale marina [map]. And that’s where it went wrong … the sign clearly said that the boat ran from 11am to 6pm and that they took lunch from 1pm to 2pm, with departures every hour on the hour. We arrived at a little before midday only to be told that the boat would be coming back at 12:00 and the next outgoing sailing would not be until 2pm. It was somewhat annoying, but hardly a burden as the area has some lovely walks and shady trees. Most importantly for my sons, the Castle Archdale campsite had a play park with swings and a slide, and the adjacent shop sold ice cream. By 2pm it was getting hot and both the children and I were getting restless. We’d walked the walks, we’d eaten our fill of ice cream, and we’d certainly seen enough of the play park. All three of us were pretty ratty and feeling bedraggled by the time the gates opened to let us on to the boat. Once clear of the marina the light wind was beautifully refreshing. We were only chugging along in a little lake ferry, but the breeze coming in off the placid water was just what was needed to revive our dropping spirits.

Overview of the church and enclosure, from the north-east.
Overview of the church and enclosure, from the north-west.
No more than 15 minutes later and we were disembarking onto the White Island jetty. Pretty much the only upstanding archaeology on the island is a small church, quite near the shore. It’s on the site of an earlier monastery and boasts an intact, if reconstructed, arched Romanesque doorway. The doorway is lovely, but it’s not worth a long journey to Fermanagh and a wait of over two hours for the boat. Not even close! But that’s not what we were here to see! Along the inner face of the south wall there are some seven carved figures and one carved head. As a group, they are unique in Irish archaeology. Hickey (1976, 1985) argues that, on stylistic grounds, the figures date to the period from the 9th to the 11th centuries AD, before being incorporated into the walls of the 12th century Romanesque church. Hickey (Op. Cit.) draws parallels between the work of the ‘Master of White Island’ and the Irish High Crosses, along with illustrated psalters of the period. The styles of the costumes and personal ornamentation (crozier & penannular brooch) are also consistent with this dating. She dismisses as ‘fanciful’ all other theories, including the idea that they represent an episode from the life of St. Patrick as set out in the Vita tripartita Sancti Patricii. The carvings are paired in terms of height to form three pairs of caryatids and it is thought that they were used together to form the stepped base for an ambo - a pulpit or preaching chair used in the early church. In this way, each pair would have supported a wooden step. The figures have shallow sockets on the tops of their heads, suggesting that they may have held a larger superstructure of some sort. Today, these are used as receptacles for coins deposited by tourists, in the same way that coins are placed in the head of the Boa Island figure. It is suggested that this is a relatively recent development and that they were not used in this way in the 1970s (Anne Given, pers. comm.). Hickey notes that one of the statues (Christ with the gospel book) has two sockets in its head, not one. The matching figure (the grotesque female image) may also have been carved in the same way, though it is difficult to be certain owing to damage to the carving. She speculates that they may have had a different function to the rest of the group – perhaps being used as supports for an altar or credence table. In such a situation, the other two caryatids may have functioned as the supports for a sedilia.

Reconstructed 12th century Romanesque doorway
Interior of east window in 12th century church 
However they were originally utilised, they represent a unique corpus in Irish Early Christian art. I hope you enjoy the photos below and will consider coming to Northern Ireland and adding an excursion to White Island to your trip!

Overview of figure carving group
Sockets in the heads of the caryatids, today holding coins
Overview of group. Descriptions of individual figures (left to right) are adapted from Hickey (Op. Cit., 35-42).

Grotesque figure. Female figure with bulging cheeks and crossed legs, naked except for a round-necked cape covering the upper part of the body. It could be interpreted as an illustration of Lust and a warning to the monks against the sins of the flesh. The crossed legs, recalling the squatting Buddhic posture of pagan gods, suggests once again the survival of earlier traditions in this locality. A further clue to the meaning of this statue is to be found in Muiredach's Cross, where a somewhat similar female figure with splayed legs is shown in its magnificently composed judgement scene, where she is significantly placed among the Damned.
Christ holding gospel book. Seated figure holding a rectangular object on his knees, probably a copy of the gospels, perhaps within a box shrine. He wears a short-sleeved collared 'leine' with a front seam between the waist and the hem. This statue probably represents christ, although the evangelists are sometimes portrayed in a similar manner in illuminated manuscripts.
Statue with bell and crozier. Christ abbot of the world? The veil-like hood has been interpreted as evidence that this figure was a nun or abbess. However, the presence of bell and crozier would suggest that the hood identifies the figure as either a travelling abbot or bishop or as an anchorite abbot or bishop. In the Irish Early Christian period these episcopal items were used to identify both abbots and bishops, though the inward pointing crozier was more usually an indication of an abbot. Hickey notes that the term ‘Abbot of the world’ is applied to Christ in a number of Irish texts & the description would fit with the symbolism. She adds that it is also possible, but less likely, that the figure is St Anthony of the Desert, the first abbot. Anthony was frequently depicted on High Crosses, including Muiredach’s Cross, where he holds a similar form of hooked crozier. His popularity is linked to the origins of Irish monasticism in the anchorite tradition of Egypt. 
David. The hand gesture to the mouth is a reference to David’s role as author and performer of psalms. This identification is further bolstered by the form of his staff, which is similar to two 10th and 11th century psalter illustrations. In 1 Samuel (17: 40) David is described as confronting Goliath, armed only with a shepherd’s staff and his sling. This ammunition, five smooth stones, hung in a bag. The item hanging from the waist of this figure may be interpreted either as the bag of ammunition, or the sling itself. Although others have argued that the somewhat unusual hairdo of this figure is a form of Irish clerical tonsure, Hickey is unsure. Instead she notes that the tonsure theory is presented without much evidence and may, instead, be a representation of a cap, helmet, or crown. 
The Tetramorph or Christ with Griffins. This figure has the same curly-fringed coiffure as its ‘partner’ the Christ as warrior figure. Both wear the same form of tunic and both show similar facial expressions. This figure holds two beasts. Hickey argues that the heads, claws and wings are of an eagle, and rear legs may be those of a lion. In this way they may be interpreted as griffins, symbolising the dual nature of Christ. However, if the hind legs of one of the animals are interpreted as those of a calf, the whole could be a representation of the four evangelists: Matthew = Man; Mark = Lion; Luke = Ox; John = Eagle.
Christ in warrior attire. As noted above, this appears to be a direct ‘partner’ to the Tetramorph or Christ with Griffins figure. The figure is armed with a short sword and small, round shield. He is seated and also wears a penannular brooch on his left-hand side. Hickey suggests that the brooch may be of Viking ‘Thistle’ type and date to the period from the 9th to the 10th centuries, though it may easily be of earlier type and date to the 8th to 9th centuries. Based on the work of Helen M Roe, Hickey identifies the figure as Christ in the guise of King of Glory as part of the ‘second coming’. Depictions of a ‘warrior christ’ are known from the Tall Cross at Monasterboice, Co. Louth, and on the Market Cross at Kells, Co. Meath.
Possible unfinished carving, indicating that the carving were created on the island, and not brought in from elsewhere.
Carved head. This piece was found in 1928, built into the east gable of the 12th century church. Although often considered to be later than the other carvings, its reuse in the Romanesque church suggests that it is of similar date and origin to the others.
Chapple - tired and sweaty, but just delighted to have gotten the opportunity to see this marvelous site.

For anyone who would like to see the site in 3D, I’ve added two panoramic overviews of the church on a separate page. Just grab your home made 3D glasses (or go buy some) and enjoy! Here!

Suggested reading:

Hamlin, A. E. 2008 The archaeology of Early Christianity in the north of Ireland. BAR British Series 460. Oxford.

Hickey, H. 1976, 1985 Images of stone: figure sculpture of the Lough Erne Basin. Enniskillen.

Lowry-Corry, D. 1959 ‘A newly discovered statue at the church on White Island, County FermanaghUlster Journal of Archaeology 22, 3rd Series, 59-66.

Wakeman, W. F. 1879 ‘White Island, Lough ErneJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 15.1, 66-69.

Waterman, D. M. 1959 ‘White Island church - note on a recent excavationUlster Journal of Archaeology 22, 3rd Series, 65-66.

I just had to add in a link to the Discovery Programme's incredible 3D scan of the White Island figures - beautiful stuff! 

Island Life | Part II | White Island | 3D

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For your viewing pleasure: two panoramic overviews of the site in 3D (click for larger image). To view these anaglyphs, you’ll need to buy a set of the red/blue kind (or make your own).

Overview of the church and enclosure, from the north-east.

Overview of the church and enclosure, from the north-west.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

European Heritage Open Days 2014 | Where did you discover?

European Heritage Open Days was held on the weekend of 13-14th September this year. I'm not sure of actual numbers of buildings that were open, but it was certainly impressive and there was a huge choice to be had around Belfast alone. I did my best to get out and see what I could. In all, I got out to see six properties and have several Gbs of photos and a small pile of semi-garbled notes. Again, this year, I decided to concentrate on locations in my adopted home of east Belfast, though I did make an excursion into Belfast city centre. In the fullness of time (read: in the next 8 to 12 months), I will attempt to get a few blog posts together to promote these beautiful buildings, to share them with the wider world, and (hopefully) convince a few people to come to Northern Ireland and experience these places for themselves. In the interim, I just wanted to share a few photos of the places I got to see. More importantly, I want to express my thanks to the organisers and to the small army of volunteers, whose commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm ensured that the weekend was a success - thank you all! I'm already looking forward to EHOD 2015!

So ... where did you discover this year? Want to tell the world about an undiscovered gem or a wonder hiding in plain sight? Tell me about it in the comments or, if you'd like the space for a longer discussion and some of your images, consider putting it together for a blog post here - it's an open invitation to all!

(Click on any photo for larger versions)

Saint Mark's, Dundela

Templemore Avenue Public Baths and Swimming Pools

Harland & Wolff HQ and Drawing Offices

Belmont Tower

May Street Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Monday, September 15, 2014

Drumclay Crannog Report | We wait. We are bored.

Looking back through my email correspondence, I see that it has been a while since there has been any communication on the status of the much anticipated Drumclay Crannog Report by Prof. Gabriel Cooney. I'm not going to let this one go, so this morning I emailed Mark H Durkan, Minister for the Environment:

September 15 2014
Dear Minister Durkan,
I last wrote to you on March 22nd 2014 regarding the status of the report: ‘Review of the context of the excavation of a crannog in Drumclay townland, Co. Fermanagh on the route of the Cherrymount Link Road’. On April 11th 2014 I received your reply via Mr Brian McKervey, Acting Director of Built Heritage, NIEA. At that time, I was informed that you were considering the contents of that report and were in the process of sharing it with your Executive colleagues. I would like to enquire what progress you have made in this regard in the 157 days since your response, and when you propose to publish the report.
Robert M Chapple

In short order, I received a response from his Constituency Office:

Dear Mr Chapple

Your e mail has been received here at Mr Durkan’s constituency office, I have forwarded it to the Ministers private office of the DOE for their attention and response.

Kind Regards

Shauna Cusack
(Office Manager)

A little while later I received confirmation that my email had made it as far as Stormont (albeit under the rather ominous subject line of: TOF 414 14 Acknowledgement):

Mr Chapple
Thank you for your email regarding the Crannog at Drumclay, Co Fermanagh.
A response will be issued in due course.
Kind regards
Catherine Heath 
DOE Private Office

I'll update the blog and keep everyone informed when I hear more!

Background and previous posts can be found here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Archaeology of Gatherings Conference | Institute of Technology, Sligo, Ireland | October 2013 | Part VI

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I present the concluding segment of an epic trawl through an excellent conference!

Parker Pearson in Sligo © Chapple Collection
The final session of the Archaeology of Gatherings Conference was chaired by Fiona Beglane, who welcomed Prof. Mike Parker Pearson (Institute of Archaeology, University College London). Like many in archaeology, I only know him through his published works and television appearances. On TV, I’ve heard him speak and seen him wander about half of Salisbury plain. He is a respected authority on all things Stonehenge and related and, if I’m honest, I was extremely excited about hearing him speak. At the drinks reception on the Friday night he bought me a G&T, simultaneously cementing my high opinion of him and activating my inner archaeo-fanboy. He was in Sligo as the conference’s Keynote Speaker (Archaeology), and his chosen topic was Gatherings at Durrington Walls and Stonehenge. He began by outlining that recent research at Stonehenge indicates that the site was developed in short bursts of activity, interspersed with periods where no building occurred at all. The first Stage of this process dated to the period from 2990-2755 cal BC, while Stage II was dated to 2580-2475 cal BC. Following Clive Ruggles, he is of the opinion that the only astronomical alignments that we can be sure of are the Midwinter Sunset and the Midsummer Sunrise. However, there may be a possible lunar alignment at the site, dating to Stage I & II activity. Parker Pearson rejects all notions that Stonehenge or similar sites are observatories or ‘Temples of the Sun’, or any such constructs. Instead, he argues that their more important aspects lie in their contexts: their relationships to their immediate topography and their wider landscape setting. Following Colin Renfrew, he sees the Wessex and its henge enclosures, as one of a series of independent regions and social polities.

The Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP) saw the excavation of 42 trenches at Woodhenge, Stonehenge, and related monuments, including the Cursus and the Avenue. As the Wikipedia article notes: “The main aims of the project was to test the hypotheses of earlier studies that Stonehenge was a monument dedicated to the dead, whilst Woodhenge & Durrington Walls, two miles away, were monuments to the living and more recently deceased.” Essentially, the proposition is that at these sites stone was used to commemorate the ancestors at Stonehenge, while wood was reserved for the living at Woodhenge etc. In this theoretical construct, the River Avon formed a liminal journey between the two realms.

Neolithic house at Durrington Walls excavated in 2007 (Source)
In terms of the excavation background, G.J. Wainwright discovered two Woodhenge-like timber circles during excavations at Durrington Walls. Recent excavations, carried out as part of the SRP initiative, uncovered house floors surrounded by middens. On average, these measured 5.25m square with a central, circular hearth and could have seated 25 people at a pinch. In many respects, they were remarkably similar to the Skara Brae houses in Scotland, with the exception that the latter had rectangular hearths. Surviving remains from within the houses is interpreted by Parker Pearson as evidence that both the Durrington Walls and Skara Brae houses were laid out in the same manner, with beds to the sides and a dresser opposite the entrance. Excavation under the banks at Durrington Walls showed that there was a dense and very rich occupation layer preserved here. Analysis of the modelled radiocarbon dates indicates that the duration of settlement activity at Durrington Walls lasted from 2515 to 2470 cal BC – a mere 45 years. This is broadly parallel to the Stonehenge Stage II developments. Within this time frame, the Durrington Walls chronology may be broken down further, with the southern timber circle and the avenue being constructed in the period from 2500-2480 cal BC, followed by the construction of the ditch and bank at 2480-2460 cal BC.

An examination of the soil micromorphology has revealed that the floors of these houses were built up over the course of up to seven floor-plastering events. Parker-Pearson asks – if the events are accepted as occurring at regularly spaced intervals – how often were the floors plastered? Annually? Once every six months? One potential answer may lie in the excavation of the plaster-digging pits. These were found in groups, and once the stratigraphy was untangled, it became apparent that they contained up to 12 sets of inter-cuttings. Parker Pearson argues that the whole sequence (and, by extension, the lives of the houses) could have been confined to little more than a decade.

Analysis of the contents and positioning of the middens and the pits suggest that different depositional strategies – indicating different forms of activity – were in operation here. For example, the majority of the pits had been dug in the corners of the house, and Parker Pearson argued that they represented activities associated with the ‘closing’ of the sites.  Analysis of the houses themselves showed that they were used for different activities. For example, some have more evidence for cooking than others. Perhaps some were used as kitchens whereas others were used for assembly. The patterns of waste disposal indicated they swept the floors, as the debris was most commonly swept into the corners. Work on the animal bones shows that pig bones dominate in the pits and middens in the public spaces, but analysis of the lipid residues indicates that the pottery was mostly used in conjunction with ruminants. Strontium isotope analysis of the cattle teeth has shown that the animals arrived very rapidly to the site for slaughter. Most of the animals came from relatively close by (20-30 miles), though the evidence points to several animals coming from western Britain, the Scottish highlands, and even Aberdeenshire. The δ18O data suggests that the cattle coming to the site were, largely, from the western zones of Britain, as opposed to the eastern portions.

Parker Pearson touched briefly on what is termed the ‘bluestonehenge’. This is a newly discovered site, excavated in 2008-2009. It was a circle of vertical stones, c.30m in diameter that lay at the end of the Stonehenge avenue. Based on current radiocarbon dates, it was constructed around 3000 cal BC and was finally dismantled c.2400 cal BC. Turning to the ultimate origin of the sanctity of the Stonehenge landscape, Parker Pearson notes that  in 2008 there was a re-excavation of a trench dug by Atkinson in the 1950s through a portion of the avenue. The results showed that the colour and textural differences described by Atkinson were not the result of differential weathering. Instead, they were the remains of an actual periglacial feature created by freeze-thaw action. Further excavations were undertaken in August 2013 under the line of the road that now prove that this was a natural feature that just happened to be on a north-eastern alignment. He suggests that the fortuitous natural coincidence of an alignment between the natural ground feature and the solstice was what convinced the early population to set this place apart as somewhere special. The periglacial feature is also aligned with the well-known Mesolithic pits, indicating that this was a place of gathering and veneration for millennia before Stonehenge itself was built.

Dr Richard Madgwick at work in the lab (Source)
I can only say that I felt incredibly sorry for the next speaker: Dr Richard Madgwick (Cardiff University). Without a doubt, he had the toughest gig of the entire conference. If it wasn’t difficult enough that he was on directly after Parker-Pearson – the giant smiling bear of a man gave an impressive lecture that consolidated much of the last decade’s research at Stonehenge and its landscape, while simultaneously giving enough tasters of new information and discoveries to create an on-going Mexican wave of academic nerdgasm across the lecture hall. On top of all that, Madgwick was ostensibly treading across some of the same ground: Neolithic pig remains from southern Britain. I was reminded of the situation as described by Jerry Garcia, at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where the Grateful Dead had the unenviable task of going on stage directly after The Who (and before Jimi Hendrix). Daltry & Co. had put in a storming set and, as was their wont, destroyed their instruments in an apocalyptic finale. Interviewed about it in 1994, Garcia said ‘So we’re standing there amidst the debris and smoke and it’s time for us to go on. I don’t think anybody even saw us, they were still recovering from The Who.’ Whatever fears Madgwick may have had on this front, they were unfounded and this paper, A Passion for Pork: Feasting in southern Britain from the Neolithic to the Iron Age was simply excellent – and another of my personal highlights of the conference. As he explained, his period of study stretches from the Late Neolithic into the Bronze Age/Iron Age transition. By the latter part of this period, there is a noticeable shift in the use of the landscape that appears to be the result of an increased focus on feasting. The physical remains of this feasting are a number of sites where some very large middens have been preserved. Within these, various artefacts of metal have been found, including portions of cauldrons and bronze bowls. The recovered bone includes both human and animal species. The animal assemblage is dominated by pig, along with a smaller number of sheep remains, though there is one Great White shark tooth, recovered from a roundhouse post-hole. Other exotic finds include a small number of Armorican axe heads from Brittany. As noted above, the dominant species within the animal bone assemblages from these sites are pig. Within this, the most usually recovered portions are the skulls, mandibles, and teeth. While there are some potential preservation issues that can add bias to the sample, there is a distinct predominance of front body parts over back body parts in the pigs. There is also a 70:30 ratio in favour of the right side of the pig being selected. In all, there is a perceptible preference for this front right quarter of the animal.

Madgwick’s analysis of the stable isotopes δ13C and δ15N from 150 samples has shown a massive spread of results from these animals. This suggests that the animals consumed as part of these feasts were not bread on special diets, nor were there any specialist producers. Strontium isotope analysis (87Sr/86Sr) of 13 samples from Potterne suggests that some pigs were locally reared in the Llanmaes area and in the southern Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains, up to 30-40 miles distant. One sample so far examined indicates that the animal probably travelled from the Welsh Marches, a distance of some 50-60 miles. The evidence from so many of these sites is of people and the landscape coming together for these major feasting gatherings.

At Durrington Walls in the Late Neolithic there is a significant focus on pigs. This is quite common for the period, but with up to 90% of the animal bone assemblage being pig, this is particularly dominant. Unlike Potterne, there is no evidence of a particular quarter being selected, but there is still evidence of unusual procurement. Close analysis of has shown that what appear to be the tips of flint arrowheads embedded in the pig bones. While this may be thought of as evidence of hunting, these are domesticated pigs, not wild boar. It is possible that these were deliberately shot with arrows as part of a pre-feasting ritual. Strontium isotope analysis has been carried out on the remains of 23 pigs. This has, so far, demonstrated that nine are probably of local origin; six are fairly local and originated approximately 20 miles away from the site. However, the remaining eight are thought to be from four different regions of Britain. These include two from south/west Wales, one from Scotland, and one from the Lake District. The first thing that Madgwick noted is that this does not mirror the origins of the cattle that came to Durrington Walls. Beyond this, he noted that pigs are actually quite difficult to move, so bringing one from Scotland is no small undertaking. The other issue is that pig is not a scarce animal, so it’s not like it couldn’t have been sourced locally. In this way, it becomes important to ask why it was relevant or necessary to bring pigs all this way. Further analysis of the strontium isotope results, coupled with new sulphur isotope work, suggests that many of these animals were brought up in coastal areas. This would imply that the majority of animals do not originate from anywhere particularly close to Durrington Walls.

Turning to the question: why pigs? Madgwick suggested that they were a high status food with a strong secondary product economy. They’re also efficient meat producers and as swift, large-scale, breeders, they’re pretty easy to replace. However, he argues that we need to move beyond a purely functional explanation of the importance of the pig. I’m afraid this is one point where I must seriously disagree with Madgwick. Throughout my life, I have attempted to cook and eat just about anything that’s made of meat. I’m pretty much the antithesis of a vegetarian. Through all that, I’ve still got to say that pork is simply the loveliest, tastiest, most wonderful meat there is. It’s not just me that thinks like this – just do a Google image search for bacon and you’ll find plenty of images of the stuff … but there are pictures of fake bacon moustaches, bacon suits, bacon dresses, mounds of the stuff, bacon on a bagel (definitely not kosher), the US flag done in bacon, a Star Wars AT-AT in bacon, a portrait of Kevin Bacon done (you guessed it!) in bacon, dress your child, dress your pet, you can even have a bacon-flavoured soda while you sit in you bacon-scented home. Similar Google image searches for beef and mutton only bring back images of the actual foodstuffs in raw or cooked form, and show none of the same cultural fetishisation and emotional elevation that bacon has achieved. It may appear a silly point, made in humour, but I do believe it comes down to the fact that, as Vincent Vega says ‘Bacon tastes gooood. Porkchops taste gooood.

Whatever about the reason for choosing delicious pigs, Madgwick argues that the rise of feasts and feasting in the Late Bronze Age parallels the breakdown of the traditional Bronze Age trade network. In this new cultural landscape, we may be looking at a renegotiation of social polity where pigs are the new currency. Tasty, tasty currency!

Old Scatness broch during excavation (Source)
The final speaker of this session was Dr Julia E.M. Cussans (Archaeological Solutions Ltd.), representing her colleagues Stephen J. Dockrill, Ian Armit, Julie M. Bond, and Jo T. McKenzie (all University of Bradford) in the delivery of their joint paper: ‘You’re invited to a party, don’t turn up legless’: case studies in feasting and community gatherings in Iron Age Scotland. Cussans explained that the paper would deal with the excavated evidence for Scottish feasting in the Iron Age, based on the recovered materials from Old Scatness Broch, on South Shetland, and Broxmouth Hillfort.

At Old Scatness, the walls of the central broch were 5m thick and the structure was surrounded by a substantial ditch. She explained that Phase 4, dating to the Iron Age, saw the primary acts deposition within this ditch. Excavation recovered lots of animal bone, all of it very fresh in appearance, with no pre-depositional damage. Thus, the implication is that the material was not first deposited elsewhere – say, in a midden, - and later pushed into the ditch. It was deposited immediately after consumption directly into the ditch. The succeeding Phase 5 dates to the first centuries BC to AD and is characterised by what Cussans describes as ‘normal domestic middens’. During Phase 4 the dominant animals are cattle, sheep, and pig. In terms of body part preservation, the cattle appear to represent whole animals, slaughtered on the site. The sheep and pig remains were dominated by limb bones, with very few heads and feet preserved. All the bones recovered indicated that the individuals, regardless of species, were of prime meat-age animals. This is in contrast to the sheep bones from Phase 5, where the evidence indicates that the whole animal was utilised on site, and at a range of ages. Taken together, the Phase 4 activity is regarded as evidence of conspicuous feasting where the remains are deposited directly into the ditch. There is a deliberate selection for the best meaty parts of the animal, especially meat on the bone. The deposited large, unbroken bone pieces mean that they were not cracked to extract the highly nutritious marrow. This in itself is evidence of ‘conspicuous consumption’ where calorificly valuable materials were publicly wasted by deposition into the ditch. This is in direct contrast to the Phase 5 activity, where the entirety of the animal was processed to extract all possible nutrients.

Broxmouth hillfort in East Lothian was investigated as part of a rescue excavation in the 1970s. This was, essentially, a multi-ditched enclosure, surrounding a collection of roundhouses. The animal bone assemblage was exceptionally well preserved. Cattle, sheep, and pig dominated the corpus, though horse, dog, cat, and otter were also recorded. Based on an analysis of tooth wear, the age of the pigs at slaughter has been estimated at 1-2 years. In terms of sexing the pigs, it appears that there were more males than females across Phases 1-6. The authors also conclude that it is unlikely that that they were brought in from any great distance. Metrics gathered on the pig limb bones shows a dominance of the forelimbs that may be broken down across individual phases of occupation. For example, in Phase 3 63% of the limb bones were from the front half of the animal. This increased to 70% in Phase 5 and 73% in Phase 6. Cussans noted that, unlike Madgwick’s work, there had been no examination of a left vs. right imbalance in the preserved remains.

At both of these sites, pigs are clearly marked out in the Iron Age as feasting-compatible animals. Beyond this, they are tied up in concepts of tribute and conspicuous consumption. Feasting in these instances may be seen as a means of bringing together communities at high status sites. The pigs may be viewed as gifts or tribute from outside, while the act of receiving the gift is well known as a mechanism for the maintenance of high status and enforcement of status boundaries. The deposition of the bones in the ditch at Old Scatness should not be seen as a means of disposal of waste. Instead, the display of food debris on the site boundary may be interpreted as a deliberate show of wealth and power, proudly proclaiming to the world: ‘Look at us! We’re so rich we can afford to waste this resource!’

Following a final question-and-answer session, the conference drew to a close with warm applause for both the speakers and the organisers. For those who felt up to it, there was a tour around the magnificent megalithic monuments of Sligo. Unfortunately, I had a long journey back to Belfast ahead of me, so had to pass on that portion of the conference … maybe next time!

Well, folks, I hope you enjoyed reading through all these posts & I hope they bear some similarity to the papers as given at the conference. I certainly enjoyed writing them! But not as much as I enjoyed attending the actual conference. All the people at Sligo IT who were involved in the organising and flawless running of the event deserve high praise for their efforts. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, my posts will be eclipsed by the publication of the conference papers. I also hope that these posts – though an imperfect record of the papers delivered – will give some flavour of the event itself and encourage people to purchase the volume when it arrives. Finally, when news reaches you that the good folk at Sligo IT are organising another archaeological conference, I hope that you will consider going along and enjoying it in person. Based on this experience, it will be another extraordinary gathering bringing together a wide variety of experts and enthusiasts for fun and education.