Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Archaeology in Social Media | Chronicles 15

Books (Source)

Greetings dear reader and welcome, once again, to my personal trawl through the archaeological (mostly Irish) papers on Before we begin, please take a moment to check out Stuart Rathbone’s rather excellent new book Archaeological Boundaries. Discussions, Experiments and Unprovoked Attacks. While you can download it for free from the Leanpub site, it’d be lovely if you felt moved to contribute a few pounds/euros/dollars … whatever you’ve got! Anyway, here’s my latest list of ‘what’s good to read’ – enjoy!

Stephen Cameron, Philip Macdonald, & Brian Sloan Two Assemblages of Worked Flint from Linford, County Antrim

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dr. Emily Murray: Farming and animals | Drumclay Conference 2014 | Review

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Following Dr. Eileen Reilly’s excellent presentation on on the insect and parasite evidence, session chair, Jackie McDowell, invited Dr. Emily Murray to the podium. Dr Murray was introduced as an experienced field archaeologist and zooarchaeologist, based at Queen’s University, Belfast. She noted that the Drumclay assemblage is extremely important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the rarity of large collections of animal bone from crannogs. While important crannog excavations were carried out in the past, there were largely undertaken in the period before the development of modern methods and techniques. The size of the assemblage also makes it important – animal bone is frequently recovered from excavations, but rarely in such quantities, making it unfeasible to determine genuine trends and patterns in the data. Also, the sites that have produced useful assemblages from the Early Medieval period are chiefly found on the east coast of Ireland, so the addition of an inland example from west Ulster is a rarity.

Turning to the methods that she and her colleagues use, Murray noted that one of the common differences between the study of animal remains from archaeological sites, rather than human remains is that the latter (including the skeleton recovered from Drumclay) were (typically) deliberately buried. Thus, when a specialist examines the recovered skeletal remains, they are usually dealing with all the surviving elements of single individuals. In this way, individual-level histories can be established for each of the human burials. For example, research by Dr Eileen Murphy on the Drumclay skeleton has identified the individual as an 18 year old female and has examined the skeleton for evidence of pathologies and trauma suffered in life. However, animals are an economic resource and are treated differently in the archaeological record. Typically, the skeletal remains are butchered and dumped with no segregation by individual. Thus, the first task in dealing with a large-scale assemblage like that from Drumclay is to identify the range of species present. Based on the surviving elements, a calculation of the minimum number of individuals (MNI) is derived. Thus, if an assemblage has seven dog radii the smallest number of dogs present is seven, even if all of the other elements do not survive. The exact body parts present are also recovered as this data can be used to understand how the animal was utilised. Murray gives the hypothetical example of rummaging through a domestic bin and finding specific bones such as chicken wings and lamb legs, but no skulls and toe bones. This would indicate that the meat is being purchased from a market, rather than being butchered at the place of consumption. Information on age at death can be determined using eruption data from teeth and epiphyseal fusion. The sex of the animal can be determined using biometrical and morphological shapes of the bone, though this can be difficult. However, there are a number of clear gender-specific attributes in some animals, such as pig’s tusks or deer antlers. The zooarchaeologist also looks at the stature of animals as one way to examine the development of breeds over time. As she says: “we want to know if we’re dealing with Alsatians or are we dealing with lapdogs!” Where the evidence exists, zooarchaeologists are keen to examine palaeopathologies to understand the diseases animals suffered from in their lifetimes. Finally, evidence of surface modification of the bone from butchery, burning etc. is important to understand the post-slaughter treatment of the animal.

Once all this data has been collected and entered into a database it is possible to reconstruct trends for a particular assemblage. The corpus of animal bone from Drumclay was presented to the zooarchaeologists in 750 A4-sised sample bags and nine rubble sacks. At the time of this presentation (September 2014), they had managed to get about half-way through it all and have counted something in the region of 3,000 elements. All this taken together, Murray notes that the Drumclay assemblage fits well within the general trends for the period as it is dominated by cattle and pig, making up over 80% of the total. Other animals include sheep/goat, red deer, and horse, along with a small range of other species. Comparing the Drumclay assemblage to those from other Early Christian sites, including crannogs, Murray notes that the general trend is repeated with a dominance of cattle and pig. The reason for this is that cattle were the single most important animal in Irish Early Christian society. They were the only available form of currency; and wealth, social status, and economic status were all expressed in terms of cattle - specifically dairy cattle. Animal food, particularly dairy produce, was very important and Murray notes that the Drumclay cheese press is tactile evidence of this form of animal exploitation. One aspect that she is hoping to investigate is a noted trend of larger animals being found on high status sites. As Drumclay is a high status site, the expectation is that this trend will be noticed here too. From both the zooarchaeological evidence and the surviving early literature, we can identify the closest comparable extant breed are the short-horned Kerry cattle.

Kerry Cow (Source)
In terms of pigs – the next most important animal – we should not imagine them as particularly similar to modern breeds. Instead they were probably closer to the Greyhound Pig that existed in Ireland until the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the Greyhound variety may not have been genetically related to the medieval Irish pig, they would have been a much more athletic animal than the modern breeds we’re most familiar with. We know that in Early Medieval Ireland that pigs were common (for example St Patrick was enslaved as a swineherd) and they would have been taken to suitable foraging grounds during the day and returned to the safety of the farm at night. At both Deer Park Farms and in Dublin, a number of pens, suitable for pigs, were identified, though this has yet to be ascertained for Drumclay. Like the pigs, Early Medieval sheep were probably much more athletic animals than contemporary breeds. Certainly, descriptions of wool and woollen cloaks from that period indicate that sheep wool was much coarser and hairier than modern examples. For the most part, Early Medieval wool was a brown or black colour and it appears that selective breeding has resulted in the common white wool we see today.

Age slaughter trends for this period show that cattle were killed at all ages. Murray notes that a free farmer or Bóaire was expected by law to keep a bag of salt prepared at all times to salt beef if a cow was killed. Nonetheless, there are trends within the Irish data and peaks can be seen where cattle are slaughtered at just under two years old and another for animals that are over three years. This is taken to indicate that the older animals, for the most part, are female and they are being kept for dairying and for breeding and they are killed at the end of their useful life. Thus, the presumption is that the peak of younger cattle is dominated by bullocks killed for meat. This patterns differs slightly from the evidence from Fishamble St in Dublin and at the monastic site at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, and a number of other similar sites. Here she argues that in these proto-urban settlements it’s a sellers’ market for meat where the only available cattle are the older, knackered individuals, at the end of their working lives rather than the prime beef animals. This is in contrast with rural sites like Drumclay where there would have been easier access for a smaller population to the better cuts of meat. While the age slaughter trends at Drumclay show the same peaks at under two years and over three years, there is a third peak indicating the slaughter of much younger animals. Murray suggests that this may be an indicator of the high status nature of the site, where the inhabitants can afford to dine on young, succulent flesh.

Age slaughter trends for pigs are similar across much of Ireland where the average is 17-23 months. She sees this as a result of the fact that pigs do not produce secondary products such as hides, milk, fleece etc. Thus, it makes sense to slaughter them once they reach their optimum weight for their meat, only holding back a small breeding population of older animals. At Drumclay the evidence shows pretty much the same peak at the 17-23 month mark, thought here again there is an anomalous early peak where some 40% are killed at 6-12 months. While these ‘young peaks’ may individually be dismissed as an artefact of recording methods, Murray stresses that their presence in both cattle and pigs suggests a genuine trend for the exploitation of young animals at Drumclay. Most sheep were exploited for their meant and wool and the pattern from Irish sites is for their slaughter in their second year or older (12-18 months). At Drumclay there is another ‘young peak’ where sheep were slaughtered at 5-12 months, though it otherwise conforms to the general trend. In terms of the exploitation of domestic animals, Murray argues that the patterns of proportions of animals kept and how they were slaughtered broadly conforms to the overall Irish trend. Where it deviates from this is in the high numbers of very young animals slaughtered. She suggests that this may be a product of the high status nature of the site. 

Throughout this series of posts I’ve largely striven to remain in the role of reporter, rather than commentator. However, I’m going to slip between the two for a moment to address this point. I don’t disbelieve Murray’s point that the inhabitants of Drumclay had a taste for (and the wealth to pursue) succulent delicacies such as piglet, lamb, and veal, but perhaps more can be added to it. In the period after the conference, I was in correspondence with Colette Galvin, a fellow conference attendee. She mentioned a point made by noted calligrapher and historian Timothy O’Neill (author of The Irish Hand) that the finest velum came from calves slaughtered at around 5-7 months. He was surprised at the absence of young skeletal remains from the monastic site at Clonmacnoise, which may have been presumed to have been involved in the production of illuminated manuscripts. In the open forum at the end of a previous session Dr Nóra Bermingham was asked if there was any one type of artefact that she would have liked to have found, but had missed out on. Her response what that she would love to have found a book – a velum manuscript. I would suggest that (perhaps) the faunal evidence indicates that Drumclay was a centre for the production of velum, if not the illuminated manuscripts themselves. Back in my IT day job, I was discussing this very point with a colleague who has a background in the food industry. She informed me that (coming from a non-archaeology perspective) young age at slaughter evidence for calves shouldn’t be a surprise in a dairying economy. This is because cheese making requires the addition of the enzyme complex rennet to separate milk into solid curds and liquid whey. While today this is achieved using artificially produced versions of the enzyme, in the past it would have been done through the harvesting of stomachs of young ruminants, up to the age of weaning. The other important idea that was brought to my attention is that cheese making would not have been a year-round occupation, but an event dependent on seasonality. It would have tied in with milk production and animal slaughter patterns where cheese making is used as a means of foodstuff preservation at the end of calf weaning (ideally 7-8 months).

Greyhound Pig (Source)
Finally, an analysis of the percentages of domesticates relative to other animals may be an indicator that the site was of particularly high status. At Drumclay something like 95% of the assemblage is made up of domesticates. She compares this with lower status settlements where horse and other non-domesticates make up a higher percentage of the animal bone assemblage.

Turning to the other animals, she notes that although there are examples of horse bones, none show evidence for butchery. Although there was a long-standing taboo in Ireland against the consumption of horse meat, the archaeological evidence frequently shows that it did occur, though possibly only in times of great necessity. There are also examples of dog and cats on the site, though the cat is represented by a single element, so very little can be said about it. Cats are well attested in the literary sources and were kept to hunt rodents that would otherwise feed on the corn. The dogs are hardly better represented with two only bones, both from young animals. Owing to their age at death, it is impossible to identify them by species or even give an estimate of their expected adult sizes. However, there is ample indirect evidence of dogs at Drumclay through chewed bones. These include a couple of otter bones with chew-marks, and Murray speculates that these were caught and brought to the site by a dog. The single hare bone from the site may well have been the result of hunting activities. Both antler and post-cranial bones of red deer were discovered at Drumclay. The presence of a burr on one piece of antler indicates that it was a naturally shed antler that was collected and brought to the site, rather than a hunted animal. Although the presence of the post-cranial bones indicates that some hunting must have taken place, they appear to represent only a small number of animals and indicate that hunting was not a particularly common activity. She notes that the Early Medieval Irish were not overly fond of hunting and fowling, so the low incidence of wild animals is not unusual.

Both bird and fish are represented at Drumclay, though they are particularly rare. Only four bird bones have been identified along with “a handful” of fish bones. While the literary evidence suggests that the Irish did not care terribly for hunted wild animals, there is the attendant problem that they are so delicate that they rarely survive in any numbers. The other issues is that, in the course of normal excavation, they are exceptionally difficult to identify and recover. For this reason large bulk samples have been retained from the site and it is hoped to begin sieving them for small-scale artefacts and ecofacts. The four bird bones that have been recovered from the site are most probably from domestic fowl. Although present on most sites of this period, they were never common. While the females are thought to have been chiefly kept for eggs, males were probably kept for cockfighting. While the legal references to fish in early Irish sources are all to do with inland or riverine fish, the fish bones from excavated sites are all from maritime sources. The fish bones from Drumclay are a series of articulated salmon vertebrae recovered from under the floors of one of the houses.

Murray is quick to point out that, at this stage (September 2014), the site has not been phased and she is dealing with the faunal remains as a single sample. When the Phasing of the site has been completed, it will allow her and her colleagues to break the animal bone assemblage down and see if these trends are representative of the entirety of the life of the site, or if there were changes in practice over time. She’s also keen to see if differential patterns of exploitation can be revealed between houses within Phases. She notes that their work so far has included the recording of data on pathologies, metrical data, evidence for butchery and burning etc., but until the Phasing and chronology of the site is complete it is too early to begin analysis. Examples of pathologies include one pig fibula that shows evidence of having been broken and subsequently healed. There is also evidence at Drumclay of cattle phalanges that show the degeneration of the foot bone of an individual, possibly through age-related wear.

In conclusion, Murray addressed the question previously asked of Dr Nóra Bermingham: was there anything that she would like to have found on the site? As they were only half-way through their analysis of the assemblage, with many more sacks to open, she admitted to being hopeful of discovering an exotic animal given to an Early Medieval nobleman as a pet. While a Barbary Ape is known from Navan Fort, she’s set her sights high and is hoping for a giraffe!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Archaeology in Social Media | Chronicles 14

Books (Source)

Hello & welcome once again to my continuing eclectic ramble through archaeology papers on that I find interesting and deserving of attention. Once again, I’d ask you to take a look at Stuart Rathbone’s latest book on Irish archaeology: Archaeological Boundaries. Discussions, Experiments and Unprovoked Attacks. I do realise that I’m somewhat biased (I’m his editor and general co-conspirator), but I do genuinely believe that this is among the most important books ever published on Irish archaeology and showcases Stuart’s abilities as a paradigm-altering thinker. As if that wasn’t enough, the book is available as a pay-what-you-think-is-fair downloadable PDF from Leanpub. If that whetted you taste for more, have a look at this latest collection of good reads (and start off with a couple of other Rathbone papers!

Stephen Davis et al. Boyne Valley Landscape Project

Damian Shiels The Kinsale Battlefield Project [and the complete IPMAG Newsletter from Winter 2007]

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dr. Eileen Reilly: Dirt, hygiene and health on early medieval settlements | Drumclay Conference 2014 | Review

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Jackie McDowell, the chairperson for this session, welcomed Dr. Eileen Reilly to the podium and introduced her as a post-Doctoral research fellow at UCD. Reilly initially studied archaeology, following up with a graduate degree in environmental studies, specialising in insects. Reilly explained that she’d be discussing issues surrounding dirt and hygiene at Drumclay and comparing the evidence with data from other sites, chiefly Fishamble Street in Dublin and Deer Park Farms, Co. Antrim. She stated that she would ‘discuss some of the more intimate aspects of people’s lives during the Early Medieval period, the conditions in which they lived and how they managed that living space.’

Over many decades, many notable anthropologists, historians, social geographers have discussed ideas and approaches around human behaviour and attitudes towards dirt and hygiene. While she noted that she could deliver an entire lecture just on that topic, she would instead limit herself to nothing that biological and cultural legacies have created a 'dirt-ridding' culture. Thus, everything from basic bodily evacuation, to grooming and our living environments have resulted in a plethora of customs, manners, structures, habits, engineering developments etc. The questions following from this are 'when do these ideas become culturally embedded and normalised?' and 'how can we recognise these things in the past?' From an archaeological perspective, we have much evidence in the forms of structures and their layouts and several types of artefacts. Among the artefacts may be included combs and various toilet implements. Added to this are refuse features such as middens and cesspits along with material dumped over palisades and into ditches. All of these activities show how Early Medieval people managed waste and how they thought about it. While these things were clearly important to medieval people, we cannot assume that the motivations behind these responses were simply about the disposal of waste materials. In some cases the piling up of rubbish may have been about the display of wealth, or ritual/religious cleansing, as well as removing dirty or smelly things from the immediate vicinity. Reilly is justifiably keen to stress that one of the most powerful and insightful strands of evidence available is that brought by environmental archaeology. She adds that the evidence from a waterlogged site like Drumclay has the potential to yield numerous data and new insights. The site has evidence of insects, plant materials, intestinal parasites, animal and fish bone etc. She describes this as a ‘circle of evidence’ that comes back to the human body, and the effects of that environment on the individual. As an aside, Reilly notes that although the study of insects is fascinating in its own right, from an archaeological perspective they may be used as a proxy to the past. Thus, to get an understanding of how we lived in the past, it is imperative that we look at the things that lived with us. In this way, all the insects recovered from the meticulously recovered samples from house floors, ditch deposits etc., ultimately reflect our choices, our behaviours, and the activities we engaged in.

We also have a body of interesting literary evidence from this period which is of use in understanding attitudes towards dirt, hygiene, and health. We can see whether the archaeologically recovered features such as cesspits were discussed in the past (while they are mentioned, it is far less than we’d like). The literature also allows understandings of the expectations of cleanliness, including the cleaning of entrance ways. On the other side of the coin there are indications of the things that are considered unacceptable within houses, such as allowing animals to walk through dwellings. There are also insights concerning how various craft workers were viewed in terms of personal cleanliness. For example, comb makers are regarded as people who ‘grapple among the dirt’ to get their basic materials. The literary sources also include numerous references to diseases and the impact of the living environment on health and hygiene.

She argues that the best way to show the strength of the environmental evidence is to demonstrate what they can tell us about conditions both inside and outside the houses. Within the island of Ireland, we have some of the best bodies of data that can illustrate these points, one of which is, of course, from Deer Park Farms. Reilly describes it as ‘the site that keeps on giving’ as she is now re-evaluating the results of the original environmental analyses, more than two decades later, and finding new details and drawing out new insights. The other major corpus is from the excavations at Fishamble St., Dublin. These excavations were carried out in the late 1970s and 1980s, but the environmental samples have only been examined in the last two years. With these amazing datasets at her disposal, Reilly can now directly compare the inside of a house in Dublin in the 10th century with one from the 7th and 8th centuries at Deer Park Farms. As the Fishamble St. material is from an early, first-wave urban settlement, it may be assumed that there would be significant differences between it and Deer Park Farms. Although differences do exist, her research has shown that there are some remarkable similarities between the two sites. As the post-excavation work (hopefully) progresses on the Drumclay samples the obvious expectation is that it will add significantly to this body of knowledge.

Human flea (source)

Reilly argues that if we stepped inside a house of this period, the dominant smell would not be of something foul or nasty. Everything would have been dominated by the all-pervading smell of wood smoke. Looking at the ecology of the insects that are turning up within these houses, particularly within the bedding areas, these are actually very clean and dry spaces. They are made up of quite deep layers of locally-available plant material and would probably have been covered with blankets or hides. All of the insects from these locations are dominated by dry mould feeders. These are clearly not nasty, foul places. The central floor spaces would have seen more human traffic, but still the insect evidence indicates that these are not filthy spaces. There were large numbers of human parasites recovered – lice and animal parasites dominated at Deer Park Farms, while both it and Fishamble St. had high numbers of fleas. While this may at first appear to run counter to Reilly’s argument that these are not filthy places, their presence indicates that people were actively involved in grooming and that these lice were being removed from the body. Fleas are extremely difficult to get rid of today, necessitating the use of strong chemicals, but in the past it would have been a constant struggle and nuisance of life. The human flea can exist on both ourselves and pigs, so if there were swine on the site the closeness of animal-human living conditions would have ensured a constant supply. As the human flea can live in the floors and in the bedding they can prove extremely difficult to remove and probably contributed to the constant turnover of bedding material. Reilly argues that their presence is not so much an indicator of filth, as a testament to the tenacity of the parasite.

However, the evidence from outside the houses tells a very different story. Insect and fly evidence from the external spaces indicates that, for the most part, it was an exceedingly dungy and muddy environment. Samples from all external areas of the Deer Park Farms site produced a consistent signature. The presence of beetle species indicated that quantities of dung was present, along with urine-soaked plant matter. Recovered examples of fly species included the housefly and the seaweed fly. The recovery the seaweed fly remains, in particular, indicates the presence of cess pits as it was attracted to salts and urine. Blowfly remains were also recovered, indicating the presence of fresh butchery waste. Reilly paints an all too vivid picture of the amount of animal waste and products that would have been around the site, including stomach contents, blood, and raw meat … and all the various species of flies attracted to it and feeding off it. She describes the experience as ‘quite a buzzy, nasty atmosphere, during the summer especially’. She notes that there is also evidence for human parasites outside the houses and that this may be interpreted as the result of outdoor grooming, washing or removal of clothing. From anthropological studies, she notes that the evidence is that grooming was chiefly an outdoor activity until relatively recent times. In many traditional cultures this form of activity remains an outdoor activity as it is easier to dispose of waste water and materials such as hair clippings.

At both Fishamble St. and Deer Park Farms route ways through the sites were constructed of planks, wattle panels, or cobbles. The insect evidence indicates that these were a necessity, rather than any form of luxury. Reilly notes that it is unsurprising, given the volume of dirt and filth, that the surviving corpus of laws deal specifically with the roles and responsibilities of cleaning and maintaining these paths. Defined cesspits are near ubiquitous at this time on urban settlements and at Fishamble St. there is practically a cesspit associated with every plot, though sometimes one was shared between two properties. In terms of location, these were frequently at the front of the building, which may seem a somewhat lacking in privacy to a modern viewer. The insect remains demonstrate that they are, as one would expect, filled with human waste but they were also used for the disposal of household refuse. They also preserve interesting evidence for recutting, clearing out and reuse. This would suggest that the waste was cleared out from time to time and piled up elsewhere or recycled in some way. However, evidence for defined cesspits is largely absent from rural settlements at this time, including Deer Park Farms. The question that then needs to be addresses is ‘where did they go to the toilet?’ Reilly explains that ‘this is where the intestinal parasites come in and can be really useful’ (a sentence that could only be uttered by an archaeologist!). She notes that they are particularly useful for understanding contamination of human waste as the intestinal parasites live within the human host and produce eggs that are passed in faeces. Careful sampling and analysis can tell us where human waste is being deposited on sites. At Deer Park Farms over 100 samples were examined during the original post-excavation phase. Reilly has since re-examined this evidence and mapped the locations of where they were recovered. She showed a plan of one of the earlier phases of the site (Phase 4a) where two deposits (one in particular) produced significant evidence for the presence of whipworm (Trichuris trichiura). Both deposits were in the west to south-west portions of the site. During Phase 6a (one of the main settlement phases) intestinal parasites were recovered from areas to the south of the houses. The first point of note is that none of these deposits occur indoors. Indeed, there is remarkably little evidence for any form of either animal or human intestinal parasites within buildings. This would suggest that filth is not being walked into houses and that shoes and boots were cleaned before entering. She also notes that the lack of defined cesspits may indicate that wherever they were using for a toilet was above ground and was regularly removed and emptied. Bodily waste may have been spread on fields as fertiliser, or may just have easily been dumped into the surrounding ditch as numerous early medieval ditches appear to have been filled with dungy material. Reilly notes that her thinking on the reuse of excrement as fertiliser has led her to think more deeply about questions of contamination and disease. Looking at general dumping behaviour from this period, she notes that while there is a desire to remove waste out of sight (and smell) of the inhabitants, but that the locations chosen would have had a detrimental effect on health. She cites the examples of the Viking Age towns of Birka in Sweden; Kaupang in Norway, and York in England where research has shown that the watercourses beside these towns were heavily contaminated with fly pupae, animal bone, plant remains etc. This has been shown to be the case at both Irish and Scottish crannogs, including Buiston, where large middens of animal bone have been found from the surrounding waters. There is also the question as to what is happening with the human waste if it is not being deposited in a cesspit, or if the cesspit is being cleared out and recut. As noted previously, one of the possibilities is that it was being used for fertiliser. Reilly notes that research on the plant remains at Fishamble St., carried out by Siobhain Geraghty, indicates that human waste may have been used to fertilise flax plots within the town boundaries. Of course, this would have contaminated the soil and sources of drinking water with whipworm and any of the other intestinal parasites. In this way, there would have been increased exposure to waterborne diseases for the local population. Added to this are the flies and other parasites, all of which are potentially disease carrying too. Thus, she asks ‘is there evidence in the archaeological and historical records that back this up?’ Obviously, there are a large variety of different references to diseases in the historical record. Reilly cites Crawford’s research on historical references to diseases, causes and cures from this time. A significant number of the diseases, such as dysentery, are related to poor hygiene, poor water quality, or impaired immune systems generally. Research by Keating on over 140 children’s skeletons from early medieval Ireland clearly demonstrate the realities of these situations. For example, Keating found that the majority of the examined skeletons had not met their optimum growth potential and displayed evidence for stunted growth, especially in the leg bones. Many showed evidence for both dietary stress and stresses related to parasitic infections or infections that may have been exacerbated by parasitic infections, such as blood loss, diarrhoea, or anaemia. Unfortunately, when the causes are noted in the historical records they are most commonly attributed to demons, divine retribution, or naturalistic explanations such as the result of bad weather. They are not in any way attributed to dirt or hygiene issues. Similarly, the recovery strategies divide along religious and naturalistic lines. Religious strategies include prayer, laying on of hands, consumption of holy water, or interaction with saintly relics. However, the naturalistic remedies show that there was an understanding that a clean or quiet environment was good for a patient’s heath. Thus, there are rules for the exclusion of animals such as dogs, pigs, and sheep.

In summary, the picture that emerges from Reilly’s all too brief overview is that the environmental evidence, particularly from insects and parasites, is that the interior floors of houses were very ‘clean’. Reilly notes the use of inverted commas on ‘clean’ as it may not have appeared so to a modern viewer, but from an ecological point of view (‘we have to think like a beetle’: again, a sentence that could only be uttered by an archaeologist  ... or Kafka) it is a clean environment. The examined samples have almost no evidence for dung, or anything else that may be considered to be ‘dirty’. It is clear that this is a universal desire as it is the same at Fishamble St. during the 10th and 11th centuries; at Deer Park Farms in the 7th and 8th centuries. Reilly’s own research on Russian sites of a similar age, along with work at York, all show the same pattern. The next research question is: Will Drumclay agree with this pattern? Owing to its siting in a lake environment, will it break the pattern? Reilly’s instinct is that Drumclay will be the same, but that it will be an interesting research project. As noted previously, the opposite is true of exterior spaces where less control is exercised over the outdoor portions of these sites. It is clearly managed differently from the interior spaces. Although it appears to have been carefully maintained where prescribed by law, it is not as carefully monitored as interior areas. The presence of lice indicates that personal grooming was of great importance. Activities like ‘nit picking’, and general maintenance of hair was a continual process. The evidence shows that there was an abundance of nuisance and biting flies, fleas, and parasites of the intestines and were the direct causes of illness. Considering the amount of waste dumping into water, there appears to have been a lack of understanding of the nexus between this and the spread of disease. Because of the incredible level of preservation at Drumclay, there is the potential to add a very high quality corpus of data to that already available. It may challenge prevailing views or confirm the universality of the known evidence. All that can be said for certain is that it is likely to bring forth further insights and discoveries about early medieval Ireland.