Saturday, September 25, 2021

Archaeology 360: Monea Castle, Co Fermanagh



Monea castle is one of Northern Ireland's iconic castles. It lies in gently undulating countryside, about 4 km to the west of Lough Erne. The major building work of the castle was carried out between 1616 and 1618. However, a Survey of 1619 noted that it was 'a strong Castle of Lime & Stone, being 54ft long & 20ft broad; but hath no Bawne unto it'. This 'Bawn', or outer defensive wall, was not completed until 1622. Its designer and first owner was Scotsman, Malcolm Hamilton, who started off as the Rector of Devenish, before being appointed Chancellor of Down in 1612. Things clearly went well for him as he was made archbishop of Cashel in 1623. But not too well, as Wikipedia records that in 1629 he 'died of an unknown infectious disease', which seems somehow unsettling ... but mostly for Malcolm! The subsequent history of the site has it passing back & forth between Irish and Colonist control for much of the 17th century. It appears to have burnt down some time in the 18th century and was never re-inhabited. The NI SMR page describes the castle as 'oblong in plan, 3 storeys high. From the angle of the W end rise 2 semi-cylindrical towers with box-like turrets. Both have spiral staircases.' What this description doesn't convey - and is not immediately apparent on the ground - is how much like a penis and testicles this castle is in plan. There's always something vaguely phallic about a vertical stone castle thrusting up from the earth, but this one gets you coming and going (as it were). I'm not suggesting that castle architecture would have taken a more 'vaginal' turn had the European Medieval period had taken place in the context of a matriarchy, but it totally would! 

Plan of penis-shaped castle (Source SM7 File)

No matter how 'penisy' you like your castles, this is a great day out - gorgeous standing stonework, iconic stepped turrets in the Scottish style, delightful vistas in all directions. There's not much to find fault with ... unless you're the Triadvisor user 'Melissa' who seems to have had a poor experience owing to a lack of understanding that the site is on a working farm and that there is no automatic right of way to the castle, as is clearly noted on the Discover Northern Ireland website [here]. On the other hand Tripadvisor user 'Gajosinskas' reckoned that there wasn't much of a castle left and it was too far out into the countryside in any case. As 'Gajosinskas' says: 'If you like to look at old walls and foundations - must see place'.

Notes:

There has been some limited excavation on the site and a programme of geophysics. During this work a number of artefacts were recovered,  including a porcellinite axehead of Neolithic date. The NI SMR page notes that the axe had been deliberately set in the notch of a large stone, 'suggesting that this axe had been purposely placed in this nook and curated at the post-medieval castle.' I like this idea for a number of reasons, not least of which are the thoughts that this is not the first activity on this site and also that it reminds us that people in the past also found, recognised, and cared for archaeological artefacts.


Northern Ireland Sites & Monuments Record [here]

SMR SM7 file [here]

Malcolm Hamilton on Wikipedia [here]

Discover Northern Ireland [here]

You can view this 360-degree video on an ordinary browser or on the dedicated YouTube app for your smartphone. However, for best results we recommend the more immersive experience that comes with an Oculus/Google Cardboard headset. Please feel free to Like and Share the video and Subscribe to the Archaeology 360 channel. If you’re feeling peculiarly generous and wish to help purchase snacks to sustain the Chapples Minor in the field, please drop something in the Tip Jar on the top right of this page.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Archaeology 360: Errigal Keerogue, Co. Tyrone

Dr Chris Lynn & Giant Pillar of Light at Errigal Keerogue, 2000

Historical sources suggest that a St Chiarog founded a christian monastery here in the 6th century, but there has probably a been a religious site of some description on this esporgent hill in rural Tyrone for as long as there have been humans to want religion. Today it is a quiet spot, quite a bit off the main road, dominated by the ruin of a late medieval church perched on top of the hill. Inside the church is a replica of a medieval tombstone, possibly representing a knight. However, the real treasure of this fantastic little site stands just to the west of the church building - an unfinished High Cross of Early Medieval date. The megalithicireland.com site describes is as having 'Short stubby arms ... slightly protruding from an unpierced ring'. In the right light you can see a set of incised lines marking a ring and concave arms on on the eastern face. On the opposite (western) face there is a low, circular boss surrounded by a rough square of four deeply-cut intersecting lines. It is usually thought that the cross was abandoned early in its construction when a significant crack was discovered running through the head. While it may have been abandoned at that point, it may as easily have been erected 'as is' and painted.  



My own first encounter with the site was one evening in 2000, in the company of Dr Chris Lynn. We were driving back together from some event in west Ulster and during the conversation he said - almost as an aside - 'Have you ever been to Errigle Keerogue?' I was about to ask 'What's one of those?', when he took my expression as a 'No' and pretty much lurched the car off the road saying 'Well, let's fix that!' Although a brief visit, I cherish the memory of having such an exclusive tour of the site from one of the greats of modern Irish archaeology. Back then, I always had my SLR camera with me & loaded with slide film. I grabbed a couple of indifferent shots of the cross itself, but remain more drawn to the snap of Chris quietly contemplating the late medieval church. As it turned out, it was the last shot on the roll and suffered a light leak along the right edge. Or maybe there was a Giant Pillar of Light there ... who knows with some of these old graveyards ..

See the mealithicireland.com [here] for more detail

You can view this 360-degree video on an ordinary browser or on the dedicated YouTube app for your smartphone. However, for best results we recommend the more immersive experience that comes with an Oculus/Google Cardboard headset. Please feel free to Like and Share the video and Subscribe to the Archaeology 360 channel. If you’re feeling peculiarly generous and wish to help purchase snacks to sustain the Chapples Minor in the field, please drop something in the Tip Jar on the top right of this page.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Archaeology 360: Killadeas, Co Fermanagh

 




Killadeas is a little town in Co. Fermanagh, on the eastern shore of Lough Erne. In the little graveyard of the modern Church of Ireland church. Our little 360-degree tour starts near the large upright Early Christian Cross inscribed stone (with possible bullaun mortar holes on its the back), moves on the pillar/standing stone, past the cross-base (that looks like a large stone donut set on edge in the ground*), and onto the ‘Bishop’s Stone’. The latter has a depiction of a bishop – identified by his bell and crozier – on one broad side and a ’grotesque’ mask on a narrow side. The stone is dated to the Early Christian/Early Medieval period, around the 9th to 10th centuries. When the light is just right and the shadows fall in a particular way, the bishop appears to have a slight wistful smile and almost a twinkle in his ancient eye. I’ve visited this site on many occasions over the years and am always taken by his exquisite, pointy topped shoes.


Taken together, these remnants indicate that the modern church sits on the site of what must once have been a substantial and important monastic site. I was going to say that this contrasts with the sleepy appearance of the village today, but the number of articulated lorries going through in the background of this video would give the lie to that opinion. Unfortunately, the lighting on the morning we visited (October 2020) and the available resolution of the camera I used means that much of the fine carved detail could not be captured. However, you can still get a feeling for standing in this beautiful place, hear the birds chirrup and the wind stir the trees with the irregular heartbeat of passing trucks punctuating the experience. On the other hand, the still images I’ve used in this post are from my very first visit here – in 2000 – with the Historic Monuments Council.

There are other excellent images and more detail over at the megalithicireland.com site [here]

* Ring, not jam filled.


You can view this 360-degree video on an ordinary browser or on the dedicated YouTube app for your smartphone. However, for best results we recommend the more immersive experience that comes with an Oculus/Google Cardboard headset. Please feel free to Like and Share the video and Subscribe to the Archaeology 360 channel. If you’re feeling peculiarly generous and wish to help purchase snacks to sustain the Chapples Minor in the field, please drop something in the Tip Jar on the top right of this page.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Filming & presenting an archaeological excavation: Thoughts on Must Farm

The photos and videos that came out of the excavations at Must Farm, near Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, during the most recent excavations (2015-16) were some of the most exciting prehistoric images I’ve seen in years – the incredible preservation of features and artefacts stunned both professional archaeologists and the interested public alike. Those excavations uncovered the remains of several Bronze Age houses – set on stilts above the water surface - and an associated defensive palisade and walkway. The evidence indicates that the site was destroyed in a catastrophic fire and that the settlement was abandoned. Wikipedia notes of the excavation that ‘Objects recovered include pots still containing food, textiles woven from lime tree bark and other plant fibres, sections of wattle walls, and glass beads’ [here]. Between the BBC documentary, the innovative use of legacy and modern social media, along with a variety of engagement strategies, the operation has garnered a well deserve shelf full of awards and accolades as well as expanding our understanding of Bronze Age life. I’d also recommend checking out their dedicated Must Farm website [here].

Still from 360-degree video

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I have a long-standing passion for what I term ‘niche’ photography. This has included the production of 3D anaglyph images and, more recently, 360-degree video. In terms of the latter, I’ve been going around sites on the island of Ireland with my camera and taking video to create immersive moments where you can (hopefully) get a feeling for what it might be like to stand in these sites for yourself and look about. As well as making my own videos, I frequently search for other archaeology-related 360-degree video from other creators. Thus it was a few evenings ago I was wearing an Oculus headset and searching through YouTube when I encountered a video on the main Cambridge University YouTube channel [here]. The setup is incredibly simple – a 360-degree camera has been placed on a tripod in the approximate centre of the excavation area and for almost five unbroken minutes the viewer gets to experience the archaeologists just going about their jobs – no discussion, no voice overs, no talking heads. Instead you get to see the archaeologists digging in the soil, hear the occasional scrape of a trowel, hear the background hum of chat punctuated by a sporadic burst of laughter. Spoil buckets, environmental samples, and finds trays festoon the site and we see notes being written and scale drawings being ... well ... drawn ... At one end of the site there’s even a cameraman apparently interviewing folks and documenting the site. It has been almost 10 years since I stood in the middle of an ongoing archaeological excavation and in all that time this was the nearest I’ve felt to that joy of seeing a site underway. I decided that ‘where there’s one there’s more’ and went looking for similar, but it was not to be! The other video of Must Farm I found on the Cambridge YouTube channel was of the much more traditional variety – people were interviewed, they spoke about the interpretation of the site and how they were excavating it, they showed finds and explained why bulk environmental samples were being taken. It was gorgeous! This is archaeology communicated well – it showed the site and the techniques used for its excavation, as well as introducing us to why a person should study archaeology at Cambridge (‘The academics at Cambridge are world leaders in their field, obviously’ [quoted without comment]).


While I learned much about the site from the second video, I didn’t have a feeling of participation. I was being lectured and informed, and my gaze was always being directed and constrained by what the creators wanted me to experience. It’s not a remarkable insight because that’s how pretty much all visual media is presented. However, the contrast with the simple joy of standing quietly in the midst of all the action, not being spoken to and not having my gaze pointed in certain directions couldn’t be stronger. I’m not suggesting that the immersive 360-degree video is the better experience (or that it should supersede the traditional approach), merely that the two together create an impact greater than the sum of the parts. Together they allowed an intellectual and emotional response to the site that neither offered individually. This is important because now – when archaeology as a taught subject is under threat like never before – outreach will need to build on both of these aspects to attract both students and wider public support. My only sadness is that although the Cambridge YouTube channel appears to have several hundred regular videos, this is the only 360 one. If feels like this was a once-off experiment and abandoned. This is unfortunate as the technology (both for recording and viewing) is continually improving and becoming more affordable. For both practicing field archaeologists and the interested public I’d ask you to look at these videos and ask which one makes you more connected to the site – which makes you feel more engaged? If the answer is ‘the 360 degree one’, shouldn’t we be making more of these?

You can view this 360 degree video on an ordinary browser or on the dedicated YouTube app for your smartphone. However, for best results we recommend the more immersive experience that comes with an Oculus/Google Cardboard headset. If you’re feeling the love, go check out my Archaeology 360 YouTube channel [here]