Review: Past times, changing fortunes: proceedings of a public seminar on archaeological discoveries on national road schemes, August 2010
Review: Past Times, Changing Fortunes: Proceedings of a Public Seminar on Archaeological Discoveries on National Road Schemes, August 2010 Originally posted online on 27 November 2011 at rmchapple.blogspot.com(http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/review-past-times-changing-fortunes.html)Sheelagh Conran, Ed Danaher & Michael Stanley (eds.). National Roads Authority,Dublin, 2011. 170pp. Colour illustrations and plates throughout. ISBN 978-0-9564180-5-0. ISSN 1694-3540. €25. This is the eighth instalment of the ‘Archaeology andthe National Roads Authority Monograph Series’ and presents the results of nine papersgiven at a public seminar held at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin, in 2010. Despite suchopulent surroundings, the theme for the seminar was more in keeping with currenteconomic concerns of the vicissitudes of life and wealth – never let it be said thatarchaeologists are disconnected from the modern world around us! As I noted in myreview of the preceding monograph, Creative Minds, the focus is less on individual sitesand more towards the creation of syntheses based on a broad range of data from variousroad schemes.In the first paper of the volume, Souterrains, social stress and Viking wars innorth county Louth, Niall Roycroft presents a model of ‘crash and crisis’ from thefirst arrival of the Vikings in 795 AD to end of an initial raiding ‘blitz’ in 833 AD. Thiswas followed by an uneasy peace until c. 921 AD. He argues that the radiocarbon datesfrom excavated souterrains at Newtownbalregan 6 and Tateetra 1 fall in the period from800 AD to 1000 AD, when the Viking raiders were at their most ferocious and active.Roycroft argues that the souterrains of north Louth may be divided into two types:‘double entrance’ and ‘single entrance’ types. Of these, he sees the ‘double entrance’ typeas the earlier response to attack, allowing escape from the rath enclosure. The,
apparently, later ‘single entrance’ type, Roycroft argues, were intended as refuges for thelocal community. He goes on to delineate the three zones of these ‘singleentrance’/’refuge souterrains’: entrance zone, security zone, and end zone. He alsopresents brief sets of comments on aspects of souterrain usage such as air supply anddrainage, lighting and alcoves. In what I can only believe future generations ofarchaeologists will regard as ‘Roycroftian Whimsy’, he suggests that the secondaryentrance to the Newtownbalregan 6 souterrain is ‘reminiscent of ‘chutes’ used forposting dogs down into animal-baiting pits’. While locking terriers into a souterrain mayhave provided an additional layer of security, I fail to see how it would necessitateproviding them with their own dedicated entrance. Similarly, his suggestion that thelarge alcove at Newtownbalregan was used to house multiple lamps, intended to lightthe reused megalithic art half way down the chamber, is (to my mind) stretching theevidence to breaking point and beyond. While souterrains today may be ‘dark and silent’and provide the exploring archaeologist with a ‘moving and memorable experience’, Idoubt that they would have been so when they were at the heart of a bustling farmingoperation. To push the point further and suggest that they played some role in coming-of-age rituals is, to me, lacking both merit and supporting evidence. Roycroft seemsperfectly happy to accept other pieces of reused decorated stone at Tateerra as simplythe result of robbing out older monuments, so why not Newtownbalregan 6? Whateverone’s position on many of Roycroft’s spirited suggestions, they are certainly thoughtprovoking and, even in disagreeing with him, force a careful re-evaluation of theevidence – I look forward to disagreeing with him at length in future!Joanne Hughes & Mícheál Ó Droma present Finding the plot: urban and ruralsettlement in 13th-century Cashel, Co. Tipperary. In this paper they chart thedevelopment of Cashel town and how ecclesiastical influence changed and moulded thisprogression. All this is all placed within the context of the rural Medieval settlementdiscovered at Monadreela during the construction of the Cashel Bypass. While thesection on urban Cashel in the 13 th century is necessarily brief, it eloquently states thecurrent state of knowledge on the town. ‘Life in rural cashel in the 13 th century’ presentsthe Monadreela complex. This rural settlement occupied a portion of the easternhinterland of Cashel town. The earliest evidence suggests that the site began life with asingle long house and grew to include several domestic dwellings, all within their owndefined plots. The recovery of charred grain and chaff indicates that cereal processingwas carried out on site. Such evidence also complements the findings from within thetown of chaff-less cereals, suggesting that winnowing had been undertaken outside thewalls. Hughes and Ó Droma see the Monadreela settlement as having developed in theearly 13th century to cater for the development boom ongoing in Cashel town. By theearly 14th century, at the latest, the settlement was defunct and Cashel had gone into aprolonged period of decline and stagnation. The authors identify the causes of thisdecline as a combination of the impacts of the Bruce Wars, the Black Death, andworsening climatic conditions – factors which all impacted heavily on other urbancentres at this time. The illustrations that accompany this paper highlight the potentialfor the discovery of unexpected archaeological sites on road schemes, but also thefrustrations in not being able to extend the excavated area to get a fuller picture of thesite. I can only hope that future work, both geophysical prospection and archaeologicalexcavation, can be deployed to explore more of this fascinating site.
In Profiting from the land: mixed fortunes in the historic landscapes ofnorth Cork, Ken Hanley describes “some embryonic attempts” to apply the methodsof Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) to road impact assessments. He firstpresents an intriguing and thought provoking definition of what a landscape actually is,followed by an explanation of the processed of HLC and how it may be applied to roadschemes. Hanley’s study area is the M20 section from Buttevant to Mallow in countyCork. While space does not permit a full assessment of the specific results from thisproject (go buy the book from Wordwell), Hanley provides an evaluation of the HLCmethod itself. He sees it as a means by which the landscape as it exists today may bemeaningfully characterised, but that it is not by any means definitive in describing thefull panoply of human interactions with the land from the prehistoric to the modernperiods. In particular, the value of HLC is seen in the description of the later historicperiod, as opposed to earlier periods of human history. The author also comments onmethodological issues regarding both the scale of the study areas chosen and the focusof such projects (future-oriented planning vs. purely archaeological/historicalapplications). While the M20 HLC study is still ongoing, Hanley argues that it allows a‘much richer and textured understanding of the receiving historical landscape’. Inparticular, he sees it as a useful tool in exploring issues of land colonisation and fieldsystem evolution.Karen Molloy & Michael O’Connell present Boom and bust or sustaineddevelopment? Fossil pollen records and new insights into Bronze Agefarming in County Clare. They report on investigations into pollen cores fromCaheraphuca Bog and Caheraphuca Lough, near Crusheen, county Clare, taken as partof the Gort to Crusheen portion of the M18 project. After a thorough description of themethodology, the results are presented along with a reconstruction of the long-termenvironmental change in the area. The model presented shows full woodland cover inexistence from the earliest portion of the core (c. 6000 BC), with no evidence for thepresence of Mesolithic populations. The Elm Decline is noted and dated to 3850-3550BC. While two chert artefacts of Neolithic date were recovered during the excavation ofthe Caheraphuca 3 burnt mound, there is no evidence for Landnam woodlandclearance, so typical of other regions such as at the Céide Fields complex in north Mayo.The palynological data suggests that during the Early/Middle Bronze Age (2400-1200BC) the economy centred on pastoral farming, with only a minor arable component. Thepicture is by no means static, and intensive farming activity is noted in the middle andat the beginning of the period, with corresponding lulls between the two and at the endof the era. Large-scale woodland clearance is indicated during the Middle/Late BronzeAge (1200-950 BC). The recovery of micro-charcoal is taken to indicate the frequentoccurrence of fires, but at some distance from the lake. It is suggested that one of thesources for this charcoal was the numerous burnt mounds in the general vicinity.Finally, in the Final Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age (950-130 BC) woodlandregeneration begins but is limited by human activity until around 650 BC. The pollendiagram suggests a collapse of the farming economy for two centuries after this point.Based on the large numbers of cereal-drying kilns discovered on NRA projects, ScottTimpany, Orla Power & Mick Monk examine Agricultural boom and bust in
medieval Ireland: plant macrofossil evidence from kiln sites along theN9/N10 in County Kildare. The authors begin with a lesson on the anatomy andfunction of the kiln form, followed by an assessment of the 25 dated examples from theN9/N10 project. The authors stress the importance of choosing short-lived species tocreate a robust chronology. Only four were dated from charcoal, three were dated on nutshell fragments, and the remaining 18 were all on charred grain. The results of thisdating programme indicate that while individual kilns date from c. 100 AD to c. 1500AD, the concentration is from c. 300 AD to c. 1000 AD, with a defined peak around 500AD. When morphological factors are fed back into this model it becomes clear that theearliest form was the oblong kiln. Figure-of-eight kilns begin to be constructed from c.200 AD to c. 500 AD. After a dip around c. 600 AD, they continue in use until c. 900AD. The keyhole kiln appears to be used throughout this period, from c. 200 AD to c.1400 AD. An examination of the recovered grain types, plotted against age, is also ofinterest. This shows wheat to have been popular from c. 300 AD to c. 800 AD; oatsfrom c. 600 AD to c. 1000 AD; and while it went through several highs and lows inpopularity, barley remained a constant feature from c. 200 AD to c. 1400 AD. Looking atthe broader picture, the authors see a ‘boom’ in kiln use (especially the figure-of-eightvariety) in the Early Christian period and a concentration on the production of barley.They see a corresponding ‘bust’ centred on c. 1000 AD, though the decline would appearto have begun nearly two centuries previously. Compared to a graph of dated cereal-drying kilns from across Ireland the data fits well with a defined trough around 1000AD, though again the decline may have begun as early as c. 800 AD. This island-widegraph is then compared to climatic data, including dendrochronological,tephrachronological, palaeohydrological, and palynological records, along with evidencefrom testate amoebae records, but shows little convincing parallels to explain the risingand falling popularity of kilns. The authors next examine the possibility of social changeas a factor in kiln-use and evolution. They suggest that the decline in the prevalence ofthe figure-of-eight kiln in favour of the keyhole kiln may be related to a move towardsmore centralised, larger-scale farming enterprises. Also, the longer flue of the keyholekilns meant that they were less susceptible to accidental fire. This is in harmony with anumber of points raised by Finbar McCormick at the recent INSTAR conference wherecentralised mills overtake the use of quern stones in the period after 800 AD, along witha collapse in the numbers of cereal-drying kilns. As I have stated in my review of theINSTAR conference, I think there is a case to be made for the church attempting tocentralise the means of production and processing, further cementing their grip on thepopulace.In Wax or wane? Insect perspectives on human environmentalinteractions Eileen Reilly sets out to examine aspects of woodland change,development of human habitation, settlement activity and landscape change, along withtrade links and food storage. Her approach is to pick key findings from a number of sitesinvestigated as part of NRA projects, and dating from the Neolithic to the Medievalperiod. In terms of woodland change, populations of beetles have diminished as woodshave been destroyed to make way for open pasture. However, comparison with theBritish evidence indicates that forest clearance was on a different scale in Ireland andthat the forest floors were cleared in such a way as to permanently alter living conditionsfor several species. At both rural and urban settlement sites ‘signature’ faunas of beetles
have been identified, particularly associated with houses and stables. Interestingly,many of the species considered to be ‘house’ fauna are unlikely to have co-existed innature, and with changes in building techniques and materials, many are now quiterare. Many new species appear to have been accidentally introduced into Ireland byhuman agency, including Bruchus rufimanus, the ‘broad-bean’ or ‘seed-been’ weevil. Itis absent from Irish sites during the Early Christian period and only confined to urbancentres during the Medieval period. Similarly, the wheat weevil (Sitophilus granarius)is believed to have appeared in Britain during the Roman period, though is unknown inIreland before the 12th century.Brendon Wilkins, in Examining death on the M6: 3500 BC to AD 1500, firstposes the question of what may be learned from a study of the dead. He argues that thetechniques of osteoarchaeology tell us more about the living person than the dead body:sex, diet, stature etc. An analysis of mortuary behaviour not only examines thebehaviour of people towards the dead, but the place of the deceased within society. Hehighlights the concepts of primary and secondary burial rites and the distinctionsbetween psychical and social death. With these categories in mind he examines thediscovery of the Bronze Age pyre at Newford, county Galway. The pyre superstructurehad been constructed above a large pit. During the firing process the partially burntwood had tumbled into the pit. During excavation c. 700g of human bone was recoveredfrom the feature. Wilkins argues that relatively little of the 1kg to 3kg of bone that maybe expected from a cremated adult actually turns up in the archaeological record. Such‘token cremation burials’ are frequently discovered at Middle and Late Bronze Age sitesacross the island. He suggests that if some of this bone was formally deposited incremation pits on the site, the remainder may have been intended for non-funerarycontexts. He argues that the remaining bone could have been used as a ‘social artefact’intended for ceremonial exchange between different groups to cement relationships andthe bonds of inheritance etc. While there is much to recommend this theory, not least asan explanation of why small amounts of human bone frequently turn up in non-funerarycontexts, he does not propose an answer to why a substantial portion of a crematedindividual was left in the pyre pit and never recovered. Wilkins’ second case study is theEarly Christian cemetery-settlement at Carrowkeel, county Galway. As nearly 90% of theburials were of infants, juveniles and foetuses, it was initially assumed that theyrepresented post-Medieval burial of the unbaptised in an Early Christian enclosure.However an ambitious programme of radiocarbon dating proved that this segregation ofchildren’s burials dated to the period from 700 AD to 1100 AD. The author suggests thatthis segregation may have been a function of not seeing children as full members ofsociety and that this diminution in status in their lives was paralleled with a similartreatment in death. In this context Wilkins sees the segregation of children in the EarlyChristian period as a precursor to the use of Cillíní/Children’s Burial Grounds in thepost-Medieval period. Personally, I find the Carrowkeel site endlessly fascinating and itis another example where the remainder of the site, outside the boundary of the roadtake, could be targeted for further research.Matthew Seaver presents Back to basics: contexts of human burial on Irishearly medieval enclosed settlements. In this paper he attempts the gargantuantask of examining the range of practices for dealing with human remains on Early
Christian enclosed settlements without clear evidence for churches. He presents what heterms a ‘crude model’ for burial in the Early Christian period where members ofhierarchical social groups had a range of options as to how they disposed of their dead:from within their own family group’s enclosure to traditional, pre-Christian, burialplaces (ferta) to formal ecclesiastical sites, with many varieties in between. Seaverbegins to draw out the complexities of choice of burial location and its complex culturalinteractions with memory, tradition, power structures etc. To me this simply reinforceshow much scholarship has progressed in this field over recent decades, whenresearchers were arguing over which set of criteria were necessary to identify a site as anecclesiastical or secular burial ground. Indeed, Seaver’s thoughtful, nuanced and multi-faceted model could not even have been conceived of two decades ago – much less couldwe have contemplated a situation where it could be described as ‘crude’. He shows howthere were myriad ways in which settlement sites could incorporate human bone, fromfull and formal burials to disarticulated pieces. Seaver argues that the processesgoverning the treatment of human remains were a complex amalgam of religious belief,local custom and regional tradition. These multifaceted considerations led in turn to anintricate matrix of representations that included: family crisis; boundary demarcation;age, gender or status considerations etc. In so far as I am aware, this is part of Seaver’songoing PhD thesis. From the evidence presented here, he has already made asignificant contribution to our understanding of these sites and the processessurrounding death and burial. For my part, I look forward with anticipation to hisfurther insights.The final paper in the collection is by Catriona McKenzie & Eileen Murphy. Theypresent Health in medieval Ireland: the evidence from Ballyhanna, Co.Donegal. The initial excavation of the site produced the remains of 1,301 individualssurrounding the remains of a small stone church. A truly impressive programme of AMSdating carried out by 14Chrono in Belfast has shown that although burial was initiatedhere in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, the vast majority of individuals were interred fromthe 13th to the 16th centuries. This research is part of the Ballyhanna Research Project,funded by the NRA. The mission of the project is the investigation of the Ballyhannaskeletal population through a variety of scientific techniques. The importance of theproject lies in the size of the population – by far the largest Medieval populationexcavated in Ireland – and its meticulous study by osteoarchaeologists and relatedscientists. A further point of importance is that while other excavated populations comefrom areas under Anglo Norman control or influence (and are likely to contain bothnatives and newcomers), the Ballyhanna material is likely to exclusively contain theremains of the lower class Irish, an under-represented and under-studied portion of thepopulation. The evidence presented indicates that just over half the adult populationdied before the age of 35 and that they were generally short in stature. The averageheight for an adult male at Ballyhanna was 167.1cm and 154.8cm for females. This istaken to suggest that, genetics aside; the population was probably poorly nourishedduring childhood. Examples of physiological stress within the population include cribraorbitalia, suggestive of a number of conditions, including chronic infections and adeficiency in vitamin B12. Porotic hyperostosis is thought to be the result of haemolyticand megaloblastic anaemias resulting from deficiencies in vitamins B 12 and B9. AtBallyhanna over 17% of adults presented with dental enamel hypoplasia, an indicator of
non-specific physiological stress. While the evidence suggests that this was a poor andstressed population, this figure is well below the rates reported from other comparablepopulations; these ranged from c.36% at Ardreigh up to c.60% at St. Elizabeth’sChurch. Tibial periosteal new bone formation may result from inflammation ininfectious processes, direct trauma, or other physiological stress and occurred on c.11%of the population. This paper is but one of the outcomes of the Ballyhanna ResearchProject and a major monograph, incorporating all the strands of research, is expected in2012.As with the other volumes in this series, there is an appendix detailing the radiocarbondates from the various sites discussed in the forgoing papers. This appendix lists 129dates, 113 of which were new to the IR&DD catalogue. I have recently mentioned therecurring problem with the presentation of radiocarbon data from Beta Analytic Inc.,and do not propose to bore the reader with it again. In the current volume a date fromthe souterrain at Tateetra 1, county Louth, (Beta-217960) is given as 1340±40 BP, but as1350±40 BP in the NRA Database. While it is but a small discrepancy, it is sufficient toundermine confidence in both this individual date and for the dating of the site as awhole. Such a small criticism as this aside, the editors and contributors are to becongratulated for again producing a valuable and useful addition to our knowledge –long may it continue!Note: Robert M Chapple wishes to acknowledge the financial assistance provided underthe Built Heritage element of the Environment Fund by the Department of Arts,Heritage and the Gaeltacht towards the Irish Radiocarbon & Dendrochronological Datesproject [IR&DD Facebook Page].