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Chapple, R. M. 2012 'Review: Annus Archaeologiae: Proceedings of the OIA Winter Conference 1993' Blogspot post


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Chapple, R. M. 2012 'Review: Annus Archaeologiae: Proceedings of the OIA Winter Conference 1993' Blogspot post

  1. 1. Review: Annus Archaeologiae: Proceedings of the OIA Winter Conference 1993 Originally posted online on 13 January 2012 at ( Grogan & Charles Mount (eds.). The Organiastion of Irish Archaeologists, Dublin,1995. 72pp. ISBN 0-9524666-0-0. €7.99 + P&P from Dr. Charles Mount (see contactdetails at the end of this piece).Since I started this blog in August 2011, and realised that there was some interest inarchaeological book reviews, I have pretty much kept to the latest offerings available tothe profession. Thus far I have published seven reviews of books, all of which werereleased either in 2010 or 2011. This review is a little different as the book I have chosenwas published some 17 years ago, in 1995, and presents papers from a conference heldin UCD two years previously. Even the sponsoring body of the conference, TheOrganisation of Irish Archaeologists is now long defunct.To explain my choice, and its significance, I need to go back a few years. Around 2007 Ireceived a specialist report on a collection of flint from a site I had excavated. In thebibliography for the report was a reference to Annus Archaeologiae. As I had nevercome across this particular volume, and was intrigued by the Latinate name, I contactedthe flint expert and asked for a little more information. I dont remember his exactwords, but they were along the lines of: its pretty hard to get, but if you can find it dobuy it - it is really excellent. There should be legislation against saying that kind of thingto a borderline-OCD bibliophile! Over the next few years I tried tracking the book down,but to no avail. Eventually I found a copy for sale on AbeBooks for about £30 from abook seller in Sweden. I placed my order, but when the proprietor went looking for theitem it was missing - presumed lost or sold. My money was refunded and my hopes of
  2. 2. owning a copy appeared to have stalled. Some time later Charles Mount and I got totalking on Facebook. After having chatted back and forth for a while I decided tomention my quest for the ‘lost’ book that he had co-edited. I explained that I presumedthat it was long out of print and unavailable, but that I’d gladly pay for a photo-copiedreproduction. I can only say that I was gobsmacked when I received an email backinforming me that not only did he have a spare copy, and that one was already in thepost to me, but that he still had quite a number of the of the books still in his possession.Having now had the opportunity to read through the six papers presented here, I canonly conclude that it is a shame that this book is not better known by the archaeologicalcommunity. In the first paper the late Elizabeth Anderson and Gina Johnson present‘Irish Later Mesolithic Flint Technology: Further Developments’. They reporton a project of refitting and morphological analysis on lithics from the excavation of aLater Mesolithic industrial site at Bay Farm I, Carnlough, Co. Antrim (Woodman &Johnson 1996). They compare the material to that recovered from Newferry, Co. Antrim(Woodman 1977) and conclude that the method of ‘Larnian’ core reduction, along withits related implements, were only one of a number of strategies and tool types currentthroughout the period. In particular, they see the ‘Larnian’ core as associated solely withthe final stages of the Later Mesolithic. They also argue that the production of these coretypes, along with broader blades and flakes at the end of the Mesolithic may well beindicative of a changing approach to stone working. They conclude that the Bay Farmsite is atypical of the Irish Later Mesolithic and that the core types used in the majorityof other sites have yet to be identified.Gabriel Cooney, Steve Mandal and Finola O’Carroll present ‘Stone Axes as Icons:Approaches to the Study of Stone Axes in Ireland’. When this paper waspresented in 1993 the Irish Stone Axe Project was only in existence for three years andhad already examined over 16,000 stone axes with Irish provenances. While thecontents of this paper have been eclipsed by later publications (chiefly Cooney & Mandal1998), this is an interesting snapshot of where the project was at this important stage inits development. The paper examines a number of aspects of the research and attemptsto address wider issues, including the importance of stone axes in the archaeologicalrecord. An examination of the difference in axe lengths suggests that while the majoritymeasured from 8cm to 16cm, a genuine distinction may be made for the largestexamples. However, ethnographic parallels from Papua New Guinea are taken tosuggest that both work axes and ceremonial axes may well have been of similar sizes, theonly clear difference being the higher quality of the finish on the ritual objects.Petrological identifications showed that, by far, the most common stone used wasporcellanite (over 4,800 examples), followed by pelite (c. 1800 examples). Of the otherstone types identified, only sandstone and gabbro exceeded 200 examples each. At thetime of the original presentation the details of over 9,000 axes had been entered on adatabase. Typically, the paper ends with the line: ‘The work goes on!’
  3. 3. The late Prof. D. A. A. Simpson presents a paper on ‘The Neolithic Settlement Siteat Ballygalley, Co. Antrim’. Outside of the brief interim reports in the ExcavationsBulletin, there is relatively little published on this important site. To the best of myknowledge, there are only four publications of any substance on the site. In 1990 therewas a brief piece in Archaeology Ireland (Simpson 1990) and an interim report inthe Ulster Journal of Archaeology (Simpson, Conway & Moore 1990). Simpson (1996)also published a piece on the houses at Ballygally and a few years later a more generalpiece on the pitchstone from the site (Simpson & Meighan 1999). While the whole fieldof Neolithic house studies has progressed markedly since this paper was presented, it isstill a valuable addition to the available corpus. If a practical example as to how muchthe field has moved on was wanted, it could hardly be better expressed than in Figure3.5 in this paper where plans of all known Irish Neolithic houses could be comfortablyaccommodated on a single page: Ballygalley, Ballyglass, Tankardstown I & II,Ballynagilly, Newtown, and Knowth. Indeed, in the absence of a final publication on thesite, such smaller pieces are all the more valuable.Eoin Halpin presented a paper on ‘Excavations at Newtown, Co. Meath’. The sitewas a partially-surviving rectangular Neolithic house, ancillary feature/out house, andvarious cut features containing contemporary artefacts. A Bronze Age pit burial with anassociated pottery vessel and several postholes arranged in an arc were also recoveredand investigated. Again, I may be wrong, but in so far as I am aware, there is precious
  4. 4. little available in the published record about this site. There is a remarkably brief noticeof its initial discovery (and that of Ballygalley, too) in Archaeology Ireland (Anon. 1991)along with an entry in the Excavations Bulletin for 1991. The following year Gowen andHalpin (1992) published a brief summary of the site, also in Archaeology Ireland. Whilethe report in Annus Archaeologiae is nowhere near as in-depth as one would like for afinal report on this interesting and important site, it is much more detailed than any ofthe other available materials. For this reason alone, Annus Archaeologiae deserves aplace on the bookshelves of any student of Irish archaeology.Conor Newman presented interim findings from his excavations at ‘Raffin Fort, Co.Meath: Neolithic and Bronze Age Activity. Similar to the situation of Halpin’sexcavation of Newtown, Co. Meath, there is a limited amount of published materialavailable for this important site. To the best of my knowledge, there is only thispublication, the interim reports from the Excavations Bulletin, and a published paperfrom a conference in Italy (Newman, Dillon, Molloy & O’Connell 2008). Until I beganwork on this review, I was unaware of the latter paper, but the title ‘Environment andritual in a Late Iron Age context: an example from Raffin, Co. Meath, Ireland’ suggeststhat it is unlikely to be a large-scale exposition of the site data. This leaves us with elevenpages in Annus Archaeologiae as (currently) the single most detailed discussion of thisincredibly important site. I have little doubt that, in the long run, this site will be thefocus of a more in-depth and formal publication. Until that time, we have this near-lostgem to help fill in the blanks.The final paper in the collection is Aonghus Moloney’s presentation of the ‘IrishArchaeological Wetland Unit: 1992 Survey and Excavations’. The paperpresents short, but informative, reports on the Blackwater survey, Co. Offally, and anumber of excavations. The latter include a togher at Annaghcorrib, Co. Galway; agravel road at Bloomhill, Cos. Offaly and Westmeath; along with investigations at acrannog and burnt mound at Bofeenaun, Co. Mayo. In contrast to the above, the sitesand survey dealt with in this paper have all been fully published (Moloney,Bermingham, Jennings, McDermott & OCarroll, E.1995).In some respects, I see Annus Archaeologiae as a failed publication. This is a commentneither on the contributors nor on the editors. Simply put, this volume failed to connectwith the wider audiences it was designed to communicate with. Thus, it did not reach asmany other researchers and writers as it could have and should have. It did, however,reach some of the right people – Waddell in The Prehistoric Archaeology ofIreland references Halpin’s site at Newtown, Co. Meath, and Simpson’s excavations atBallygalley, Co. Antrim (though, interestingly, he omits Newman’s account of Raffin, Co.Meath, preferring the 1993 interim report from the Excavations Bulletin). Obviously, italso reached and influenced the flint specialist that set me on this quest in the firstplace. Nonetheless, I cannot but believe that Annus Archaeologiae failed to get a ‘fairshake of the stick’. In my review of the 3rd edition of Waddell’s textbook, I remarkedhow books come and go and how, as time goes by, they retreat from being first-port-of-call research resources as newer research becomes available. While some of the projectsdiscussed here have produced their definitive publications (and they are to be muchcongratulated for doing so), the lack of final publications on Raffin Fort, Co. Meath,
  5. 5. Ballygalley, Co. Antrim, and Newtown, Co. Meath, means that (after almost twodecades) there is still much to recommend about this volume. In his Introduction to thevolume, Mount describes the six papers as ‘snap shots of developing research at aparticular period’. He sees this as one of the strengths of the volume, where interimstatements are made quickly available to the profession so that they can begin to informfuture debate at the earliest possible time. While not explicitly stated, I feel that there isan underlying assumption that these ‘snapshots’ are inherently disposable, once themajor publications appear. The analogy with photography is, perhaps, unexpectedly aptas, with so many ‘snapshots’ they may end up becoming cherished items in their ownright. They may a collection of snapshots, but they (or half of them, anyway) have yet tofade. Do yourself a favour – go and buy this rather excellent volume and help rescue a‘lost’ gem!ReferencesAnon. 1991 ‘In brief: two new Neolithic houses’ Archaeology Ireland 5.4, 5.Cooney, G. & Mandal, S. 1998 The Irish Stone Axe Project. Monograph I. Bray.Gowen, M. & Halpin, E. 1992 ‘A Neolithic house at Newtown’ Archaeology Ireland 6.2,25-27.Moloney, A., Bermingham, N., Jennings, D., McDermott, C. & OCarroll, E.1995 IrishArchaeological Wetland Unit. Transactions: Volume 4. Blackwater survey &excavations. Artefact deterioration in peatlands. Lough More, Co. Mayo. Dublin.Newman, C., Dillon, M., Molloy, K. & O’Connell, M. 2008 ‘Environment and ritual in aLate Iron Age context: an example from Raffin, Co. Meath, Ireland’ in Fiorentino, G. &Magri, D. (eds.) Charcoals from the Past: Culture and PalaeoenvironmentalImplications. Proceedings of the Third International Meeting of Arthracology,Cavallino-Lecce (Italy) June 28th – July 1st 2004. Oxford, 75-92.Simpson, D. 1990 ‘News: Neolithic settlement site at Ballygalley, Co.Antrim’ Archaeology Ireland 4.2, 43-44.Simpson, D. 1996 ‘The Ballygalley houses, Co. Antrim, Ireland’ in Darvill, T. & Thomas,J. (eds.) Neolithic houses in Northwest Europe and beyond. Oxford, 123-132.Simpson, D. D. A., Conway, M. G. & Moore, D. G. 1990 ‘The Neolithic site at Ballygalley,Co. Antrim. Excavations 1989, interim report’ Ulster Journal of Archaeology 53, 3rdSeries, 40-49.Simpson, D. & Meighan, I. 1999 ‘Pitchstone - a new trading material in NeolithicIreland’ Archaeology Ireland 13.2, 26-30.Woodman, P. C. 1977 ‘Recent excavations at Newferry, Co. Antrim’ Proceeding of thePrehistoric Society 43, 155-199.
  6. 6. Woodman, P. C. & Johnson, G. 1996 ‘Excavations at Bay Farm 1, Carnlough, Co. Antrim,and the Study of the Larnian Technology’ Proceedings of the Royal IrishAcademy 96C, 137-235.Contact details:Annus Archaeologiae is available directly from Dr. Charles Mount, 2 Carrig Glen,Calverstown, Kilkullen, Co. Kildare ( for €7.99 + P&P. Rates:€1.90 for Island of Ireland. €4.25 for UK and rest of the world. Payment by cheque,bank draft, or postal order.