Irish National Strategic Research (INSTAR) Programme: Findings From the                       First Phase 2008-2011: Revie...
traditional model, where by 800 AD the majority of burials were on church land, butthat there was no defined church aversi...
early work on the Céide field systems during the 70s and 80s was all unfunded, anddepended on voluntary contributions by h...
I got this slightly wrong - see response from Dr. Graeme Warren in the comments forcorrections]. One interesting anomaly h...
case LEADER funding has been applied for to help sustain a local archaeological initiateto produce a brochure/guide to the...
apparent secondary peak during the period 700-800 AD as illusionary and a product ofthe shape of the calibration curve. It...
and we are currently left only with questions. If they did abandon the raths where didthe people go? Did they move to disp...
Meath and die there, the implication must be that he was not alone – at least one personhad accompanied him and was able t...
The author (with jackhammer) at Newtonstewart Castle,shortly before the discovery of the segmented cistÓ Donnabháin also e...
own in-house database systems, which were largely incompatible with each other. Shealso pointed out that many researchers ...
essence, there has been a concentration on dating the very obvious features. Not comingas a huge surprise, the project ind...
An examination of recovered weed seeds has also been taken to suggest that during theNeolithic permanent, manured plots we...
While he admitted that the INSTAR programme has not been prefect, it was hiscontention that it remained as an exemplar for...
that Irish archaeology as we knew it is over. While these publications are pending, theground is still reverberating and i...
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Irish National Strategic Research (INSTAR) programme findings from the first phase 2008-2011: review

  1. 1. Irish National Strategic Research (INSTAR) Programme: Findings From the First Phase 2008-2011: Review Originally posted online on 4 October 2011 at ( Helen Roe Lecture Theatre at the Dublin headquarters of the Royal Society ofAntiquaries of Ireland was the setting for the presentation of nine papers detailing theadvances in our knowledge brought about by the INSTAR project. The one-dayconference was jointly hosted by the Department of Arts, Heritage and theGaeltacht and The Heritage Council. Ian Doyle, Head of Conservation at The HeritageCouncil, chaired the first session and gave the delegates a warm welcome and providedsome remarks concerning the means by which the INSTAR Programme was founded.The first lecture of the morning was Making Christian Landscapes presented byDr. Tomás Ó Carragáin (UCC). In a theme that would emerge as recurrent motif of theconference, he emphasised the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the INSTARprogramme, bringing together academia and commercial consultancies; archaeologistsand historians and the interaction between Irish researchers and their internationally-based colleagues. As a core illustration of this point, the ‘Making Christian Landscapes’project was defined in terms of not just a comparison of the Irish evidence against thecontemporary situation in England, but as part of the broader canvas of Atlantic Europe.The primary tools developed for the project were a database and a GIS application. Themain thrust of the project was the use of Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) toattempt to define the extents of monastic estates. He made the point that this approachof combining landscape analysis with an assessment of the available historical andarchaeological data was fraught with difficulties, but had made some notable successes.In describing the choice of case studies for the project, Ó Carragáin explained that someareas were deliberately chosen as they were known to contain excavated examples of therelatively newly identified ‘Cemetery Settlement’ (or ‘Settlement Cemeteries’, if youprefer) site type. These, he reminded the audience, were unknown to Irish archaeologyonly 10 to 15 years ago, yet as a direct consequence of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom inconstruction are now well recognised as an integral part of the Early Christianlandscape. Such sites were roughly 50m in diameter and contained less than 200-300burials. The relatively low number of graves is taken to suggest that they represent theburial grounds of single kin groups. On the other hand, some sites like Parknahown 5,Co. Laois, contained up to 600 burials. He explained that this association of the livingwith the dead may be interpreted as a breakdown of Classical taboos that requiredseparation between the two spheres. Excavation has shown that some of these sites arerelatively short-lived, but that some survived in use until the 12th century. This directlyopposes the long-held view that non-ecclesiastical burial had declined by the 7thcentury, at the latest. Ó Carragáin explained that these data raise fundamental questionsabout our understanding of the Early Christian period: does this represent a resistanceto Church authority? Is it evidence for the survival of paganism? His answer was anemphatic: No. Some of these sites, such as Faughart, Co. Louth or Camlin, Co.Tipperary, are known to have been situated on ecclesiastical estates and are unlikely tohave been anti-clerical in outlook. Instead he proposes a slightly altered version of the
  2. 2. traditional model, where by 800 AD the majority of burials were on church land, butthat there was no defined church aversion to non-ecclesiastical burials either.Ian Doyle (centre) chairs discussion at the end of Session IHe continued with a detailed examination of the Corca Duibne case study, though thisdid not actually have any known Cemetery Settlements. Here the ecclesiastical focus wasthe monastic foundation at Inis Úasal in Lough Currane, Co. Kerry. Traditionally, thefoundation of the monastery is ascribed to St Finan/Fíonán. The island is known to havebeen the central node of a large ecclesiastical estate. The application of the HLC process,combining historical and placename evidence (e.g. the prevalence of the ‘Termon’element in Townland names), along with archaeological survey data (such as thepresence of a barrow and various cross-slabs along boundary lines) allowed a relativelysecure delineation of the extents of the monastic lands. He notes that this estate wouldhave included a number of ‘secular’ raths and cashels. These lay tenants would havelived somewhat more ecclesiastical or quasi-ecclesiastical lives than the rest of thepopulation, with days set aside for fasting and sexual abstinence. Looking at the broaderlandscape picture, Ó Carragáin and his colleagues have found evidence for theestablishment of family or kin group churches. Comparison of this data with thecontemporary situation in Anglo-Saxon England suggests that Ireland had a muchheavier density of churches (and possibly more than anywhere else in Western Europe).The implication is that, in Ireland, there was a greater range of both nobles and non-nobles who felt entitled to found churches.In conclusion, he argued that the progress made by the project only underscored theimportance of ‘interdisciplinarity’ where historians can learn to ask archaeologicalquestions and vice-versa. He also argued that the HLC approach was not simply apowerful research tool, but had a wider impact in landscape management. In particularhe praised the format of the INSTAR funding in the way that it facilitated research andsimultaneously broadened the scope of that research.Dr. Graeme Warren’s (UCD) presentation on the Neolithic and Bronze AgeLandscapes of North Mayo was introduced by Prof. Seamus Caulfield who wishedto provide what he termed ‘the prehistory of the project’. Caulfield described how the
  3. 3. early work on the Céide field systems during the 70s and 80s was all unfunded, anddepended on voluntary contributions by his students. He described the situation of thattime where fieldwork of the kind he was undertaking could not find funding, thoughactual excavations could. He praised INSTAR for taking a broader view and fundingboth. He also commented on the past difficulties in communicating his results to otheracademics, and praised the current emphasis on a broad engagement with bothacademic and non-specialist audiences. Caulfield’s general theme was that the CéideFields project prefigured many of the positive developments now championed byINSTAR. He also presented cogent arguments to the effect that Céide was the sourceand partial inspiration for both the ‘Riverdance’ phenomenon and The DiscoveryProgramme.When Warren was allowed to take to the lectern, he introduced the Neolithic andBronze Age Landscapes of North Mayo project and the place of the Céide system withinthe broader landscape setting. One of the main objects of the current research was toproduce both academic and popular syntheses of the large series of excavationsundertake in the area over the years, the majority of which have not been published indetail. A large portion of the project has been concerned with integrating all theinformation from the excavations, including specialist reports, stratigraphic data,radiocarbon dates etc. into both publishable report form and a dedicated GIS system.The GIS system has incorporated both old and new data, including a new and moreaccurate survey of the locations of field walls. The new system boasts a minimum levelof accuracy of ±15m for any individual wall, with many having been much moreaccurately surveyed. As both a visualization and quantification resource, the GIS modelis capable of giving a broad landscape context to the fact that 84.5km of theses wallssurvive across almost 40km of North Mayo. Some 116 excavation cuttings(representing c. 4,000 m2) have been undertaken across this landscape, includingexcavations by Ó Nualláin & de Valera, Caulfield and more recent investigations. Thiscombination of so much information from so many sources into a single GIS model isalso capable of utilisation as a landscape management tool. One example given was ofbeing able to chart the destruction of some areas of Neolithic walling under forestry overthe last 20 years.Warren made the point that the coaxial field system plan of the Céide is deeplyembedded within archaeological discourse and that the GIS system allowed us tochallenge these familiar ways of looking at this landscape. To this end he demonstrateda number of computer generated visualisations of the landscape rotating in threedimensions. These allowed him to show how the ‘classic’ Céide system is but a part of amuch larger landscape and part of a range of field wall patterns. An interrogation of thedata shows that the walls now survive only in areas of peatland, while the megalithictombs survive in both peat and dryland locations. The implication being that the walls,too, once covered the majority of the landscape, but have been destroyed. Anotheraspect of the project had been to reassess the radiocarbon determinations alreadyavailable for the various excavated sites. One aspect of this is the agreement with otherresearch that dates provided by the Smithsonian radiocarbon laboratory, undertaken inthe 1970s, are too young. Similarly, dates on charcoal from the UCD laboratory may betoo early, though dates done directly on tree samples are considered to be accurate [edit:
  4. 4. I got this slightly wrong - see response from Dr. Graeme Warren in the comments forcorrections]. One interesting anomaly has been the realisation that a large number ofradiocarbon dates on birch are dated to the exact point in time that the available pollendiagrams suggest there was a massive decrease in birch growth. Overall, Warren arguedthat this approach shows the value of the GIS model in assessing different levels of saleand integrating different strands of research.Dr. Stephen Davis (UCD) spoke on the topic of An Integrated, Comprehensive GISModel of Landscape Evolution & Landuse History in the River BoyneValley. In introducing the project, he first noted that the somewhat unwieldy title hadsince been shortened to the much more manageable The Boyne Valley LandscapeProject. He described that Phase I of the project had concentrated on building the GISmodel and integrating the available data sources, including OSI mapping, SMR,excavations, known lithic scatters and LiDAR data. Phase II included addingpalaeoenvironmental data and commissioning new coring sites for pollen analysis. Henoted that although one particular core did not produce any archaeologically-relevantdata, it did produce good data on the Late Glacial period and is currently being preparedfor publication. Other applications utilised during this phase included Terrestrial LiDARand geophysical survey. In Phase III, due to budget considerations, the focus was chieflyarchaeological. Research concentrated on overlying GIS and LiDAR data, targetedgeophysical survey and viewshed analysis. The analysis of the LiDAR data has added 130new discoveries, and the identification of new sites is still continuing! For example, nearSite A, at Brú na Bóinne an enclosure (designated LP1) has been discovered,measuring c. 120m in diameter. Targeted geophysics added further detail to the picture,by revealing a second site inside the first. This second site appears to be a circulararrangement of pits or postholes – perhaps a timber circle? At Site B an enclosure (SiteB1) has been identified, surrounding the site. Near Site P a further low-profile site (LP2)has been recognised. Here too, targeted geophysics has revealed incredible detail of afurther enclosure. At both Dowth and Ballyboy, evaluation of the LiDAR data hasrevealed what are best described as ‘hollow ways’. Without excavation there is no directproof of date or function, but Davis stuck his neck out and suggested a prehistoric dateand a ritual use.With regard to the visualisations afforded by the GIS models, Davis spoke about the useof Local Relief Models and their part in the discovery of a large rectangular enclosurenear Site P and a second enclosure at Site A. The application of Cumulative ViewshedAnalysis of tomb visibility produced a number of interesting results, including the‘hidden’ nature of Dowth henge. Essentially, the method has shown that the henge islargely invisible on the landscape – the other tombs cannot be seen from it, nor can thehenge be seen from the tombs. Site P was also identified as the only site in the BoyneValley where all three of the major tombs (Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth) aresimultaneously visible. Such snippets alone should provide sufficient fodder fordiscussion, debate and assorted theorising for some time to come.Davis was keen to promoted the ‘spin-offs’ from this project, all of which would havebeen impossible without the initial impetus from INSTAR. These include the MeathEmbanked Enclosures Project and the Hill of Ward Archaeological Project. In the latter
  5. 5. case LEADER funding has been applied for to help sustain a local archaeological initiateto produce a brochure/guide to the area. The project has also made applicationto WorldView-2 for access to their 8 band satellite imagery. This resource providessatellite imagery in various light waves. When combined with LiDAR, the approach isalready producing what Davis hopefully terms ‘subtle anomalies’.Coffee break in the convivial surroundings of the RSAI gardenAfter a coffee break, Session II resumed, under the chairmanship of Mr. Brian Duffy,Chief Archaeologist, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The first topicwas Early Medieval Archaeology Project I&II. Part I was delivered by Dr. AidanO’Sullivan (UCD) who, like many other speakers, emphasised the role of the project as apartnership between the commercial archaeological sector and the academic world -with tangible benefits for both. In his introduction to the project, he described the EarlyChristian period as a source of imagery for Cultural Nationalists of the 19th and20th centuries and, as such it maintained a significant grip on the national psyche. Healso saw the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, and the vast quantities of raw data they produced, as aboon to the study of the period. Alternately, he conceded that these vast amounts ofdata, and the attendant publication crisis, were also deeply problematic. It was withinthis framework that the objectives of EMAP were set out: collation, synthesis andpublication. There was also a strong desire to create useful resources. To this end data,in the form of PDF reports, was made available via the internet, with the intention offeeding back into both academic scholarship and the commercial world. One interestingaspect of the research was their ability to demonstrate that that the volume of data wasnot insurmountable and, with judicious selection, could be tackled and synthesised.O’Sullivan’s final point was the heavy domination of settlement evidence in the numbersof sites excavated.This theme was taken up by Finbar McCormick (QUB) in the second part of thepresentation. He spoke on the organisation of Early Christian settlement in terms ofsocial, ideological, and economic factors. In the first instance, he was keen to point outthat the old model of ‘monks in monasteries and everyone else in raths’ is over.Interrogation of radiocarbon determinations has shown that by the mid-600s rathconstruction had peaked (with the exception of the Ulster raised raths). He described an
  6. 6. apparent secondary peak during the period 700-800 AD as illusionary and a product ofthe shape of the calibration curve. It also appears as though bi-vallate and multi-vallateraths were the earliest in the sequence, predating ‘common’ univallate enclosures.However, the picture appears clouded by what he describes as ‘the Clogher factor’ wherethe early hillfort at Clogher, Co. Tyrone, was replaced by a high status rath. Cashels arealso revealed as a ‘post rath phenomenon’. The relatively newly recognised ‘SettlementCemeteries’ are also revealed as contemporary with rath construction. For McCormickthis raises the question of, if they are contemporary, was there some differentiation instatus or function? However, an analysis of the recovered finds suggests greatsimilarities between raths and the Cemetery Settlements, suggesting a similar socialstanding between the two types. On the other hand, McCormick and his colleagues havemade a clear differentiation between two types of Early Christian site uncovered inexcavation: ones with associated field systems and those without. He sees that rathswithout attached fields may be associated with stock-raising. Based on the survivingcorpus of Early Irish texts, this may be taken as an indicator of higher status dwellings,as opposed to the lower position of those engaged in arable farming. It is these‘complicated’ raths with multiple ditches and field boundaries that are seen as thecentres of working estates, where the chief economic activities were centred on arablefarming. McCormick raised the intriguing, but long-dismissed, idea that some of theselarge complexes could represent ‘proto villages’. At Ratoath, Co. Meath, an analysis ofthe distribution of discarded animal bone has led to the reinterpretation of ‘paddocks’ aspotential house enclosures. He reiterated the need to remember that substantial EarlyChristian houses, like those found at Deer Park Farms, only survived because of thewaterlogged conditions and in regular dryland sites would only have survived as acollection of stakeholes, the postholes of the door jambs and, perhaps, the drip-trench toconvey water away from the thatched roof. A recent illustration of this is the EarlyChristian rath and house the author excavated at Carryduff, Co. Down, where the centralhouse was defined by the slightest of evidence [video]. He also argued that sites such asKnowth, Co. Meath, and Ballywee, Co. Antrim, can be considered as genuine examplesof Early Christian nucleated settlement, with 10 and eight houses respectively. Thisbrough McCormick back to the often-contested assertion by Harold Mytum (1991) thatraths were the preserve of the nobility and that there may well be some merit in it.Examining the dates for mills, McCormick notes that very few predate c. 800 AD. Hesees this as evidence that major changes in the economy were taking place around thistime. Specifically, he sees a move from a subsistence economy to one much morecommercial in scale. In this way, small quern stones, used by individual families, werereplaced with larger, industrial-scale mills. This time frame appears to correlate with aconcurrent decrease in the evidence for cereal drying kilns. Again, this is seen in termsof moving away from individual families, each drying their own small volume of grain,to bringing it to larger-scale commercial centres for drying and processing. The laterkilns would have been large, above-ground structures, more susceptible to erasure fromthe archaeological record. However, he did suggest a possible candidate survivingat Nendrum, Co. Down, though this has yet to be investigated. To my mind this raisesthe intriguing possibility that we are seeing evidence of the Church, having cemented itsgrip on the conscience of the people, consolidating its position by seizing the means ofproduction and processing. In any event, all the available dates cease around 1000 AD
  7. 7. and we are currently left only with questions. If they did abandon the raths where didthe people go? Did they move to dispersed settlements? Did they move to towns? Thereis certainly huge scope for future research in this field.The first portion of the paper: Mapping Death: People, Boundaries &Territories in Ireland 1st to 8th Centuries AD was presented by Dr. EdelBhreathnach (UCD). Like any of the speakers before her, she underlined theinterdisciplinary nature of the project, bringing archaeologists (both commercial andacademic) together with historians, linguists, and a whole host of scientific applications;including DNA and isotopic analyses, along with radiocarbon dating andosteoarchaeology. Bhreathnach was keen to place the Irish evidence, not solely in alocal, Early Christian frame, but in the wider context of Ireland as a frontier zone of theRoman Empire in the Late Antique Period. She spoke of how the Mapping Death projectconcentrated on building a complete cultural and archaeological history of each site.While their online, searchable database contains ‘only’ 160 sites, she was quick to pointout that these are sites researched in depth, providing a true multi-disciplinary analysisof Irish society in the period from 300 – 700 AD. Analysis of this body of datarepresents a huge advance in our understanding of Early Christian death and burial.Some of the questions this data has been applied to include how burial rites andcemeteries reflect practiced religion, ritual acts and belief systems. Another avenue ofthe dead has been the exploration of the ‘Landscape of the Dead’, looking at therelationships that existed between contemporary society and the ancestors, and how theliving negotiated the complexities of existence with and among the dead. The data alsothrows light on the conversion process in Ireland, showing evidence of a lengthyendeavour stretching from 400-700 AD. Bhreathnach was also keen to stress theexternal influences on Ireland, especially in the sense that Christianity came not on itsown, but as part of a package to this frontier zone of the Roman Empire. The additionalitems in that package took the form of a new language (Latin), texts and thoughts. In thelatter instance, these new thoughts become manifest in terms of how the associationsbetween the living and the dead changed over time. In this way the evolution of burialrites and cemetery structuring reflected the structures within contemporary society.While the terms ‘Settlement Cemeteries’ or ‘Cemetery Settlements’ appear to be gainingpopularity, Bhreathnach would argue for either the term ‘Familial Cemeteries’ or‘Familial Settlements’, stressing the primacy of the kin groups to whom they belonged.The information gained from this project is providing detailed pictures of the health andgenetics of the population. However, it is isotopic analysis that is providing someextraordinary insights. In particular, there is evidence for population movements,especially of women, from the west of Ireland to the east, and from the north-east (andpossibly Britain) to the south. This ties in well with early accounts of the mobility ofwomen as they moved for the purposes of marriage. In the question and answer sessionafterwards, Dr. O’Brien spoke about recent isotopic work on E. P. Kelly’s excavation of anumber of skeletons at Bettystown, Co. Meath, discovered in the 1970s [Dr. OBrien hasasked me to note that most of the isotopic/oxygen analysis was undertaken byDr. Jacqueline Cahill Wilson]. She revealed that one of the burials, deposited in anunusually tight (for Ireland) crouched position, actually originated either in NorthAfrica, or the most extreme southerly tip of Spain. Not only did this person get as far as
  8. 8. Meath and die there, the implication must be that he was not alone – at least one personhad accompanied him and was able to ensure that his compatriot was buried in amanner appropriate to his culture. Addressing future recommendations she called forHeritage Council backing to secure EU funding to assist in the integration of the variousdatabases, to move away from the current ‘patchwork’ of resources. Dr. ElizabethO’Brien then demonstrated the ‘Mapping Death’ database, explaining that it wasintended as a starting point for future research, not an end in itself. Her primaryexample was the entry for Ardnagross, Co. Westmeath, showing the detailed records theresource contains and how the data may be effectively mined to extract relevantresearch data.The final session of the day, chaired by Prof. Gabriel Cooney (UCD) was begun by Dr.Barra Ó Donnabháin (UCC), speaking on The People of Prehistoric Ireland:Healthand Demography. He began by defining the human experience as a synergybetween biological and cultural systems, that we as archaeologists may access it throughthe medium of human skeletal remains. Within such a paradigm he argued that the actof burial was a tangible link between these biological and cultural experiences. Onepoint that I found particularly incisive was his contention that actual skeletons hadmade little impact on Irish prehistory, as discussion is generally limited to mortuarypractices. He continued, saying that where skeletal material is assessed in excavationreports, it is frequently relegated to an appendix, making little, if any, impact on thebody of the text. Giving the development of the project, he described Phase I, beginningin 2009, with the process of data collection. This process led to the collation ofinformation on 1100 sites and the commissioning of new radiocarbon dates to assist inthe resolution of chronological issues. Phase II, in 2010, was concerned with updatingthe database of sites and establishing two hard copy libraries of all available osteologicalreports etc., at QUB and UCC. Since that time the emphasis has been on providing asynthesis of the osteological data, with publication being the next anticipated step. Atthe present time the database holds records on 1651 sites where human skeletal materialwas recovered. This ranges from single-line references in antiquarian reports to modernosteological examinations from the latest excavations. In all the database lists c. 3000burials, the majority of which are Bronze Age in date, and the most usual method ofdisposal was by cremation. Ó Donnabháin and his colleagues are currently in theprocess of mining this data mountain and attempting to correlate biological data (age,sex etc.), with evidence for mortuary practices and wider issues of health anddemography. A number of new radiocarbon determinations have also beencommissioned to help resolve problematic dates from other excavations. The examplehe chose was the different ages from the two cremations in the segmented cist atNewtonstewart Castle. One cist returned a determination of 3897±39 BP (UB-6783,2475-2212 cal BC), while the other dated to 3680±38 (UB-6784, 2195-1915 cal BC).Such discrepancies in dating raise questions about the curation and pre-depositionalhistory of human skeletal material, or perhaps the longer term access to the cist grave.As an aside, I would mention that although I was not on site the day the Newtonstewartcist was opened, I was the digger that found it, hidden in the foundations of a 1960sshop ... while using a jackhammer! It remains one of my best finds, and while I was gladto see it published (UJA 64), I’m delighted that it remains the subject of debate andinvestigation.
  9. 9. The author (with jackhammer) at Newtonstewart Castle,shortly before the discovery of the segmented cistÓ Donnabháin also explained that the format of the database used by the project allowspatial analysis of the data to examine regional differences in mortuary practises andpopulation health. He allowed that although there are some issues of archaeologicalvisibility and recording bias, the approach does appear to be revealing genuine culturalbehaviours in the past. What he termed the ‘nuanced interrogation of these data’ isalready producing results. For example, of the 1726 known individuals, children (or ‘nonadults’) are distinctly under represented (c. 25%). Among the adults, there is a similarunder representation of women. Across the Neolithic and Bronze Age it appears that ageand sex demographics are broadly similar. During the Neolithic there are relatively lowmarkers for physiological stress, but there indications of long-term damage to shouldersand backs. This work-related trauma is taken to suggest that there was a large amount ofheavy lifting and portage in these people’s lives. By the Bronze Age there appears to havebeen a diminution in general health, with increased markers for physical stress. There isalso evidence for increases in blunt-force trauma and an upsurge in tooth decay.Outlining plans for the future, he argued that an effort should be made to locate thecurrent whereabouts (and curation details) of the skeletal material. At this time, thelocation and condition of 80% of the material in their database is unknown. Though, toput this in context, this figure does include antiquarian investigations and modernexcavations are much better represented. In his final comments, Ó Donnabháin calledfor the standardising of ostearchaeological methodology, recording analysis andreporting. He also argued that it should be standard practice to publish, not just thesummary results, but the raw data set accumulated during the analysis. Such a movewould allow other researchers to examine and reassess the work in the future and wouldbe a considerable resource for researchers.Dr. Ingelise Stuijts (The Discovery Programme) spoke about WODAN: Developing awood and charcoal database for Ireland. She began by giving a brief history ofthe project and explaining that Phase I began with gauging the desirability of such aresource within the wood identification community and also assessing how informationwas currently stored. The first realisation was that there was no standardisation acrossthe profession. In terms of storing data, many individuals and institutions used their
  10. 10. own in-house database systems, which were largely incompatible with each other. Shealso pointed out that many researchers stored their data in MS Excel spreadsheets and,while useful, are not actually databases. Having decided to create a new database thequestion arose as to how the data would be shared. The idea that it could bedisseminated on disc to interested parties was considered, but ultimately rejected;owing to issues of distribution and the difficulty in knowing of the data you are workingwith is the latest version. From these bases, the aims of the project were to create a newdatabase that pursued high standards (recognised both in Ireland and internationally);accessibility of the data; and built on a secure, robust technology. The project took thedecision to embrace open source ‘cloudcomputing’ to provide a web enabled and webhosted resource. Although not yet ready for public release, Stuijts described some of thefeatures of the resource, including ‘MyWODAN’ where personal projects (eitherresearch or commercial) may be hosted, though not ready for full dissemination. Thereare also flexible query functionality and the ability to produce auto saturation curves.This latter function allows the researcher to gauge the number of individual samplesnecessary to provide a comprehensive assessment of an individual site. In its currentform the database contains detailed information on over 500 sites.Looking to the future, she argues for agreed standards in wood and charcoalidentification, along with standardised outputs. The project is also working to providesuitable pro-forma sheets to be used by field archaeologists to assist in the collection ofsuitable meta-data on the samples excavated. She would also like to see stronger linkswith field archaeologists to allow information to be referred back to the database fromfinal reports and publications. Finally, she argued for the use of the database to belinked to the licenses to export and alter archaeological materials, to ensure the bestlevel of reporting.Dr. Nicki Whitehouse (QUB) presented the results of Cultivating Societies:Accessing the Evidence for Agriculture in Neolithic Ireland. She explainedthat it was a topic close to her personal research interests in the beginnings of theNeolithic across the whole of northwestern Europe. However, she felt that there hadbeen little previous work in linking individual sites to the environmental data and to theeconomy – a situation rectified by the INSTAR funding for this project. As others hadpreviously described, this project wished to create new paradigms through themaximisation of the data mountain produced through commercial excavation during the‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. In particular, the project sought to bring a Bayesian approach toquestions of chronology, while bringing both archaeological and palaeoenvironmentaldata together. The project commissioned 189 new radiocarbon determinations andcollated a further 1433 previously available dates. The project used paired dates in aBayesian framework to significantly refine the available chronology. She identified aproblem in the accessing of much of the ‘grey literature’ resource as there is no centralrepository for archaeological reports. Nonetheless, she did praise the ‘huge goodwill’ theproject generally received from the archaeological community. Once the basic data hadbeen collected, the state of the resource was examined. One result of this process wasthe identification that half of the relevant sites are securely dated, while the other half isnot. Of the dated material, Neolithic houses are particularly well represented, while pitcomplexes are neither as well dated, nor as regularly selected for radiocarbon dating. In
  11. 11. essence, there has been a concentration on dating the very obvious features. Not comingas a huge surprise, the project indentified that charcoal dates tend to be older and thatthere should be a concerted effort to utilise short-lived samples. While I agreewholeheartedly, I have argued elsewhere (Chapple 2008a, 156; see also Ashmore 1999)that while such concerns are well recognised within field archaeology, finding a suitablesingle entity sample is often difficult to achieve.The project also sought to interrogate the robustness of McSparron’s ‘Neolithic HouseHorizon’ where the vast majority of well-dated houses cluster at the beginning of theNeolithic (McSparron 2008). McSparron (using 18 radiocarbon determinations) seesthe dates for these structures as confined to a 100 year (or less) window at the verybeginning of the Neolithic. The project commissioned a further 126 dates on singleentity, short-lived materials. The results demonstrate the robustness of the McSparronmodel, though the use of Bayesian analysis could reduce the time span further, to a 40-100 year period. Similar new dates and Bayesian analysis at Corbally, Co. Kildare, havedemonstrated that settlement here may be broken down into four distinct phases, asopposed to the previous understanding that all the activity was contemporary. Aparticular emphasis was placed by the project on dating the previously under-represented pit complexes. In all, 37 new dates were commissioned for 10 sites. Theresults of this show a general picture of the rectangular house phenomenon beingreplaced by pit complexes. While there is a slight degree of overlap between the twoforms of occupation, it appears to be based on the data from a single site. If I understoodher correctly, the site in question is one excavated under my direction: Site 12 atOakgrove, Gransha, Co. Londonderry (Chapple 2008b). Here a date on charcoal cameback at 4930±70 (Beta-227762, 3943-3583 cal BC). Further dates in short-lived, singleentity materials were undertaken by the ‘Cultivating Societies’ project (Schulting &Reimer in Chapple 2008b, Appendix 7), refining the chronology considerably. At thetime I wrote it up for publication I was unsure as to whether it could realistically bedescribed as a ‘house’ in the way that that term is usually used. My feeling was that,when the recovered evidence was taken together, it must represent some form of‘settlement’, if not an actual ‘house’. I largely stand by this assertion, but feel that ifthere had to be a defined affinity between one group or another, Site 12 should becategorised among the houses.Site 12, Oakgrove, Gransha, Co. Londonderry, during excavation
  12. 12. An examination of recovered weed seeds has also been taken to suggest that during theNeolithic permanent, manured plots were used. While it seems like a simpleobservation, this has radical implications for how we interpret questions of sedentarismand mobility during this period. Whitehouse was also quick to point out that charredplant macrofossils are only part of the picture and involve questions of survival anddiscovery. To demonstrate this point, she pointed to the evidence recoveredfrom Clowanstown 1, Co. Meath, where analysis of waterlogged material demonstratedthe continued importance of wild varieties in the Early Neolithic diet.In assessing the available pollen records the project found that although some 400pollen cores have been taken over the last 80 to 100 years, only 70 were consideredsufficiently well dated and of use to the needs of the project. One of the questions beinginvestigated is the evidence or spatial variability in events such as the Elm Decline andhow it is actually associated with the beginnings of the Irish Neolithic. Another aspect ofworking with the pollen diagrams is that not all have sufficient radiocarbon dates (andin the right places). To circumvent this difficulty, the project made use of ‘Age DepthModelling’, where a mathematical model is employed to create ‘virtual’ radiocarbondates for any given place on the core. To date over 700 age models have been createdand the elm decline may now be confidently dated to the period 4327-3881 cal BC – aperiod of 946 cal years. Within this data there also appears to b evidence of ageographical lag between the north and the west of the island. However, Whitehouseadmits that more work is needed. There also appears to a correlation betweenreforestation in the period 3400-3300 cal BC and the end of the rectangular house‘building boom’. She suggests that this may coincide with the dates for Whittle’sarguments for a rise in the construction of enclosures and cursus monuments.The final speaker of the day was Prof. Przemysław Urbańczyk (Polish Academy ofSciences) who talked about INSTAR and Archaeological Research FundingInitiatives. For those of us not familiar with him and his work, he described hisbackground in Irish Archaeology and his association with INSTAR in particular. Inparticular he charted the vicissitudes of funding for the programme and, despite thereduced investment in the later phases, saw much to recommend. In particular hewished to stress the achievements of the programme and the results achieved. Heargued for the value of such a programme and compared its existence and success to thesituations in both Norway and his native Poland. He described how in Poland theNational Heritage Institute allocates money to a much larger number of small projects,versus the small number of INSTAR projects. While he sees that the Polish systemmakes ‘more people happy’, the Irish system has returned projects that have had muchmore major impacts on our understanding of the subject as a whole. He also saw that inboth Norway and Poland most of the money spent by the state was spent on themanagement of the existing resource (curation, cataloguing etc.) as opposed to INSTAR,which has made meaningful new leaps forward in our knowledge. There are no large-scale projects funded through central government in either of these countries, and hefelt that the Irish situation may well be unique. This uniqueness was expressed not justin terms of the national scale of INSTAR, but in the bringing together of both academicand private stakeholders. For achieving these goals, it should be the envy of Europe.
  13. 13. While he admitted that the INSTAR programme has not been prefect, it was hiscontention that it remained as an exemplar for others to follow. He also spoke on theimportance of not just seeing Ireland in terms of it relationships with Britain, but as partof a Europe-wide canvas. This is not simply a plea to ‘big picture’ archaeology, but aresponse to the reality that the majority of the funding coming from European centralfunds is keen on examining this theme and that projects (however worthy) that fail tolook at the widest picture will not succeed. Practically his final words to the assembleddelegates spoke of the achievements of the INSTAR programme: “What you have done:this is really great”As one might imagine, all the speakers were concerned to demonstrate that the fundsentrusted to them had paid dividends – not ‘merely’ in terms of the exciting andextraordinary results that had been achieved. In his presentation, Ó Carragáin explainedthat the ‘Making Christian Landscapes’ project had employed two core researchers,supported two PhD students and also resulted in various publications and conferencepapers, including the organisation of a dedicated conference in UCC to be held in 2012.Dr. Graeme Warren’s discussion of the effects of the ‘Neolithic and Bronze AgeLandscapes of North Mayo’ project also promoted the importance of the employmentopportunities created and their commitment to dissemination of their results. StephenDavis spoke of the truly impressive list of collaborators that ‘The Boyne ValleyLandscape Project’ had accrued, underlining the importance of the interdisciplinarynature of INSTAR. He also discussed the job creation aspect of the project, and whilethere were no long term jobs created, a number of short contracts were awarded. On topof this, the project facilitated two PhD and two MA students. Davis also wished toemphasise the more intangible, but no less important, benefits of capacity building. Theinterdisciplinary scope of the project has changed how many of those who participatedin it now work and see the contributions that can be brought by their colleagues. Dr.Aidan O’Sullivan told how EMAP had already resulted in 32 public presentations, 20publications, and one conference, along with having funded, supported and facilitatedvarious MA and PhD scholars. EMAP has also made their reports directly available fromtheir website. In Bhreathnach’s summation of the ‘Mapping Death’ project she notedthat it had employed five part-time researchers, along with producing various publishedpapers and conference presentations. The ‘People of Prehistoric Ireland’ had similaroutputs, including the hard-copy libraries at QUB and UCC, along with a list of bothacademic and popular publications and public presentations. Similarly, Stuijts, in hersummation of the achievements of the WODAN project, mentioned various conferencepresentations (including one in Japan), four organised workshops, one PhD thesisfacilitated, along with the creation of one full-time and three part-time researchpositions. The ‘Cultivating Societies’ project was similarly prodigious, with variousseminars organised and the employment of three researchers. In particular, the‘Cultivating Societies’ project will soon have an issue of the prestigious Journal ofArchaeological Science dedicated to its work.There is only one thing that the various INSTAR projects have not done yet and that isto deliver the major syntheses that have been promised. All of the speakers emphasisedtheir commitment to producing these volumes and, from what I can gather, the texts arewell advanced. If I was to isolate one theme that came from this conference it would be
  14. 14. that Irish archaeology as we knew it is over. While these publications are pending, theground is still reverberating and in shock. But when they arrive and are digested, we willawake with new eyes and look upon an unfamiliar landscape for the first time. I, for one,can’t wait.References:Ashmore, P. J. 1999 ‘Radiocarbon dating: avoiding errors by avoiding mixedsamples’ Antiquity 73, 124-130.Chapple, R. M. 2008a ‘The absolute dating ofarchaeological excavations in Ulstercarried out by Northern Archaeological Consultancy Ltd., 1998-2007’ Ulster Journalof Archaeology 67, 153-181.Chapple, R. M. 2008b ‘The excavation of Early Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites atOakgrove, Gransha,county Londonderry’ Ulster Journal of Archaeology 67, 153-181.McSparron, C. 2008 ‘Have you no homes to go to?’ Archaeology Ireland 22.3, 18-21.Mytum, H. 1991 The Origins ofEarly Chritian Ireland, London.Notes:As the major theme of the conference was the relaying of the results from so manyimaginative projects, the data was, at times, flying thick and fast. I hope that I have donejustice to all of the speakers at the event and their projects. Nonetheless, I do sincerelyapologise if, in the rush to write notes and keep up with the pace of delivery, I havemisrepresented or misquoted anyone. If so, please contact me and I will endeavour toset the record straight.I realise that ‘Early Medieval’ is the generally accepted term these days. However, as Ihave already stated, I dislike and distrust this neologism and refuse to use it.Throughout this paper, I have used my preferred term: Early Christian.