Archaeology (Scholarly Articles)

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  • Publication
    Holocene vegetation dynamics, landscape change and human impact in western Ireland as revealed by multidisciplinary, palaeoecological investigations of peat deposits and bog-pine in lowland Connemara
    (MDPI, 2021-11-15) O’Connell, Michael; Jennings, Eneda; Molloy, Karen
    Palaeoecological investigations, involving pollen analysis, dendrochronology, and radiocarbon dating of bog-pine, provide the basis for reconstruction of vegetation dynamics, landscape development, and human impact in two contrasting parts of lowland northern Connemara, western Ireland, namely Ballydoo and Derryeighter in the east, and Renvyle/Letterfrack/Cleggan at the Atlantic coast some 40 km to the west. The history of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is traced in detail. Standout features include the dominant role the tree played from the early Holocene onwards and especially at Ballydoo, its ability to grow on peat surfaces (so-called pine flush) over the course of several millennia during the mid-Holocene (centred on c. 5 ka), and its demise in a three-step fashion to become regionally extinct at c. 2.3 ka. The factors influencing these developments, including climate change, are discussed. Another natural phenomenon, namely the spread of blanket bog, is shown to be an on-going process since the early mid-Holocene, with accelerated spread taking place during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The course of human impact, as reflected in pollen records and in archaeological field monuments, including megaliths and prehistoric stone walls, is reconstructed in detail.
  • Publication
    Bog-deal in Co. Clare, with particular reference to bog-pine and its significance
    (Shannon Archaeological and Historical Society, 2022) O'Connell, Michael; Power, Rosemary
    The results of radiocarbon dating of bog-deal (three pine and one oak) from the north-west Burren (Gragan West) and south-west Clare (Binvoran and Tullaher) are reported on. The Binvoran and Tullaher samples yielded remarkably early dates (ca. 8800 and 8600 cal. BP, respectively) while the Gragan West sample dated to ca. 4900 cal. BP, a date regarded as typical for bog-pine, especially in western Ireland, where at this time pine growing on bogs was a widespread but relatively short-lived phenomenon. The significance of the new results are discussed in the light of much larger, recently published datasets from Counties Galway (Connemara) and Mayo. The contribution that dating of bog-pine can make to resolving issues, such as whether pine survived in Ireland, and specifically in Co. Clare, through to modern times is emphasised.
  • Publication
    Irish settlements and survival
    (Center for Irish Programs, Boston College,, 2021-03) Dempsey, Karen; Daith Ó Corráin
    [No abstract available]
  • Publication
    Post-glacial vegetation and landscape change in upland Ireland with particular reference to Mám Éan, Connemara
    (Elsevier, 2021-01-20) O'Connell, Michael
    Holocene vegetation dynamics of mid-western Ireland are discussed with particular reference to the Galway and Mayo uplands, the development of upland blanket bog and the history of pine and yew. A detailed pollen profile from Mám Éan (Maumeen), a corrie lake, provides insights into environmental change in upland Connemara where, in recent decades, overgrazing and peat erosion have given rise to serious environmental concerns. Vegetation dynamics are broadly comparable to those in lowland Connemara and also upland sites in the Nephin Begs, Co. Mayo. The available evidence suggests corrie glaciation in the Younger Dryas. The oldest sediments show the usual early Holocene progression from open herbaceous communities to woody vegetation dominated by juniper, tree birch, and finally hazel. Tall canopy trees then spread, including pine, and elm and oak, and later alder (at ca. 7.7 ka). In the interval 10.2 4.8 ka, pine was dominant and for much of this time fires were frequent. There is a distinct mid-Holocene Elm Decline and a short Neolithic Landnam phase that is followed by woodland regeneration involving, at first, mainly pine and later yew. 14C dating of bog-pine from upland sites sheds new light on pine and upland blanket bog development in the mid-Holocene. It is shown that while blanket bog was initiated at Mám Éan by ca. 10.8 ka, the present-day treeless landscape has come about within the last 1000 years as a result of sustained human impact, that has also resulted in severe erosion of minerogenic and, more recently, peaty soils.
  • Publication
    Tending the ‘Contested’ castle garden: Sowing seeds of feminist thought
    (Cambridge University Press, 2020-02-09) Dempsey, Karen
    Medieval women are typically portrayed as secluded, passive agents within castle studies. Although the garden is regarded as associated with women there has been little exploration of this space within medieval archaeology. In this paper, a new methodological framework is used to demonstrate how female agency can be explored in the context of the lived experience of the medieval garden. In particular, this study adopts a novel approach by focusing on relict plants at some medieval castles in Britain and Ireland. Questions are asked about the curation of these plants and the associated social practices of elite women, including their expressions of material piety, during the later medieval period. This provides a way of questioning the ‘sacrality’ of medieval gardening which noblewomen arguably used as a devotional practice and as a means to further their own bodily agency through sympathetic medicine.
  • Publication
    Ring(s) of truth: responses regarding curious ring-marks at Dowth
    (Wordwell, 2019) Fenwick, Joseph P.
    Joe Fenwick shares some responses to his question regarding curious ring-marks at Dowth.
  • Publication
    Planting new ideas: A feminist gaze on medieval castles
    (Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2021-01) Dempsey, Karen
    The theme of the Château Gaillard 29 Conference “Vivre au Château” is very timely: studies of medieval castles have great potential to generate meaningful archaeologies, including biographies and life cycles as well as social meanings of architecture, landscapes and material culture. This article takes an inclusive (or feminist) archaeological approach to two castles in Ireland, offering an alternative to narratives of power or bodily prowess. The first is Adare, a large baronial castle located in mid-southwestern Co. Limerick, and the second is Lea, Co. Laois, found within the western borderlands of the Anglo-Norman heartland in Leinster. The castles are geographically distant but both form part of the ancestral landholdings of the Geraldines in Ireland. Different questions are asked of women’s daily life and their gendered roles, utilising excavation results, an ecological survey, as well as evidence from allegorical prayers, inscribed slates and studies of medieval gardens and relict plants. Explorations of daily life are important and play a crucial part in revealing how social values were constructed, enacted and reflected. In order to attend to the daily sphere, we must integrate people, places and things within our scholarship to enrich our understanding of the medieval world.
  • Publication
    Rathcroghan revisited: A renewed archaeological and geophysical exploration of selected areas of the focal ritual complex
    (Navan Research Group, 2020) Fenwick, Joseph P.; Daly, Eve; Rooney, Shane
    A renewed programme of geophysical survey was implemented over selected archaeological features in the fields surrounding Rathcroghan mound during the summers of 2013 and 2014. This was undertaken as part of the Rathcroghan ArchaeoGeophysial Field-School, a combined interdisciplinary field-research and teaching initiative based at NUI Galway. An electromagnetic conductivity survey was deployed to map the variable depth of soils and glacial sediments in the immediate vicinity of the great mound. In addition, a suite of geophysical techniques were applied over two 40m x 40m sample survey areas, targeting parts of the 360m Enclosure, encircling the focal ritual complex, and the Northern Enclosure, situated on the summit of a glacial ridge that extends from the north-eastern flank of the mound. Few new details relating to the enclosing element of the 360m Enclosure emerged, but the combined survey results resolved a number of questions relating to later episodes of cultivation over its sediment-filled fosse. By contrast, the high-resolution survey of the Northern Enclosure revealed a wealth of new detail and demonstrated that this remarkable structure had been replaced episodically over a number of generations. The overall survey results confirm that the monuments identified through geophysical means at Rathcroghan share broad similarities with those revealed through excavation and field-survey at the other Irish royal sites of Navan Fort, Tara and Knockaulin, in addition to some other cognate sites of predominantly Iron Age date.
  • Publication
    Multisensorial musings on miniature matters
    (Akademie Verlag, 2020-11-12) Dempsey, Karen; Jasperse, Jitske
    This issue of ‘Das Mittelalter’ explores the voice of small things.2 We approach artefacts that are no bigger than one’s hand not as silent witnesses to people’s lives, but as agents that actively engage with human beings through the senses, shape their social identities and evoke emotions.3 For close to forty years or more, archaeologists have argued that medieval people understood objects to have particular social meaning as indicated by the curation of heirlooms, the re-use of prehistoric axes as grave gifts, or the special relationship to devotional objects such as pilgrim badges.4 A similar situation exists across other cognate disciplines from discussions of seals in art history or the particular meanings of things in plays as discussed by literary scholars.5 When the miniature scale is addressed, it often is in terms of the uniqueness of an object with a particular emphasis placed on craftwork and materials or related to their biographies and histories of use. Much less attention has been paid to bodily, sensorial and emotive experiences, that is, the ‘corporeal choreographies’ that can result from the engagement with the diminutive.6
  • Publication
    Neolithic ‘Celtic’ Fields? A reinterpretation of the chronological evidence from Céide Fields in north-western Ireland
    (Cambridge University Press, 2017-01-09) Whitefield, Andrew
    It has long been claimed that the coaxial stone boundaries of Céide Fields, County Mayo, are a phenomenon of the Irish Early Neolithic analogous to later prehistoric Celtic fields in all but age. This study argues that the age disparity is an artefact of the research methods, and that the age of the main Céide Fields complex has been overestimated by as much as two-and-a-half millennia.
  • Publication
    Home is Where the Heart(h) is': investigating medieval houses in Ireland 1100-1600 AD
    (Wordwell, 2020-03-07) Dempsey, Karen; Irish Research Council
    {No abstract available]
  • Publication
    Lea Castle: looking outwards
    (Brepols Publishers, 2018) Dempsey, Karen
    Lea Castle, Co. Laois, is located on the River Barrow where it occupied an important position at the borders of three medieval territories. The castle and landscape are currently neglected and in a poor state of repair. Although the castle is understudied, some recent funded research has been carried out at the castle. The premise of this paper is to introduce the castle and discusses some interesting aspects of the medieval landscape including a series of fish ponds and a possible medieval vill.
  • Publication
    A renewed programme of discovery at Tara
    (Wordwell, 2016) Schot, Roseanne; Fenwick, Joseph P.; Beusing, Ruth; Rassman, Knut; Condit, T.
    [No abstract available]
  • Publication
    More than meets the eye
    (Wordwell, 2008) Fenwick, Joseph P.; Corns, Anthony; Shaw, Robert
    [No abstract available]
  • Publication
    The magnetic presence of queen Medb: magnetic gradiometry at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon
    (Wordwell, 1999) Fenwick, Joseph P.; Brennan, Yvonne; Barton, Kevin; Waddell, John
    [No abstract available]
  • Publication
    The late prehistoric 'Royal Site' of Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon: An enduring paradigm of enclosed sacred space
    (Navan Research Group, 2018) Fenwick, Joseph P.
    Rathcroghan (Cruácha), like the other late prehistoric royal sites of Tara (Temair), Co. Meath, Navan Fort (Emain Macha), Co. Armagh, and Knockaulin (Dún Ailinne), Co. Kildare features prominently in the literary imagination of early medieval Ireland. These places are presented as royal strongholds, distinguished cemeteries and the loci of great assemblies, a fading memory of an heroic pagan past eclipsed, it would seem, by the truth and light of Christianity. Recent archaeological field research and excavation, however, indicates that these places served not as great royal residences but instead as regional cult centres whose political and symbolic significance persisted long after their supposed demise. This article examines the archaeological evidence from Rathcroghan against a backdrop of comparative evidence from Tara, Navan Fort and Knockaulin. Despite superficial differences, these great royal sites share much in common, which seems to indicate a general accord in terms of ritual, ceremony and religious belief across much of the island of Ireland throughout late prehistory. The article further proposes that these centres of cult and kingship might have had a surviving archaeological influence above and beyond the literary landscapes in which they figure so prominently. Perhaps the unique form and layout of early Christian settlement in Ireland, which developed largely during the conversion period, might owe as much to the influence of these pre-existing royal sites and centuries-old vernacular tradition as it does to canonical law and Biblical allusion.
  • Publication
    Gender and medieval archaeology: storming the castle
    (Cambridge University Press, 2019-06-17) Dempsey, Karen; Horizon 2020
    Despite more than three decades of feminist critique, archaeological scholarship remains predominantly focused on the exploration of patriarchal narratives and is, therefore, complicit in reinforcing structural inequalities. Questions must be asked of how the construction of archaeological knowledge affects representation and impacts upon our 'archaeologies'. This article explores the relative absence of gendered approaches within archaeology through the lens of later medieval archaeology, with a micro-focus on castle studies in Britain and Ireland. Are there reasons for the silence in relation to gender in the archaeology of the later Middle Ages, and what lessons are there for bringing about a more inclusive archaeology?
  • Publication
    Beyond the martial façade: gender, heritage and medieval castles
    (Taylor & Francis, 2019-07-02) Dempsey, Karen; Gilchrist, Roberta; Ashbee, Jeremy; Sagrott, Stefan; Stones, Samantha
    Gendered interpretations are rare both within castle-studies and heritage discourses on medieval castles. Yet, castles hold potential to inform multi-vocal accounts of the medieval past and to inspire meaningful heritage interpretations to achieve greater societal impact. This article explores the role that gender currently plays in interpretations of medieval castles in Britain, supported by three case-studies written by heritage professionals. The enduring narrative of militarism at medieval castles sites is discussed, together with issues of authenticity in relation to the historical record, which is in itself biased and inherently gendered. Outcomes from a collaborative workshop highlight the need to address interpretative issues where gender is considered to equate to 'making women visible'. Finally, we pose the question: What makes a 'good gendered interpretation' at a public heritage site?
  • Publication
    Understanding 'Hall-Houses': Debating Seigneurial buildings in Ireland in the 13th century
    (Taylor & Francis, 2017-11-24) Dempsey, Karen; Irish Research Council
    THE SEIGNURIAL HALL and chamber have been assumed, in both Britain and Ireland, to be typically located in the only building to generally survive on medieval residential sites. In England this idea has seen some revision, but in Ireland there has been little recent scholarship on medieval residential spaces. As a consequence, the term 'hall-house' is still used by Irish scholars as a label for some two-storey, 13th-century buildings, providing both a description and interpretation. The inference is that these buildings acted as both halls and elite residences at the same time during the High to Late Middle Ages. This contradicts what we know of the complex social codes of the time. Drawing on new empirical research, this article challenges the 'hall-house' classification, and explores different ways in which the spaces of these Irish medieval buildings can be better understood.
  • Publication
    Rectangular chamber-towers and their medieval halls: A recent look at the buildings formerly described as “Hall-Houses”
    (Presse Universitaires de Caen, 2016) Dempsey, Karen
    The interpretation of the 13th-century castles formerly described as “hall-houses” has recently been a contentious topic in Irish (and Scottish) castle-studies2 . Little interpretive analysis of these buildings had been conducted before Tadhg O’Keeffe’s3 recent work and this author’s doctoral research entitled Medieval Halls and Rectangular ChamberTowers in Thirteenth-Century Ireland. Many scholars in Ireland labelled these 13th-century masonry structures as halls but also suggested that they were also used as residences; which of course, is a contradiction in terms4 . In studies of medieval architecture we understand that at their most basic function medieval chambers were “private” spaces and their associated halls constituted “public” spaces (in the sense of being places of communal gathering and feasting). Medieval understandings of “public” and “private” were certainly different to our understandings of these same concepts today; however, we can be certain that a hall, acting as a “public” building, could not be a residence of a lord. The focus of this short paper is to demonstrate that the revised understandings of Norman domestic planning5 in France and Britain are thoroughly applicable to the buildings mistakenly described as “hall-houses” in Ireland.