RTE will be showing a new three-part tv series in May, Secrets of the Irish Landscape, presented by Derek Mooney. It deals with the history of the landscape and should be very interesting. It will be interesting to see if the series follows the high-quality route of recent series like Secrets of the Stones or goes down a more traditional, misty path. The press release for the show can be found after the break.
This is the powerpoint from my talk at the Craft and People conference in the British Museum on Friday last. It was an excellent conference in an amazing venue. Thanks to the organisers and other presenters and attendees!
The Heritage Council have had a phenomenal response to their archaeological excavation tours at the Bishop's Palace in Kilkenny and have decided to extend them. A 'Dig Log' of the excavations can be viewed on Facebook.
Two tours will take place on Wed 4th - Thurs 5th @ 2.30pm daily. Booking is necessary. Contact Mary at email@example.com or Tel: 056- 7770777. Meeting at the Heritage Council gates.
More info in the press release.
The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland has announced a photography competition open to both members and non-members. They are looking for photographs that best capture "Ireland's Archaeology" and will be giving Heritage Cards, which allow free admission to OPW-run heritage sites in Ireland for a year, to two winners, as well as featuring twelve photographs on their website.
Full details here.
This is a guest post originating as an email by archaeologist Dr. Triona Nicholl to the UCD School of Archaeology's Early Medieval and Viking Age Research Group (EMVARG). The group is planning an experimental event later in the summer, as part of the pot-production experiments I previously posted about, led by Dr. Aidan O'Sullivan. The intention is to use these recipes to cook up a feast using some of the reproduction pots.
The banquet will include three courses:
Essentially a bread dough. Mix together flour, water and a pinch of salt until you have a soft, pliable dough. Do this by eye and by feel - it shouldn't be a sticky dough and it shouldn't be too short either. Once dough is made, break off small pieces ca. the size of a golf ball and press them flat between your palms until ca. 2-3mm thick (the idea is to get a thin, crispy cracker-type end product, rather than a doughy, heavy bread type).
The biscuits are best cooked on an iron skillet but broken pot sherds placed on top of glowing coals can also be used. This works just as well and can give multiple hands something to be doing. Check frequently to make sure they don't burn and turn once during cooking.
Savoury variations: Add more salt, spices or herbs to the dough as desired.
Sweet: Add honey, finely diced apple, small berries such as currants.
Same method for both the beef and bacon versions. You need to heat the water first. NB - All pots must be AT LEAST half full of water/stew/apples whatever, at all times when cooking over an open fire (any less and the pots will crack/shatter). This raises an interesting question in terms of Irish ceramic finds as it's damn near impossible to boil a pot of water over an open fire without a lid... So, use your imaginations! Add diced beef, onions and root vegetables and cook gently for at least an hour until meat is cooked and veg are tender, remembering to keep rotating the pot towards the heat at all times. The buttermilk from making butter (see below) can also be added for extra flavour. Any herbs, nettles (pick the young shoots, they have the best flavour) should be added just before the end to allow the sting of the nettle to be cooked off but without losing all the flavour. Use plenty of herbs. Remember to add salt *after* serving in wooden bowls.
Bacon takes a little less time to cook. The bacon should be a joint of smoked bacon by the way, rashers won't cut the mustard here! Cut the bacon into small dice and add to the boiling water with chopped onions. Add the mushrooms after ca. 15 min and allow to simmer for a further 15 min. Add herbs and cream before serving.
Tip: If the beef stew is lacking a bit of flavour, remember that smoked bacon and cream can rescue pretty much any dish. A bottle of dark ale wouldn't do the beef stew any harm either...
Very simple. get some cream (ca. 1L), tip it into a bowl. Make up a whisk using some small willow twigs (willow contains a natural antiseptic and so reduces risk of introducing bacteria) bound together with string. Start whisking!
Takes a long time and takes even longer on a warm day (make sure you do this in the shade if it's a warm, sunny day, otherwise you'll end up with a gooey, butter 'parfait' instead of a nice, solid pat of butter) and for some reason, can be well nigh impossible to do on a day with thundery weather.
When the butter begins to separate from the buttermilk, gather the butter into a clump with your hand and transfer to a shallow wooden bowl. Spread the clump flat so that it's ca. 2cm thick. Pour a dollop of clean water over it and begin pressing the water into the butter with the back of a spoon. As you do this, you'll see the water turn milky as the buttermilk is pressed out of the butter. Drain this off and repeat this cleaning process until the last water runs off clear, showing you that all the buttermilk (or as much as is possible with this method) has been removed.. The more buttermilk you have in the butter, the more sour it will taste. Add salt and herbs as desired. Leave to stand in a cool place, covered with a light cloth.
You can make a good portion of fresh cheese using two liters of buttermilk. Very simple to make - just tip it all into a pot, cover with a lid and stand close to, but not directly in the heat. Rotate the pot as before and check every now and again to see if the curds and whey have separated. Once they have fully separated (you should see a large, round clump of 'cheese' floating under the surface of the whey) take the pot off the heat fully and leave to stand for ca. 20 min. You then need to separate the cheese from the whey. You can do this using a cheesecloth or it can also be effectively done just taking your time and carefully using the back of a spoon. You want to try and minimise breaking up the curds - otherwise you get a very crumby cheese instead of a nice, soft one. The whey can also be added to the stews if wished, drunk (if folk are of that persuasion - you should at least give it a taste for early medievalnesses sake!) and I'm promised that it's the ultimate natural face cleanser. Take it or leave it!
You can now add chopped herbs and salt to the cheese. Leave to stand in a cool place, covered with a light cloth.
As per making butter, just stop whisking when you get to the cream stage!!
Again, very simple. Peel the apples and chop them roughly. Add them and berries (if using) to a pot, ensuring they almost fill the pot that you choose to use - see the note on cracking above. Add a small cup of water and place the pot close to, but not in the direct heat. Rotate pot as before and stir regularly - remember not to tap the spoon on the side of the pot after stirring!! Add more water during cooking if necessary. Once the fruit is soft, serve warm topped with honey, chopped hazelnuts and freshly whipped cream.
Top Tips for Cooking in Ceramic Pots
- Pots at least half full with liquid/content at all times- Rotate pots regularly to distribute the heat- NEVER tap the spoon on the rim of the pot after stirring- NEVER add salt to food being cooked in a ceramic pot- Bank coals around the pots rather than standing the pot base directly on them- Only use hot water for cleaning pots, never fairy liquid etc. The ceramic can't take it.
Thanks to Dr. Triona Nicholl for letting me publish this info! Triona based much of this on recipes developed in the Iron Age Village at Lejre, Denmark (so thanks to them too!). I will hopefully be attending the experimental cook off later in the summer and will post photos, videos and maybe even a review of the cooking on show.
The School of Archaeology in UCD has recently inaugurated the UCD Experimental Archaeology and Ancient Technologies Centre at Roebuck, on the UCD Campus. This is a space where UCD Health and Safety has allowed burning, smashing and smelting of anything and everything, all for the glory of archaeology!
One of the project going on in the experimental centre involves the production and firing of replica prehistoric and medieval pots. This work has been reported on through the UCD Early Medieval and Viking Age Research Group (EMVARG) Facebook page and on the School's Facebook page but I thought the material would be of interest to a wider audience.
The photos above show the collection of clay and sand/gravel for the production of pots as well as a few of the pots produced for the first experimental firing in the centre. The video below shows the recovery of souterrain ware from a kiln following an initial firing.
The experimental work described here ties in with an undergraduate module in experimental archaeology being offered at UCD. More work is planned over the summer and I'll hopefully be able to keep updating the blog with more photos and info. Thanks to Dr. Aidan O'Sullivan for giving me permission to publish this material!
Seandalaiocht in the early days
After a long absence and a longer PhD, Seandalaiocht is officially back in business and I begin posting to the blog today. Thanks for continuing to visit the site (14,228 unique visitors to date!), I hope you enjoy future posts and please do comment or contact me with any queries, comments or suggestions.
Its not long since Google Streetview went live in Ireland, and we had a quick look at a few of the archaeological sites it allows the more rain-averse archaeological enthusiasts to peruse, but Google shows no sign of stopping there. Besides adding significantly to their detailed satellite imagery of Ireland, they have also sent their Streetview trike to a number of major tourist attractions, including a fair few old ones, around Ireland to give us a trikes-eye view.
I haven't gone through the full list but a quick look at the Rock of Cashel and Dublin Castle shows the potential, particularly handy if you can't get to a particular site and you need to check architectural features, something about its landscape setting, or you just fancy a goo.
Check after the break for the full list of Irish sites added to Streetview.
Even in the Early Medieval period dentists were sadists.
The Early Medieval Archaeology Project is a collaborative research initiative that has been running for a number of years based out of UCD and QUB and funded by the Heritage Council's superb, and endangered, INSTAR research grants. It has just announced the publication of its latest round of reports on settlements in Early Medieval Ireland as well as a revision of its intimidating Bibliography of Early Medieval Archaeology in Ireland. These are massively important pieces of work, particularly for researchers, and there are few parallels for this kind of work outside of Ireland.
The project has been releasing reports on its work annually for the last couple of years and their work has involved the (figurative) surveying of pretty much every site ever excavated dating to the Early Medieval period in Ireland, particularly settlement sites. All of this will be drawn together in a forthcoming monograph to be published by the Royal Irish Academy. You can read more about it on the EMAP website, Facebook page and blog.
This kind of synthetic and exhaustive consideration of the archaeological evidence from Ireland is one of the massively positive results of the Celtic Tiger boom and developer-funded archaeology. It, and other projects like it, have already begun, based on the abundance of sites excavated in the last two decades, to transform the way we understand periods like the Iron Age and Early Medieval period in Ireland. Hopefully the minuscule amount of money required to undertake more such research isn't withdrawn by the government in the coming years, thus squandering the massive amount of money, sweat and back-problems put into generating so much of the grey literature that makes this kind of research possible.
I am genuinely humbled to find that the blog has been shortlisted for the Irish Blog Awards 2011 in the Education/Science category. This is a surprise on a number of fronts, but mainly because I still find it hard to believe people actually read my ramblings, never mind value them in some small way.
The blog is now listed alongside some seriously impressive blogs that I have long admired.