Readers of Archaeology Ireland may be interested to note that a number of indexes/lists have been uploaded to the Wordwell website which will make finding articles very easy. The lists were compiled by Mr Eoin Bairéad.
Map of Europe showing the countries involved in the workshop
I returned yesterday evening from a workshop entitled Iron and Change in Europe. It was my first experience of a European funded, European-level project. The topic discussed: iron technology from the Iron Age to about 1000AD is a crucial one for archaeologists which is generally not given a lot of thought, even (ironically) by Iron Age specialists. We still don't in many cases know the answers to basic questions like who made iron and iron artefacts? Where, how, and why? The workshop may have been the start of a serious effort to answer these questions right across Europe.
One brilliant element was a series of ten minute presentations, one for each country involved (I gave the Irish one, all of the presentations answered the same research questions, you can see them in my powerpoint below), which gave a quick overview of iron technology and its place in society all over Europe and in lots of different time periods. These were also fleshed out in corresponding 2000 word summaries collated in the workshop handbook. Getting my hands on that alone was worth the trip to London! Luckily for everyone else it will be made available online soon too.
The rest of the workshop was mainly about discussing ways to answer these questions through new methodologies, sharing of expertise, more workshops, summer schools, studentships, exchanges etc. One other important theme discussed was the dissemination of information about iron to other archaeologists. This is very important at a basic level of collecting the right information which can then be used to answer all our outstanding questions (slag is all too often discarded as rubbish, much as flint debitage was until more recent and enlightened times).
Hopefully the buzz from the workshop doesn't wear off now and the EU gives the convenors Peter Halkon and Vincent Serneels more money to kick-start iron research in Europe.
As a young undergraduate student (as opposed to a young PhD student), one of my first excavations was in Belderrig, Co. Mayo (I've been back many times since). Belderrig, just down the road from the famous Céide Fields is the home of Prof. Seamus Caulfield who, while retired, continues to entertain and educate UCD students who visit the excellent Belderrig Study Centre every year.
A big part of every student's experience when they visit are Seamus's famous walks around the area; unfit city-slicker students chase after him up and down fields being told about landscapes, archaeology and folklore before ending up in the local pub where he usually proceeds to beat everyone at pool.
Anyway to get to the point, one of my favourite excursions is to Dun Briste at Downpatrick head to the east of Belderrig. This is a spectacular sea stack which appears to have become detached from the mainland some time in the early medieval or medieval periods and still has archaeology remaining on it. Seamus uses it as a brilliant illustration of the truth that can be found at the base of many stories preserved in local folklore, to paraphrase Seamus: the observation of folklore is often very accurate even if the explanation is not.
Anyway he often told us that he had been out on Dun Briste as part of a documentary for RTE, a frightening experience by all accounts, apparently the stack shakes with every wave that hits. I'd never expected to hear the documentary but have just found it in RTE's online archive. Have a listen to it here, its a fascinating account of a trip to a place that no one had set foot on for hundreds of years. I particularly like the fact that they found a quern stone sitting on the wall of one of the buildings as if left there before the natural bridge to the mainland collapsed.
This weekend is equinox weekend at Loughcrew. I went at the Autumn equinox last September and was blessed with a perfect clear sunrise and got lots some lovely photos. I won't be heading myself but good luck to you if you do. Click Read More for further details about admission.
Oh and be aware that it is NOT possible to get a fry up at the Loughcrew Gardens Cafe, only a fairly expensive omellette/toast/cereal. I was very dissappointed..
UPDATE: There's an Irish Times article about the equinox at Loughcrew here.
As promised here is some video from Smelt 2010. During the project I tried to capture as much as possible using time lapse photography to give a sense of the activity and number of people involved in a smelt. The video above shows the painstaking building of the furnace chimney which was built up of sausages of pre-mixed clay. The clay was mixed using equal parts horse dung, potters clay and sharp sand. The mix worked very well and we ended up with no cracks at all in the furnace. You can see the hardy volunteers in the background kneeding the sausages of clay in their hands.
The next video is from near the end of the smelt when we began to burn down the charcoal after about five hours of charging. It was getting late at that stage and the light fades until you can only see the glow of the burning charcoal. Unfortunately the lack of light meant no time-lapse of the removal of the bloom but we do have photos.
These and other videos and photos will be combined with standard video taken over the course of the weekend into a video report on the smelt which will be made available as soon as its ready. I have to thank Mark Gordon for acting as cameraman for the event and volunteering to edit all the footage, no small task.
UPDATE: One more video of the opening of one of Niall and Eoin's charcoal pits is available over at charcoal.seandalaiocht.com.
Smelt 2010 went off practically without a hitch almost two weeks ago now. I've been prevented from posting about it due to a serious case of man-flu. Probably from sleeping Early Medieval style for the weekend of the smelt.
However, one of my collaborators on the project Tom Birch has been far more industrious despite a sniffle of his own and has managed to get a report on the project published on one of the Naked Archaeology Podcasts. You can download the podcast here or listen to it through your browser here (skip forward to 25 minutes for the relevant section).
As a bit of a teaser I have uploaded a few photos from the weekend. More will follow including some video and I will be updating the project website with a report on the smelt as soon as possible.
I have just been perusing www.britishpathe.com, a wonderful collection of old British newsreel footage from the age of empire. There's some great Irish material capturing aspects of Irish life long since gone. I've linked to a few here but I'd recommend having a good browse through the thousands of clips on the site.
There is a nice selection of Irish related material here if you want to skip to the popular stuff.