I posted about the launch of this book way back in June 2009 and I managed to get myself a hard copy soon after. However, I just came across a free online pdf of the book hosted on the webpage of the Fingal heritage Network. Head on over for your own free copy.
The final report for the Iron and Change in Europe Conference, which I blogged about previously has just been published on the ESF website. It presents a preliminary picture of the state of knowledge of the iron industry in Europe from its first appearance to the end of the first millenium AD. this is based on summary reports for individual countries presented by the various delegates to the conference, including my one which I posted to the blog in May.
You can read the report below or download it here.
So what lies in store for the vast grey library Ireland has amassed during its recent splurge in archaeological spending? This is potentially the most important issue facing Irish archaeology and, to be fair, has been discussed almost ad nauseum by the profession (e.g. Archaeology 20:20, Review of Research Needs in Irish Archaeology, RIA Report on Irish Archaeology). There are a number of key problems which need to be overcome. The first is immediate and involves preserving, compiling and completing reports. The next stage needs to be making these reports available. Real accessibility needs to follow eventually and is the ultimate payback to a society which has already paid dearly for the generation of archaeological data.
The immediate risk from the recession and a lack of funds is the halting of post-excavation work and report completion. This has always been an issue but the recent collapse of multiple commercial companies compounds the issue. In some cases the problem goes beyond a lack of a report: site archives, samples and artefacts are likely to be at immediate risk of being lost. There is no easy solution to this but hopefully the opening of the new NMI storage facility might stop the worst consequences of the economic collapse, assuming they will take in incomplete archives.
Assuming it exists in the first place, making grey literature available is the next step. This means making it easy for anyone to access unpublished reports. In theory this is possible already as the DoEHLG holds all reports from licensed excavations but this requires travel to Dublin at restricted times, knowing exactly what you want in advance and dealing in paper copies. Nonetheless this centralisation of reports negates some of the problems of scattered reports our neighbours across the water need to deal with. There have been plenty of rumors in recent years that the DoEHLG has reports digitised and ready to go. Whatever issues are holding things back they need to be sorted and the reports urgently put online, preferably linked in to the exisiting geospatial database. In reality the grey literature will probably trickle out through a variety of web outlets (such as those referred to in the first post in this series) but this will inevitably make availability difficult and patchy.
Making the material truly accessible or in other words digestable by people other than hardcore archaeologists is perhaps the most difficult, expensive and time-consuming difficulty when dealing with grey literature. It does not mean dumbing down; the reality is most grey literature is barely readable to research archaeologists and requires a lot of work before anyone in their right mind would call it interesting or valuable. Important steps have already been taken in this respect, primarily through INSTAR funded projects (For a list of INSTAR project websites have a look here). The project I am most familiar with is the Early Medieval Archaeology Project in UCD. EMAP has succeeded with limited resources in assessing the scale of the grey literature problem in Irish early medieval archaeology and taken that process one step further by actually beginning to make it accessible through its recent settlement and dwellings report. Future plans include online interactivity with the project database as well as more traditional conferences and publications. Of course that all depends on adequate funding.
In reality the situation in Ireland is not completely dire, an awful lot of work is being done but there is a huge danger that drastic cuts in funding of things like INSTAR which cost minor amounts in the grand scheme of things could result in the loss of data which cost orders of magnitude more to produce. Much information has already been lost but the priority has to be to save what can still be saved and make it widely available as soon as possible. Grey literature represents a gigantic investment by the state and for a very small further investment it can be transformed into a resource that could, through participation, engagement and dialogue with the public, transform the way we as a society view our past and ourselves.
Experimental Iron Smelt in Co. Wexford, Ireland
I posted about a month ago about a workshop I attended in London that attempted to bring together iron-researchers across Europe. Each country was asked to answer a number of specific research questions in a short two thousand word document and in a presentation.
These summaries are extremely useful snapshots of research in each country and really served to show areas where research was lacking in various countries (including Ireland).
Anyway, we had to resubmit them recently with any tweaks we wanted to make so I thought I'd put mine up here for those interested. It represents an extremely preliminary review of some of the evidence collected for my dissertation and I will almost certainly completely disagree with aspects of it in the next few months.
I'd welcome comments or thoughts, bearing in mind this is research in progress! You can have a look at the slideshow that went with the talk here.
My masters thesis (available here) has finally been published in article form in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Section C, almost five years after I finished it. The paper was co-written with Prof. Gabriel Cooney and is available to download on the new-look Royal Irish Academy website here or on my personal site here.
I've also had two smaller publications come out recently including a review for the Irish Museums Association Newsletter and a contribution to a lithics report written by Dr. Graeme Warren on stone tools from a Mesolithic site in Scotland.
Full references are below and you can find (and usually download) my other publications here.
X marks the spot
So we’ve established that Grey literature – when it has avoided becoming ‘ghost literature’ – is indeed a treasure worth finding but that begs the question: how do you get your hands on it and, importantly, who owns it?
I imagine that the issue of access is different in every country (do let me know in the comments) but in Ireland the way you get your hands on juicy grey reports is largely informal. We have the advantage of a tiny population and an even more miniscule group of archaeologists with very few degrees of seperation. A fair number of the reports I have managed to get my hands on for my research have been given to me by generous friends willing to let me raid their hard drives or put me in touch with someone else who would. However, I’ve found going the official route and contacting individual companies can be tedious and often a waste of time (a personal connection/introduction is often essential). Directors/excavators are usually far more helpful and generous with their material (if you can contact them) and the NRA archaeologists are generally happy to let you have anything you need.
The personal approach has worked for me but I run into brick walls when I don’t know anyone who I can contact directly and I imagine such an informal system is fairly useless for non-native archaeologists. What is needed is an online repository with a legal requirement to deposit and allow access. This has been done on a limited scale by a few laudable organisations (e.g. here here, here, here and here and by the ADS in the UK) but, while these are useful, a more coherent system is needed. Internet publication has to be the solution: it has the benefits of being cheap, accessible, and searchable and by putting peoples work out there you create a natural pressure to maintain standards.
Of course the issue of standards may be caught up in problems with ownership. At the end of the day who owns (and therefore is responsible for) the reports that make up the grey literature: the developer? The excavating director? The company? The author? The state? This isn’t an issue of money – no-one will be making any profit from these reports. It is more about responsibility and accountability. Commercial archaeology has complicated things and the idea of individual directors being responsible for bringing sites to completion (i.e. final reports) ignores the responsibilities and resources of developers and archaeology companies.
The issue of responsibility is one I haven’t got my head fully around (hopefully it will be addressed in the forthcoming archaeology bill) but I do feel strongly that grey literature – particularly where funded by state-developers like the NRA – belongs to everyone and should be easily available to them. Archaeology is a national cultural asset and the purpose of spending so much money on its excavation is to preserve it by record for the public; what’s the point if they never see the results?
This is part 2 of a series of 3 posts on Grey Literature and Archaeology.
'Grey literature' is a concept every research archaeologist is (or at least should be) familiar with. It refers to the various reports written by commercial, academic and government archaeologists that never see the light of day in traditional media such as journals, edited volumes or monographs. These reports vary widely in quality and importance but their main effect - on me at least - is to create a niggling sense that there have been lots of crucial finds or sites excavated that I have no idea about but would be crucial to my research.
The topic has been discussed (in relation to the UK) in a recent Nature Article by Matt Ford (Download a pdf here). Many of the issues raised ring true in Ireland as well and probably most countries where archaeology has become an integral part of the planning and development process. Since the early nineties in Ireland there has been a requirement to totally excavate archaeological sites prior to development. This led to the creation, exponential expansion and subsequent implosion of an Irish commercial sector.
This sector has created a huge amount of data in various form: feature and context sheets in the worst cases and completed final excavation reports with specialist analysis in the best. So is it a hidden treasure? I think it definitely is, if a little too well hidden! My PhD research is based on a database of excavations with evidence of iron smelting or working and the vast majority of these have been excavated commercially in the last twenty years. This type of synthesising PhD is becoming very common in Ireland and in combination with the INSTAR projects (listed here) promise to transform our understanding of the Irish past.
However, the picture isn't entirely golden. The quality of reports is often good but in many many cases final reports just don't exist: they haven't been completed years after excavation has finished. This kind of thing is exasperated by archaeologists moving on from companies and even from the profession. Standards are not enforced and while I have a generally good impression from many of the reports I've sifted through, these are likely to be the best of the best because they have come from people or companies willing to share. Its the reports I can't get my hands on that I worry about. I think in the next few years the biggest worry will be non-existent or 'Ghost' literature rather than the much more viable and useful Grey Literature.
This is part 1 of a series of 3 posts on Grey Literature and Archaeology.
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.
After a little thinking I have decided to seperate off my C.V. and publications to my personal site.
I think this makes more sense as the casual visitor to the Seandalaiocht site generally has no interest in my employment history. It'll also give me a bit of space and - now it's done - some time to fix up the links, video and image sections.
If all those head-hunters out there are looking for more info on me I'd prefer its all on one clean site free of rants and ramblings. This may mean some broken links to files and pages on Seandalaiocht in the short term but I'll fix them as I find 'em.