Global Archaeology A year of digs Mon, 05 Sep 2016 17:16:55 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6 Tchau Portugal! Até mais…. /2016/09/tchau-portugal/ Mon, 05 Sep 2016 17:16:55 +0000 /?p=935 Month eight in Portugal was wonderful! I had not expected to be blown away by the architecture and landscapes I encountered, not to mention the food…. And the archaeology we were digging and sites we visited were pretty outstanding too! Being based in Beja, a small city in the Alentejo region, it was easy to travel around southern Portugal and… Read more →

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Traditional Doce do Algarve

Traditional Doces do Algarve

Month eight in Portugal was wonderful! I had not expected to be blown away by the architecture and landscapes I encountered, not to mention the food…. And the archaeology we were digging and sites we visited were pretty outstanding too! Being based in Beja, a small city in the Alentejo region, it was easy to travel around southern Portugal and see a bit more of what the country has to offer.

Sunset over an Algarve beach

Sunset over an Algarve beach

I was fortunate enough to be in Portugal during a national holiday, so the entire archaeology team had a three day weekend! I used mine to head as far south as I could go to one of Portugal’s tourist hotspots: the Algarve . The route south from Beja travels through the beautiful Baixo Alentejo before entering the hilly Algarve – a region which stretches along the entire southern coast of Portugal. There is no denying that the beaches there are stunning and the water warm! This is what attracts so many visitors! Equally entrancing are the beautiful traditional Doces do Algarve: sweet marzipan pastries beautifully displayed in back-lit glass cases.

The medieval walls of Serpa

The medieval walls of Serpa

On the other end of the tourism spectrum is the small city of Serpa . This gem of a medieval city is east of Beja in an area close to the border with Spain. Its proximity to Spain and its location east of the Guadiana River meant that Serpa was an important defensive stronghold throughout its history. The city is still enclosed by strong medieval walls and when you walk through the main gate into the medieval castle you see clear evidence of when the city was besieged in 1707 during the Spanish War of Succession. It is wonderful to walk along the walls of the keep and to the top of the tower where you can gaze across the medieval cityscape and the rolling agricultural fields beyond. If you are very interested in Portugal’s medieval past there is a large summer festival in Serpa celebrating all things medieval!

A drumming group opens the Festa in Beja

A drumming group at the Festas em Honra e Louvor de Santa Maria in Beja

There are many festivals hosted by rural communities and municipalities throughout the year – especially in the summer. While I was in Beja there was a multi-day event taking place for the Festas em Honra e Louvor de Santa Maria. This included a historical parade through the streets – which some of the archaeological team participated in! – representing the almost 2000 years of the city’s history. This was in addition to the standard festival area in one of the main squares where each evening you could find live music, food, drink and local product stalls. My favourites were the Ginja liqueur (made from sour cherries) and the sweet marzipan and ‘egg-string’ desserts traditionally made by nuns.

Portuguese pastries on display in a Beja Bakery

Portuguese pastries on display in a Beja bakery

One of my favourite things to do in Portugal was to relax at one of the many cafés. Whether you are interested in having a meal, coffee or something cooler there is a café on almost every street corner to choose from! The café culture in the Alentejo region where I was based is very relaxed. In the summer evenings – after the sun has set and the temperature dropped – the cafés which line the city squares fill up with friends and families. When you order a beer most cafés will bring you a small bowl of salty tremoços ( lupin beans ) that are delicious but inevitably result in ordering another beer!

Cafes line the streets of Beja

Cafes line the streets of Beja

As always, it was bittersweet leaving Portugal to head to my next destination – the west coast of Scotland. I made some good friends and had many archaeo-adventures while digging the Outeiro do Circo Late Bronze Age fortified hilltop. The team is due to return next year to complete another season of digging – and who knows… maybe I’ll join them! But for now my attention has turned to an abandoned settlement on the Isle of Mull – I’ve traded Portugal’s golden fields for Scotland’s maritime mists!

Sunrise from Outeiro do Circo

Sunrise from Outeiro do Circo

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Beja’s streets: visiting archaeology in Portugal /2016/08/bejas-streets/ Tue, 30 Aug 2016 22:18:20 +0000 /?p=920 I’ve been excavating with the Projecto Outeiro do Circo for month eight of Global Archaeology and we are based in the small southern Portuguese city of Beja. This quiet place in the fertile Baixo Alentejo region has been occupied since the Iron Age – after the nearby Late Bronze Age fortified hilltop settlement we are excavating went out of use.… Read more →

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An ornate Medieval upper-story window in Beja

An ornate Medieval upper-story window in Beja

I’ve been excavating with the Projecto Outeiro do Circo for month eight of Global Archaeology and we are based in the small southern Portuguese city of Beja. This quiet place in the fertile Baixo Alentejo region has been occupied since the Iron Age – after the nearby Late Bronze Age fortified hilltop settlement we are excavating went out of use. There have been many different cultures that influenced Beja’s development and you can catch glimpses of them all as you walk its narrow cobbled streets and visit its many museums and churches.

Beja from the Alentejo countryside

Beja from the Alentejo countryside

Beja’s roots may be Iron Age but its foundations are Roman. It was established as an Imperial Civitas, known as Pax Iulia, under the Roman Emperor Augustus during the 1 st century BC. Recent development in the city revealed that some roads of the modern city still conform to the Roman plan: parts of the Roman sewage system runs under some of the streets, as they would have 2000 years ago. To really have a good look beneath Beja and see its earliest levels for yourself you can visit the Núcleo Museológico of Rua do Sembrano where a glass floor lets you walk over excavated structures that include some portions of an Iron Age wall and Roman building foundations that are likely a dwelling and a spa.

Núcleo Museológico of Rua do Sembrano

Núcleo Museológico of Rua do Sembrano

The Roman province of Hispania which covered much of the Iberian Peninsula was lost to invading ‘barbarian’ groups from what are now the French and Germanic parts of Europe. This short lived – but influential – infiltration by groups known as the Visigoths, Suebi and Vandals left its mark on Portuguese architecture and culture. Although not many structures are left from this period one of the most important Visigothic artefact collections in Portugal is held in the Church of Santo Amaro branch of the Regional Museum of Beja . The Church of Santo Amaro is an early Christian Basilica but it is alterations from the 15 th and 16 th centuries that give us the church we see today – with some of the column capitals dating to the much earlier Visigothic period.

Inner courtyard of the Santa Casa de Misericórdia

Inner courtyard of the Santa Casa de Misericórdia

The next culture to put its mark on Beja were the Moors that arrived from North Africa and ruled Portugal as part of the Umayyad conquest of the Iberian Peninsula – then known as Al-Andalus . The Moorish Period in Beja spans from 713 AD to as late as 1234 AD after a number of sacking’s of the city by Christians attempting to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula. There was extensive destruction of Beja during the Reconquest but even so the Islamic influence on building construction remains to this day. The more immediate medieval influence of the Islamic/Moorish style of architecture can be seen in administrative buildings like the infirmary at Santa Casa de Misericórdia which dates to the 14 th century.

Inner courtyard and tower of the Castelo de Beja

Inner courtyard and tower of the Castelo de Beja

Also a 14 th century construction is the 40 metre high marble tower of the Castelo de Beja that dominates the skyline of the city as you approach it from the surrounding Alentejo Plain. The castle was originally constructed on top of an earlier Islamic fortification destroyed during the Reconquest. The castle – and city wall – we see today is actually the result of a number of remodeling phases that took place after its original construction ordered by King Dinis in 1310 AD. If you climb the 183 stairs of the spiral staircase to the top of the tower you are rewarded with amazing views over the tiled roofs of Beja and the golden countryside.

The Convent of the Conceiçāo branch of the Regional Museum of Beja (Museu Rainha D. Leonor)

The Convent of the Conceiçāo branch of the Regional Museum of Beja (Museu Rainha D. Leonor)

The Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula brought with it the Gothic style of architecture from France and Germany. This influence becomes most apparent in Beja towards the end of the 15 th century a type of architecture known as the Mudéjar- Gothic style developed in the Alentejo region. The Alentejan/Mudéjar-Gothic is a mix of the Gothic style present elsewhere in Europe and the Islamic techniques already established in the Alentejo region. In the 16 th century the new constructions in Beja are marked by the Manueline style – showcasing decoration dominated by symbols of Portugal’s Age of Discovery. This can be seen in the lacy decoration of the upper part of the Convent of the Conceiçāo branch of Beja’s Regional Museum. The Church of Misericórdia displays yet another type of architecture from the same period – a unique example of the Italian Renaissance/Mannerist influence. Originally a slaughterhouse in the 16 th century the Infante D. Luis, the 3 rd Duke of Beja (son of King D. Manuel I) turned it into a church not long after its construction.

The 16th century Church of Misericórdia

The 16th century Church of Misericórdia

Above all else, most noticeable about Beja’s architecture are the tiles. Portugal is famous for its decorative Azulejo tiles and these are everywhere in Beja! As you walk through the streets it is as if you are stepping back into an earlier time. The colours and intricate patterns add an element of glamour to the cityscape. To see the oldest examples of this important Portuguese tradition, churches are your best bet. In the Church of the Convent of Nossa Senhora Da Conceiçao in Beja there is a wonderful example of the famous blue and white hand-painted tiles that dates to 1741 composing a three part biblical scene. An equally stunning biblical tiled scene can be found in the C hurch of Our Lady of Joy and the Episcopal Museum of Beja tucked beneath the gold leaf covered pulpit.

Tiled scene in the Igreja dos Prazeres (Church of Our Lady of Joy and the Episcopal Museum of Beja)

I loved walking through the streets of Beja every day! For more information about investigating Beja’s architecture yourself have a look at these links:

Beja’s Official Tourism page

Wikipedia: History of Portugal

Portugal Tourism: Beja

Wikipedia: Beja, Portugal

Castelo de Beja

Castelo de Beja

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Cup Marked Stones – “Rocha com Covinhas” /2016/08/cup-marked-stones/ Sun, 21 Aug 2016 11:24:20 +0000 /?p=909 The Late Bronze Age fortified hill of Outeiro do Circo I’m helping to excavate this month has a lot to investigate. The team – led by site directors Miguel Serra and Eduardo Porfirio and supervisor Sofia Eiras – have opened a number of trenches on the summit of the hilltop and just inside the enclosing wall. Their goal for this… Read more →

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My excavation trench

My excavation trench at Outeiro do Circo

The Late Bronze Age fortified hill of Outeiro do Circo I’m helping to excavate this month has a lot to investigate. The team – led by site directors Miguel Serra and Eduardo Porfirio and supervisor Sofia Eiras – have opened a number of trenches on the summit of the hilltop and just inside the enclosing wall. Their goal for this season is to gain a better understanding of what went on inside the wall during the Late Bronze Age and to assess the level of disturbance to the archaeology from modern farming. I’ve been digging in a trench on the northwestern slope of the hill within the line of the wall and already we’ve found some exciting evidence of Bronze Age activity.

The author and other team members excavating

The author and other team members excavating – photo courtesy of Projecto Outeiro do Circo

The soil we are excavating is really compact clay and the upper layer is very dark brown. For the first week we removed it with mattocks (pick-axes with one pointy and one flat end) and saw no changes in colour or texture. Then large stones started to emerge and soon after it seemed that they may be in a linear alignment. At this point we changed from using the full-sized mattocks to the smaller version and cleared the compact clay away from the stones more carefully. All through this process we had been uncovering fragments of Late Bronze Age pottery and clumps of baked clay and their frequency only increased as we continued to dig.

The cup-marked stone emerging from the trench

The cup-marked stone emerging from the trench

Half way through the second week of excavation the upper surface of the large stones were cleared. One morning when I arrived on site the sunrise was slanting across the trench and I noticed some indentations on one of the larger stones in the linear alignment. As I excavated this stone it became clear that it was decorated with prehistoric cup-marks, intentionally created by someone (or multiple someone’s) and then positioned in the Late Bronze Age construction we were revealing. Cup-marked stones, or in Portuguese “rochas com covinhas” – or just “covinhas” for short – are a type of prehistoric decorated stone found across western Europe. They are difficult to date but are certainly prehistoric – Neolithic, Copper Age and/or Early Bronze Age – and have frequently been found reused on later prehistoric sites, as is the case at Outeiro do Circo.

The cup-marked stone in my excavation trench

The cup-marked stone in my excavation trench

The cup-marked stone in my trench is not the only example that has been found at Outeiro do Circo. During a previous excavation season a smaller cup-marked stone was found at the base of a deep pit. Like the one I uncovered, it is very likely that this stone was decorated with the cup-marks at a much earlier date (possibly in the Copper Age when a nearby hill was occupied) and then placed in the bottom of the pit when Outeiro do Circo was fortified in the Late Bronze Age. Another cup-marked stone was found when the team was excavating a portion of the enclosing wall on the north-western slope (near the trench I’m working in). It had been used in the construction of the upper course of the wall, likely placed so the cup-marks faced out over the open landscape. Even more interesting is a very large boulder on the gentle southern slope of the hill inside the enclosing wall. The top of this boulder is covered in cup-marks and it’s positioned in a very good location for settlement and for monitoring the flat landscape to the south. This boulder has never been moved and the Late Bronze Age inhabitants of Outeiro do Circo would have known it was there when they fortified the hill.

The cup-marked stone from the NW enclosing wall - photo courtesy of Projecto Outeiro do Circo

The cup-marked stone from the NW enclosing wall – photo courtesy of Projecto Outeiro do Circo

These cup-marked stones are a bit of an enigma: there are many interpretations of what they could symbolise and why they were created. It is very curious that the same type of mark was made on stones throughout western Europe during (generally) the same prehistoric period – from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. It is also very curious that across Europe these decorated stones were often reused much later on sites dated to the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. At Outeiro do Circo the cup-marked stones found were not reused in a context that could be interpreted as particularly special or religious, but still… the three smaller stones were integrated into the construction of features on the hilltop. It is particularly intriguing to me that here there are both smaller cup-marked stones that were moved from their original position to be reused and the large boulder that still sits where it was decorated.

Tracing the cup-marked boulder in a previous season - photo courtesy of Projecto Outeiro do Circo

Tracing the cup-marked boulder in a previous season – photo courtesy of Projecto Outeiro do Circo

Finding a cup-marked stone reused in a Late Bronze Age construction on a southern Portuguese fortified hilltop will not answer any of the many questions we have about why these were made and why at particular locations. But it is this sense of mystery and uncertainty that makes archaeology so exciting! I feel very lucky that one of these stones was found in the trench I have been excavating. It was a treat to see it emerge from the surrounding soil and count each new cup-mark as we noticed it. There is still more to excavate at Outeiro do Circo so perhaps more cup-mark stones will be uncovered!

Covinha com gravadas – Outeiro do Circo Blog

Cup marked stones – Wikipedia

Outeiro do Circo 2014 campaign – Academia.edu

The sun rising over the Alentejo plain from Outeiro do Circo

The sun rising over the Alentejo plain from Outeiro do Circo

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Outeiro do Circo: understanding a big site from small objects /2016/08/outeiro-do-circo-objects/ Sat, 13 Aug 2016 11:43:06 +0000 /?p=894 For month eight of Global Archaeology I am thrilled to be helping excavate the Late Bronze Age (1250-850 BC) fortified hilltop settlement of Outeiro do Circo in the Alentejo plain of southern Portugal (find their blog here). The site is one of the largest settlement of this time period in the Iberian Peninsula, covering about 17 hectares (12 soccer pitches!).… Read more →

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Looking towards Outeiro do Circo from Beja

Looking towards Outeiro do Circo from Beja

For month eight of Global Archaeology I am thrilled to be helping excavate the Late Bronze Age (1250-850 BC) fortified hilltop settlement of Outeiro do Circo in the Alentejo plain of southern Portugal (find their blog here ). The site is one of the largest settlement of this time period in the Iberian Peninsula, covering about 17 hectares (12 soccer pitches!). This huge area was enclosed by a complex defensive system: a double wall of stone, fire hardened clay and wood was augmented with bastions, ramps, platforms and an exterior retaining wall built on a disused ditch. Outeiro do Circo was clearly an important location in the region and this season the team is investigating the interior area to find more information about the activities that took place there during the Late Bronze Age – beyond the impressive wall building!

The team opens a trench just inside the tree line marking the enclosing wall

The team opens a trench just inside the tree line marking the enclosing wall

As you approach Outeiro do Circo from the nearby town of Beja the ring of trees that marks where the wall stood can be seen as the long narrow hill slowly emerges from the surrounding fertile agricultural plain. From the highest point on the hill it is obvious why this spot was selected to be defended: you can see for hundreds of kilometres across the plain in almost every direction. There are some small hills to its north and west that block a clear view, but it is possible these were ‘watch-tower’ positions in the Late Bronze Age. When Outeiro do Circo was built the landscape around it was mostly covered by Mediterranean forest with cleared farmland and small farmsteads here and there – a much different view to what we see today.

Burnt clay from the foundation of the enclosing wall

Burnt clay from the foundation of the enclosing wall

During this and previous excavation seasons large amounts of clumped burnt clay have been found in the area of the enclosing wall. These clumps of burnt clay and the locations where they were found indicate to the archaeological team that one method used to strengthen the wall foundation was to set it on fire! To set a wall of this size alight huge amounts of wood would have been heaved to the top of the hill from the surrounding countryside. Imagine how a wall of fire on top of the highest point in the landscape would have appeared to a person in the Late Bronze Age! There is no doubt this would have demonstrated the importance and power of the wall-builders to anyone who saw the flames or told the story of what they had seen.

A pottery fragment with a perforation

A pottery fragment with a perforation

The clumps of burnt clay tell the story of a big event in the life of Outeiro do Circo: the building of the defensive wall that marked it as a central place in the region. On the other end of the spectrum are the fragments of pottery that are found scattered everywhere on the ground surface of the hill and in the excavation trenches. These fill out the narrative of this site with evidence of how long the settlement was in use and details about the everyday life of those who lived there. Fragments of pottery from the Chalcolithic to the Roman period have been found at Outeiro but by far the most common are those from the Late Bronze Age.

Three fragments from the trench cleaned and drying

Three fragments from the trench cleaned and drying

In the small 3m by 3m trench that I am helping to excavate some very interesting pottery fragments have already been found. Some fragments have small holes in them that were made before they were ‘fired’. These small holes could have been for hanging the vessels by cords for storage or during cooking. Another fascinating piece is a small rough fragment with two indents on its surface. I had never seen anything like it before and joked that it looked like a cartoon pig face! In fact it is a piece of a broken strainer that would have been used to make cheese! From such a small thing we can begin to understand a bit more about the types of foods being prepared and eaten at Outeiro do Circo.

The gaming piece

The gaming piece

A very simple artefact that I uncovered is a small black pottery fragment shaped into a disc from an already broken piece. From many other ancient examples found across Europe it is likely that this was a gaming piece, used to mark a player’s move in a game now long forgotten. A similar piece found at Outeiro do Circo in a previous season is the only known decorated example from Portugal. Maybe there were lost by someone who was patrolling the defensive wall in the Late Bronze Age! Objects like these certainly help to put people into the story of a site. Outeiro do Circo is much more than a hill with a wall and the archaeological investigations being conducted by the team here are helping to paint a vivid picture of it as an important Late Bronze Age settlement in a thriving region.

The sunrise from the top of Outeiro do Circo

The sunrise from the top of Outeiro do Circo

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Slán leat Éireann! Goodbye Ireland! /2016/08/slan-leat-eireann-goodbye-ireland/ Sat, 06 Aug 2016 17:15:11 +0000 /?p=861 When people think of Ireland often the first thing that comes to mind is the Irish pub. These can be found all over the globe (I have enjoyed a pint in one or two as far away from Ireland as Lesotho and Tasmania) but the atmosphere of a genuine Irish pub cannot be recreated outside of this island nation. If… Read more →

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The old quay in Carraroe, Connemara

The old quay in Carraroe, Connemara

When people think of Ireland often the first thing that comes to mind is the Irish pub. These can be found all over the globe (I have enjoyed a pint in one or two as far away from Ireland as Lesotho and Tasmania) but the atmosphere of a genuine Irish pub cannot be recreated outside of this island nation. If you are very lucky you will find yourself in the perfect pub – one that has the ideal combination of live music, good food and a great pint. But there is more to Ireland than enjoying its traditional stouts! For me there is not much that can beat sitting down for a hearty meal after a day spent hiking through the Irish countryside.

The train west!

The train west!

If you have a car it is very easy to visit Ireland’s national parks and experience firsthand the beauty of it’s diverse landscapes. Driving in Ireland can be a challenge for some people (beware of the narrow roads!) but it truly opens up your options for visiting out of the way locations. If you are not comfortable driving there is always the national bus or train services, or you could hire a private driver. Although the weather can be a bit wet that is nothing a good jacket can’t overcome! Brave the weather and you will be rewarded with emerald vistas that glisten in the silver mist.

Bold Robin at the Connemara National Park

A cheeky Robin at the Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park , northwest of Galway City on the west coast of Ireland, is the site of dramatic hills and valleys, bogs and woodlands that can be explored by car or on foot. Connemara is one of the most iconic Irish landscapes and is a very important region historically, especially in connection to Ireland’s maritime heritage and the Great Famine. One of my favourite spots is the easily accessible Visitor Centre at Diamond Hill. There are three marked walks that can be done here, giving options for all abilities. If you want a small challenge the Upper Diamond Hill Walk to the summit provides you with amazing views to the west over the historic town of Letterfrack and Ballinakill Harbour and to the northeast over Kylemore Lough and the Kylemore Benedictine Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden on the neighbouring Pollacapall Lough.

The Burren, Co. Clare

The Burren, Co. Clare

Also on the west coast of Ireland, but south of Galway in County Clare, is the Burren region – well known for its striking limestone landscape and wildflowers. The Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark is packed full of activities for all interests: from hiking the karstic hills to driving from quaint village to quaint village along the Wild Atlantic Way . I was based in the heart of the Burren for my month in Ireland and had the unique opportunity to investigate the impressive archaeology that fills the landscape and also to journey below its surface with an experienced caver. I had been in a few caves but never a cave system like the stream-ways that snake though the limestone bedrock here. Wading through tunnels cut by watercourses metres below the surface I was transfixed by the flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, and delicate straws we passed. Coming upon an underground waterfall capped what can only be described as an unforgettable experience.

Emerged from Polldubh cave in the Burren

Emerged from Polldubh cave in the Burren

Before leaving Ireland for my next destination I wanted one last hike through the Irish countryside. Even in Ireland’s biggest city, Dublin, it is easy get out into nature whether you have access to a car or prefer to take public transit. You can stretch your legs on a coastal walk like the Howth Cliff Path or venture inland to the Wicklow Mountains. Wicklow Mountains National Park is Ireland’s largest and has extensive trails for experienced hikers and marked ones around the beautiful Glendalough valley for those who need some directions! Check the events page on the park’s website for ideas about further ways to experience the flora and fauna of Ireland’s east.

Ticknock in the Wicklow Mountains

Ticknock in the Wicklow Mountains

It was lovely to spend month seven of my Global Archaeology year in Ireland. I lived here for many years and was so happy to spend time with old and new friends exploring archaeology, rambling across hillsides and eating the local food and drink made delicious by all that glorious rain! Next I head south to central Portugal where I am helping to excavate a Outeiro do Circo , a Late Bronze Age enclosed hilltop in the Beja region southeast of Lisbon. There is so much to explore in and around Beja so keep on the lookout for the next series of blog posts!

Rain over Dublin

Rain over Dublin

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Cafe’s, Crannóg’s and Chalices: visiting archaeology in Ireland /2016/07/cafes-crannogs-and-chalices-visiting-archaeology-in-ireland/ Sun, 31 Jul 2016 16:46:23 +0000 /?p=848 Ireland is a brilliant place to visit if you are interested in the past: there are sites and monuments everywhere you look in the lush green landscape. You are sure to see medieval tower houses as you speed along the roads or wander through the towns, and if you have a really keen eye you may even spot a prehistoric… Read more →

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Caherconnell Stone Fort

Caherconnell Stone Fort

Ireland is a brilliant place to visit if you are interested in the past: there are sites and monuments everywhere you look in the lush green landscape. You are sure to see medieval tower houses as you speed along the roads or wander through the towns, and if you have a really keen eye you may even spot a prehistoric barrow. The Irish National Monuments Service has a great website for those interested in getting off the beaten track and visiting some of the more obscure sites. For those just beginning to explore Irish archaeology and wanting an easily accessible tourist experience there are many places to visit.

The sheepdog demonstrations at Caherconnell Stone Fort

The sheepdog demonstrations at Caherconnell Stone Fort

It is rare to find a badly presented cultural heritage site in Ireland, visitors are spoiled for choice! A good example is where I was based for month seven of Global Archaeology: Caherconnell Stone Fort in the Burren region. At Caherconnell there is a gift shop, a visitor centre and a café where you can sample homemade baked goods and cheeses made from the Caherconnell cattle’s milk. The pamphlet or audio guide leads you along the short walking trail around the archaeological features of the site and provides information about the excavations that have been ongoing at Caherconnell since 2007. An added attraction is the fantastic Sheepdog Demonstrations where you can observe the teamwork between farmer and dog to move a herd safely through obstacles (the dogs are pretty cute and the sheep are too!). This aspect of the visitor experience highlights that Caherconnell is a working family farm as well as an archaeological site. No visit is complete without perusing the gift shop where you can purchase a replica of the late 10 th century silver ring found by one of the archaeology field school students.

A thatched roundhouse in the crannog at Craggaunowen

A thatched roundhouse in the crannog at Craggaunowen

A completely different experience can be found at Craggaunowen (the Living Past Experience) where you step back in time and interact with demonstrators in period costume. There is a genuine castle – a restored 16 th century tower house – and replicas of two quintessential ancient Irish dwellings: a crannóg and a ringfort . Crannóg’s are human-made islands that were used in Ireland as dwelling sites from prehistoric times through to the late medieval period. The replica one at Craggaunowen is reached by crossing a lovely wooden causeway. In contrast, the ringfort can be accessed through a regular gate or the souterrain, a type of underground tunnel that would have been used for storage (but also as a possible escape route!). ‘Ringfort’ is a catch-all term used to describe the circular walled settlements that dot Ireland from the early medieval period on-wards – like the Caherconnell Stone Fort I was helping to excavate. Also at Craggaunowen are replicas of an ogham stone , a prehistoric tomb and the famous Brendan Voyage replica ox-hide medieval boat that was sailed from Ireland to Canada. Before you leave the grounds it is essential to search out the boars, if you are there at the right time of year there may even be piglets!

A boar piglet at Craggaunowen

A boar piglet at Craggaunowen

My favourite cultural heritage site in Ireland is the National Museum of Ireland’s archaeology branch on Kildare Street in Dublin. This museum is where you can see all the amazing artefacts from Ireland’s prehistoric and medieval periods. The building itself was constructed in 1856/57 and the museum was officially opened to the public in 1890. When you visit today and look closely at the decorative mosaic floors you can see clues of what the original 19 th century exhibits displayed. The museum now showcases the most exciting artefacts from the National Museum collection, like the exquisite prehistoric gold lunula, gorgets and torcs, and the fascinatingly morbid bog bodies. The whole spectrum of artefacts from Ireland’s earliest eras can be found here: from the Mesolithic through the Iron Age and Vikings to the Medieval Period. All types of objects are on display, but it is the metal artefacts that really speak to me. You can walk through the exhibits and see the skill of Irish metalworkers from when metal first arrived to Ireland in the Chalcolithic to the intricate medieval Christian objects like the Ardagh Chalice .

The National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology

The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

These three examples are only the very tip of the iceberg of cultural heritage sites that can easily be visited without any specialist knowledge of Irish archaeology. Much more information about planning an archaeological tour of Ireland can be found on the websites listed below or by simply having a chat with local people in the pub! Happy travels!

Discover Ireland Website

Lonely Planet – Ireland

National Geographic Travel – Ireland

Inside the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology

Inside the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

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Caherconnell: digging medieval Gaelic Ireland /2016/07/caherconnell/ Sun, 24 Jul 2016 11:06:21 +0000 /?p=828 Like many of the projects I have worked on during this year of digs, the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School is revealing evidence of past activities through excavation – in this case at Caherconnell cashel in the Burren region of western Ireland. A caher (or cashel from the Irish word Caiseal – ‘stone fort’) is a farmstead enclosed by a… Read more →

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Caherconnell Stone Fort

Caherconnell Stone Fort

Like many of the projects I have worked on during this year of digs, the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School is revealing evidence of past activities through excavation – in this case at Caherconnell cashel in the Burren region of western Ireland. A caher (or cashel from the Irish word Caiseal – ‘stone fort’) is a farmstead enclosed by a dry stone wall . The large circular stone wall that makes Caherconnell the imposing monument it is today was constructed in the late 10 th century AD and the site continued to be used as a residence into the start of the 17 th century AD.

The author and two students excavating

The author and two students excavating

Excavating a medieval site is fascinating because there is just so much material with which to develop a rich narrative. A trial excavation was conducted in the cashel at Caherconnell in 2007 and in 2010 the archaeology field school excavations began. The project team, led by Dr. Michelle Comber, have been revealing structures and artefacts spanning the use of the site ever since. Stone walls, animal bone and finely worked metal objects all come together to tell the story of the medieval ’native’ Irish Gaelic people who lived and worked here  – a story not fully told through written history. The seasonal digs at Caherconnell are helping archaeologists and historians to better understand the lifestyle of Gaelic Irish people in the medieval period, a period whose narrative is often dominated by the archaeology, architecture and politics of the invading Anglo-Normans (from the 12 th century AD).

Students learning about the cashel

Students learning about the cashel

The Caherconnell cashel was built by a wealthy family in the late 10 th century AD, possibly the ancestors of the O’Loughlins who presided over the territory of Caherconnell in the later medieval period. The archaeological excavations have unearthed extensive evidence for the food grown, gathered and raised by the farming/herding people who built and lived in the cashel. The underlying limestone bedrock of the region creates an alkaline condition (non-acidic) that preserves bone wonderfully. As a result there is a large animal bone assemblage from the site that tells us the cashel’s occupants throughout the medieval period had a varied diet including pig, sheep/goat and cow milk and meat, fish, shellfish, and poultry. The meat in their diet was supplemented with gathered herbs, fruits and nuts (like the ever present hazelnut!), and cereal grains like barley, oats, rye and wheat ground by hand into flour and/or meal using heavy stone rotary querns .

A medieval stone house inside the cashel

A medieval stone house inside the cashel

In the 10 th century AD the cashel wall and a circular stone house in the centre of the enclosure were built. Later in the late 10 th /early 11 th century AD a rectangular stone house replaced the first circular house. At this time a surface of shaped limestone slabs was laid within the cashel, providing a nice stone surface to walk upon within the enclosing wall. When the rectangular house and the area around it were excavated the archaeologists found a stone-lined hearth, post-holes and a stone path. Sometime in the 11 th to the 14 th century another (slightly rougher) limestone slab surface was laid down over top of the earlier one. This slab surface did not go over the foundation of the rectangular house, which suggests that the house was still in use at this time. The last building phase was in the 15 th /16 th century when a new rectangular house was built (and the earlier one demolished), the entrance through the enclosing wall was rebuilt and a large wall was constructed down the centre of the cashel which effectively divides it in two.

Students being shown a selection of artefacts from the site

Students being shown a selection of artefacts from the site

The artefacts found during the excavations tell us quite a lot about the activities that took place within the cashel. Coins, beads and personal ornaments found on the site are in some cases from other European countries and in other cases are clearly Irish in style. The exotic objects, like the late 10 th century amber bead (possibly from Scandinavia?) and the colourful late 15 th /16 th century Venetian glass bead, are evidence that Caherconnell’s Gaelic inhabitants’ were connected to the wider world outside of medieval Ireland. Other objects like spindle whorls for making wool, waste products from iron-working, and bone or metal sewing needles are hints of the making and/or repairing of everyday objects that would have been ongoing. Very special finds like a tuning peg from a harp, delicate bone hair-combs, jewellery (such as a silver finger ring and glass bracelet) and various other decorative pieces like bronze dress pins add a dimension of affluence to the Caherconnell story: at least some of the people who were living here were able to afford very valuable and shiny objects!

The Caherconnell Visitor Centre and Cafe

The Caherconnell Visitor Centre and Cafe

The excavations at the Caherconnell cashel are ongoing and – as I have seen firsthand during my time on-site – there is much more to be uncovered and discovered here! If you are interested in participating in the excavations yourself, more information (and photos!) about the field schools, the facilities and the story of this fascinating place can be found on the Caherconnell Stone Fort website and Facebook page .

A rainbow over Caherconnell Archaeology Field School

A rainbow over Caherconnell Archaeology Field School

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Three field schools: learning archaeology in Ireland /2016/07/three-field-schools-learning-archaeology-in-ireland/ Thu, 14 Jul 2016 20:31:51 +0000 /?p=805 Since the early medieval period when monks created beautiful illuminated manuscripts, Ireland has been known as an island of learning. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that many students of archaeology flock to Ireland to have their first experience with fieldwork, this archaeologist included! In 2006 as an untested undergraduate I traveled to the west of Ireland to learn how… Read more →

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Keem Bay at dusk, Achill Island

Keem Bay at dusk, Achill Island

Since the early medieval period when monks created beautiful illuminated manuscripts, Ireland has been known as an island of learning. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that many students of archaeology flock to Ireland to have their first experience with fieldwork, this archaeologist included! In 2006 as an untested undergraduate I traveled to the west of Ireland to learn how to dig and I haven’t stopped digging since. As I’m in Ireland for month seven of Global Archaeology I have revisited my field school alma mater as well as two other field schools in the west, all accredited by my other alma mater the National University of Ireland, Galway.

The Burren in the west of Ireland

The Burren in the west of Ireland

The Achill Archaeological Field School (AAFS), founded by Dr. Theresa McDonald, is celebrating its 25 th anniversary this year. It was ten years ago that I spent six weeks on Achill Island as a student, wanting to see if I could hack it in the field. I learned the basics of archaeological fieldwork here: how to excavate, record and survey. This is also where I developed my love for hill walking – as part of the field schools’ curriculum the students go on a weekly fieldtrip that often involves tramping over hillsides to reach sites or monuments. The island which is the largest off Ireland’s west coast, is known for its beautiful landscape and hikes that reward you with amazing views over the Atlantic and the mainland.

Last seasons excavation at Keem Bay, AAFS

Last seasons excavation at Keem Bay, AAFS

The archaeological sites on Achill Island vary from megalithic tombs to the abandoned famine village where the first AAFS students excavated. This year the field school is focused on the continued excavation of a series of houses located at Keem Bay, quite literally at the end of the road. The small stone houses excavated here last season likely date to the 19 th century and were byre dwellings: divided into two compartments with the family on one side and livestock on the other. The previous excavations done by the field school have shed light on how 18 th and 19 th century people lived in Ireland and I’m sure this years’ excavation will add to an already substantial body of knowledge.

The wedge tomb under excavation at the IFPA

The wedge tomb under excavation at the IFPA

Further south can be found one of the newest field schools in the west of Ireland, the Irish Field School of Prehistoric Archaeology (IFPA), established by Dr. Ros O Maolduin and Dr. Carleton Jones. This field school can be found in the heart of the Burren, a striking karstic limestone landscape unlike anywhere else on earth, where the IFPA is investigating a series of wedge tombs. This type of megalithic funerary monument was built over 4000 years ago from the very limestone the tombs stand upon. It is clear that the Copper Age and Early Bronze Age farming society that built these megalithic tombs were highly sophisticated, enough so that they were able to lift and position stone slabs easily weighing a ton!

Moving a stone slab at the IFPA

Moving a stone slab at the IFPA

The tombs being excavated by the IFPA are situated in the densest concentration of wedge tombs in Ireland, Roughan Hill, making this a unique spot in a unique landscape. In order to learn more about the people who built these impressive megaliths the cremated bones recovered during the last and the current season of excavation will undergo osteological analysis. This will involve radiocarbon dating to provide a time of use, as well as DNA analysis and isotope analysis to discover as much as possible about the people who buried in the wedge tombs. The work being done by the IFPA is helping archaeologists interpret the processes and motivations of the tomb builders and by extension to better understand the society they lived in.

A lovely little wedge tomb in the Burren

A lovely little wedge tomb in the Burren

The field school I am connected to for month seven of Global Archaeology is the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School (CAFS), directed by Dr. Michelle Comber. Also located in the Burren, the CAFS is excavating the Caherconnell Cashel a possible royal settlement occupied from 10 th century to the 15 th /16 th century AD. The cashel is a drystone (no mortar) enclosure: a high limestone circular wall with an east facing entrance that contained dwellings. Already the excavations in the interior of the cashel have revealed evidence for a series of occupation and building phases that indicate a long period of use. It is an exciting site to dig! Many medieval artefacts have been uncovered like clothes fastening pins of various styles, iron shears and intricately carved bone combs.

Bailing out the site at CAFS

Bailing out the site at CAFS

It is wonderful to have the opportunity to spend a month in Ireland opening the minds of young students to the excitement of archaeological excavation. Although you can experience four seasons in one day in the west of Ireland, it is very rewarding to uncover the rich history and prehistory of this fertile green country. The field schools that I have highlighted in this post are a few among many others! If you are interested in trying out archaeology in Ireland for yourself a quick Google search will give you plenty of interesting and reputable options to choose from.

Stay tuned for more posts on my time digging in the fascinating Caherconnell Cashel! Slán agus ádh mór – Goodbye and good luck!

Caherconnell Stone Fort

Caherconnell Stone Fort

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Αντίο Greece! Goodbye Ελλάδα! /2016/07/αντίο-greece-goodbye-ελλάδα/ Sun, 10 Jul 2016 12:28:33 +0000 /?p=801 As the sun sets on month six of Global Archaeology one thing that stays with me from my time on the Cycladic island of Naxos is the image of the Aegean Sea shining in the rose tinted sunrise. This is not something the average tourist sees while on holiday but if you are an archaeologist heading early to site you… Read more →

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The village of Vivlos/Tripodes at sunset

The village of Vivlos/Tripodes at sunset

As the sun sets on month six of Global Archaeology one thing that stays with me from my time on the Cycladic island of Naxos is the image of the Aegean Sea shining in the rose tinted sunrise. This is not something the average tourist sees while on holiday but if you are an archaeologist heading early to site you get to enjoy this each morning. Thankfully the sunsets are just as stunning, whether they are viewed while looking over a harbour, mountain village or beach. Naxos is a very interesting island with a rich history and beautiful landscape to explore. I did my best to see as much of it as possible, but I barely scratched the surface!

Taverna terrace in the kastro area of Chora

Taverna terrace in the kastro area of Chora

Naxos is an agriculturally rich island and the quality of the food available is outstanding. During my stay the archaeological team I was a part of ( SNAP ) ate at a different taverna in our base village each evening. Sitting together at one giant table the meals always started with freshly baked bread and generous portions of Greek salad (sometimes also with tzatziki or another small plate) accompanied by local wine and big jugs of water. Since we were such a large group the taverna prepared a vegetarian and a meat option that we could choose from. My favourite meal was a vegetarian version of Kolokithakia Yemista Avgolemono , a whole zucchini stuffed with aromatic rice in a traditional egg-lemon sauce. Mouth watering.

The Naxian countryside

The Naxian countryside

To work off all the yummy Greek cuisine there is a lot of walking that can be done on Naxos. A good hiking map is available in most tourist shops in the main town of Chora and this is a great tool to help plan a route on the marked walking paths and less busy roads. I was there in the height of summer and the heat is a real concern: if you do attempt a big hike it is essential to plan ahead and bring enough water, food and a mobile phone. There is no comparison to the experience you get of the Naxian countryside by walking instead of driving! It is well worth putting in a bit of effort to plan and prepare in order to walk down dirt tracks through fields to reach the likes of Byzantine churches, Classical temples and medieval castles.

The rough track up to the medieval Apano Kastro at the top of the hill

The rough track up to the medieval Apano Kastro at the top of the hill

On Naxos you are never far from the coast (it is an island! the largest one in the Cyclades) and the beaches are fantastic. The closest one to our accommodation was Plaka which is a quintessential tourist beach with shops, restaurants, bars and sun loungers with umbrellas for rent. The beach sand all across Naxos is soft and the warm Aegean Sea is crystal clear with very few critters to be wary of. A completely different experience can be found at the more hidden (yet easily accessible) beaches like Pirgaki. Taking a bus from one of the interior mountain villages or Chora and you can enjoy a relaxing day on an almost deserted beach.

The beautiful beach of Pirgaki

The beautiful beach of Pirgaki

Wherever you look on the island of Naxos your eye will find archaeology. The island is full of amazing sites to visit and explore. There is something for everyone: from Classical temples to historic windmills. It is also all around you when you walk through the peaceful villages and towns. The winding medieval lanes of central Chora are a perfect example of a spot where you are completely immersed in a medieval townscape. It is wonderful to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets and houses and know that you are walking the same paths that people have followed for hundreds of years. In Chora you can leave the touristy harbour area and walk to the top of the medieval Venetian kastro (castle) to enjoy the view of the Classical temple of Apollo. What makes this place even more special is that it is still a vibrant living community!

Chora harbour and medieval kastro at sunset

Chora harbour and medieval kastro at sunset

Naxos is a large and varied island with lots to do and see. You can make a journey from the sandy beach to a leafy mountain village in about an hour and see the very different landscapes that combine to give Naxos its special character. It is definitely somewhere I plan to return to, there are still so many archaeological sites I would like to visit! There is so much that this Cycladic island has to offer in terms of archaeology, gastronomy and cultural heritage. But, my next destination was calling to me! I’m onwards to Ireland for a month surrounded by the stone walls and fascinating archaeology of the Burren .

Plaka beach at sunset

Plaka beach at sunset

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Classical and Archaic Naxos: visiting archaeology in Greece /2016/07/classical-and-archaic-naxos-visiting-archaeology-in-greece/ Sun, 03 Jul 2016 12:04:22 +0000 /?p=782 Greece is iconic when it comes to archaeology. When I tell people the countries I’m visiting for my year of digs for some they ask: “Do they have archaeology there?”, but that question is never asked when I mention Greece!  I’ve been lucky enough to be digging something entirely different to the temples that most people think of as Greek… Read more →

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Sunrise over Chora from the dig site (Stelida)

Sunrise over Chora from the dig site (Stelida)

Greece is iconic when it comes to archaeology. When I tell people the countries I’m visiting for my year of digs for some they ask: “Do they have archaeology there?”, but that question is never asked when I mention Greece!  I’ve been lucky enough to be digging something entirely different to the temples that most people think of as Greek archaeology. The debris of Palaeolithic stone tool making may not make as high an impact visually but conceptually it certainly does. Even so, I have always loved the clean lines and pale stone of Classical Greek architecture and I made sure to visit a few sites while on Naxos.

The Temple of Demeter

The Temple of Demeter

My first destination was the 6 th century BC temple of Demeter. It is easy to reach the temple by car but my accommodation was only an hour’s walk away and we had a good hiking map to follow. We decided to try approaching the temple by dirt road – a very good choice! Not only were we safely away from cars but the journey through the Naxian countryside was breathtaking. The site is surrounded by hills and you can spot it in the distance as you walk down the winding road. Demeter is the goddess of agriculture and the harvest, a very important role for an island known for its rich land and bountiful crops.

The Temple of Apollo at Chora (Portara)

The Temple of Apollo at Chora (Portara)

Possibly the most well known archaeological site on Naxos is the temple of Apollo that stands on the edge of Chora, the island’s capital. The Ionian style temple was built in the 6 th century BC and was never completely finished.  It’s positioned on the islet of Palatia on the edge of town and is fantastic to visit both by day and at sunset when many tourists – including this one! – get their photos taken at its monumental gate (known as the Portara). It’s easy to walk out to the temple from Chora’s harbour and the view back towards the town is spectacular.

The medieval kastro of Chora

The medieval kastro of Chora

Also in Chora is the Archaeological Museum open since 1973 and located in the heart of the town’s medieval kastro (castle). In the 17 th century AD the structure was built into the kastro’s fortification walls and incorporates two of its towers (13 th -16 th century AD). I spent most of my Saturday mornings on Naxos here, washing the lithics we were uncovering at Stélida, and I loved walking down to the lab area through the rows of Classical and Cycladic artefacts. The museum houses objects that date from the Late Neolithic period through to the Early Christian period (5300 BC – 400 AD) and it is here that you can see the real versions of the lovely Cycladic figurines for sale at every tourist shop. Not only is the museum itself well worth a visit but it is a treat to wander through the narrow medieval streets of Chora to reach it.

Kouros in situ

Kouros in situ

One of my favourite sites on Naxos was the sanctuary complex outside of the village of Melanes in an area of the island known for its marble (Flerio). Here you can visit a sanctuary/temple complex that celebrated agricultural fertility and the patrons/heroes of stone-cutters. Also on the site are two fantastic monumental Kouros statues that date to the Greek Archaic period (8 th – 5 th century BC). These large representations of nude youths standing in a walking posture were ‘roughed out’ in quarries and then carried to workshops where they were fully finished. The Kouros you can today visit at Flerio are about five meters long and broke during their transportation from the nearby quarry sites. They still lie where they fell thousands of years ago and it is actually quite eerie to see them. It’s as if their journey had just been paused and they could stand up and continue it themselves.

Looking out from one of many medieval castles

Looking out from one of many medieval castles

There are many more sites to visit on Naxos and (as always) this has just scratched the surface. There are also medieval castles, chapels and monasteries capping many of the hills across the island that showcase stunning Venetian and/or Byzantine architecture. Not to be downplayed is the landscape that all of these sites are situated in. At every turn there is an amazing seaside and/or mountainside vista with white villages shining in the distance. These are views I don’t think I could ever get tired of! If you want to learn more about the amazing archaeology of Naxos have a glance at these links:

Wikipedia: Kouros

Ancient History Encyclopedia: Naxos

Greek Travel Pages: Archaeological Museum of Naxos

Naxos & Small Cyclades: Temple of Apollo

Wikipedia: Kouroi of Flerio

Sunset over Chora harbour

Sunset over Chora harbour

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