Geophysics and the study of early church sites: a comparative approach within the kingdom of Fir Maige, Co. Cork

Thumbnail Image
O'Donnell, Rory John
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University College Cork
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
In recent years archaeological research on early ecclesiastical sites has often been focused on architecture and sculpture, with less attention paid to the diversity of origins, extent, layout and level of anthropogenic activity at these sites. To date, no project has taken a comparative approach to ecclesiastical sites within a well-defined territory using geophysics as the main method of investigation. This thesis demonstrates the benefits of this approach by providing new insights into all the issues listed above. It presents the results of geophysical surveys (comprehensive gradiometery surveys coupled with more targeted earth resistance) of four ecclesiastical sites in the kingdom of Fir Maige, Co. Cork, namely Kildrum, Killeenemer, Brigown and Labbamolaga. This study area was chosen, in part, because of detailed textual evidence suggesting that these four sites varied significantly in character. The project aimed to investigate whether this was borne out by the archaeological evidence. Labbamolaga is commonly cited as an example of an ecclesiastical site established at a place of non-Christian ritual, but the geophysical survey brings this into question. There was a positive correlation between the scale of the sites and their relative importance according to the textual sources. The geophysical anomalies were tentatively divided into indicators of agricultural, craft, domestic and ritual activity. Two of the four churches (Brigown and Labbamolaga) were important establishments of reputedly monastic character with extensive estates. There was more, albeit tentative, evidence for craft activity at these two sites, suggesting they were significant centres of production, whereas other churches without large estates were not. Thus, the project contributes to our understanding of the diversity of ecclesiastical sites in the Early Middle Ages.
Geophysics , Archaeology
O'Donnell, R. J. 2020. Geophysics and the study of early church sites: a comparative approach within the kingdom of Fir Maige, Co. Cork. MPhil Thesis, University College Cork.