Archaeology - Doctoral Theses

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    The archaeology of coastal shell middens in Ireland
    (University College Cork, 2023) Howle Outlaw, Carolyn E.; O'Brien, William; Royal Irish Academy; University College Cork
    Coastal shell middens are an important archaeological resource, with the potential to shed light on many different aspects of human interaction with coastal environments over time. These deposits of discarded shells, charcoal, and other cultural material can be found at various locations along the c.7500km or so of the Irish coastline. They have a long chronology from the Mesolithic through to early modern times, along with a considerable degree of variability in terms of site function, settlement context, and environmental setting. The study of these sites in Ireland has largely focused on the pre-farming (Mesolithic) period as part of a consideration of coastal foraging economies. Current evidence points to a long tradition of utilising coastal resources, which after c.4000 BC was integrated to varying degrees with agricultural activity through changing cultural practices evident elsewhere in the archaeological record. The principal aim of this study is to understand the changing role that coastal resources played through time in Ireland. Research methods include a review of published and archived sources on shell midden archaeology in Ireland and field survey. The data collected is statistically analysed with a view of understanding relevant changes in artefactual, ecofactual, and structural remains through time. Interpretations are based upon the archaeological data, relevant theories of interpretation, and ethnographical accounts of the use of molluscs and their deposition. The final analysis examines broad trends through time in relation to the use of coastal resources by humans in Ireland. Other questions addressed include the contribution to diet and nutrition made by coastal resources and their use as economic goods. The liminal character of the coastal zone, historical references to religious and folk beliefs concerning the coast, and inclusions of ritual deposits such as burials are examined as separate from but interwoven with the economic value of the shells.
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    Perceptions of ringforts in pre-modern Ireland
    (University College Cork, 2019-10-04) O'Riordan, Edward; Sheehan, John
    Ringforts are among the most numerous and definitely the most visible archaeological monument on the Irish landscape. The majority of these monuments were built during the latter half of the first millennium AD and most had ceased to serve as habitation sites by the twelfth century. Nevertheless, communities across Ireland would have remained very aware of the presence of these monuments. Several centuries later, much land, particularly in the east of the country was appropriated by the Anglo-Normans and they too seemed to have viewed ringforts as important, albeit different, types of monuments. The goal of this thesis has been to investigate the question of how ringforts were perceived in pre-modern Ireland. To do so, this initial question was broken down into three others, namely how attitudes and beliefs towards ringforts developed, how these attitudes influenced behaviour towards these monuments and what effect, if any, these had on the survival of ringforts in particular areas. Seeking to demonstrate how attitudes and beliefs towards ringforts originated and later developed, involved an initial division of Irish society in two broad groups, one group being indigenous and the other group comprising newcomers. The former group was then further sub-divided into those that comprised the learned classes of society and the popular class. An examination of evidence for how ringforts were perceived within the two Irish groups was then undertaken and it was shown that a correct knowledge of ringforts, particularly concerning their origin but also of their function, was available within the Gaelic manuscript tradition. Evidence was also provided to demonstrate how this information may have been disseminated into the wider community. It has also been shown how the decline in fortune of the learned Gaelic class, and the disappearance of many manuscripts, meant that this knowledge faded from the grasp of the general population. This decline in understanding then paved the way for the emergence of another, mythological, association of ringforts. The initial development of this association was facilitated by the presence of underground chambers in many ringforts. These were initially constructed as refuges and storerooms, but over time the perception of these changed as their association with an underground living mythological race developed. Perceptions of this race itself changed over time, particularly as a result of a serious decline in the Gaelic language, and this attributed qualities to this group that it did not originally possess. The association in traditional belief between this group and ringforts supposedly served to protect these monuments from destruction. Aside from these Gaelic interpretations, an equally influential perception developed within the worldview of the newcomers to the country. This attributed a completely different origin and function to ringforts. Over time this perception developed the status of orthodoxy and proved extremely difficult to dislodge from its position. However, attempts were sometimes made by the remaining Gaelic antiquarians to present to a wider audience the knowledge concerning the indigenous origin of ringforts. However, it was only towards the end of the 18th century that this information began to achieve prominence, and from this date it grew in importance and eventually displaced the theory that ringforts were of foreign origin and had a predominately military function. Did these differing attitudes have an effect on ringfort survival? An examination of 19th and 20th century maps, from study areas in Co. Cork, showed that some level of destruction occurred between these two periods. In this context the word ‘destruction’ is used in a general sense, while remaining cognisant that an important archaeological element remained underground. Earlier estate maps are available for these study areas and a comparative study of all the available cartographic sources indicated a severe rate of decline in ringfort numbers from the beginning of the 18th century to the present day. Additional examination of photographic images from recent aerial surveys showed, in some cases, that the levelling of ringforts began even prior to the compilation of the first maps in 1717. This comparative study highlighted the apparent contradiction between the important position of ringforts for each of the local communities and the high level of ringfort destruction. It also allowed for the period of most risk to ringforts in these study areas to be identified. A study of the practical developments in each of these two baronies that was likely to have most affected ringforts in each of these study areas was then undertaken. The study suggested that the development of commercial tillage farming from the later part of the 18th century posed the greatest risk to ringforts in the east Cork barony. In the second study area, of mid-Cork, the proximity to an urban area seems to have negatively affected ringforts in the region. This study also highlighted that the levelling of ringforts continued throughout the period under examination and this facilitated the conclusion that the desire to maximise profits drove a doctrine of ‘Improvement’ and it was this economic factor that posed the greatest overall risk to ringforts in these two baronies. An attempt was then made to corroborate these results through seeking to apply them to areas throughout the country where other farming practices were noted for the same period. Initially, it was decided to focus on two baronies in Co. Kildare, as these had a long history of arable farming and, furthermore, were located near the main urban centre of the country, Dublin. In this situation, the application of the hypothesis developed in Co. Cork should show an increased rate of decline in both these areas, if the theory held true. Indeed, these were the results that were obtained, with one barony, Kilcullen, providing evidence, in maps and aerial images, for the total destruction of ringforts there. It was then decided to test this hypothesis in areas where different farming activity was noted. Castlereagh barony in Co. Roscommon, noted for cattle fattening, and Ibrickan barony in Co. Clare, an area of small, mixed farms, were chosen and the results conformed to what would be expected if the notion that arable farming posed the greatest risk to ringfort survival was accurate. Therefore, the answers to the questions posed at the beginning of this thesis may be summarised in this manner: ringforts occupied an important position in the world views of the communities that encountered them, fulfilling a variety of social and political roles. However, economic factors seem to have been accorded greater importance and this resulted in ringforts being removed from the Irish landscape in large numbers.
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    Early medieval sculpture in southeast Ireland: identities, landscape and memory
    (University College Cork, 2020) Colbert, Kate; Ó Carragáin, Tomás; Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences
    This project investigates early medieval (c. AD 400–1200) sculpted stones as commemorative technologies and agents of cultural transmission, instilled with an array of meanings that varied between individuals and over time. Using the southeast of Ireland as a case study, it considers the sculpture in five modern counties – Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford, and South Tipperary – within which were a range of ecclesiastical sites, including some of ‘national’ importance such as Lismore and Ferns. The core aim of this study is to expand our understanding of carved stones and their role in early medieval society by examining why these monuments were created and how people interacted with them, as well as the meanings and values with which they imbued their surrounding landscape. Some of the questions explored in this thesis are why some sites invest in sculpture while others do not, why sculpture is produced at certain times during the life of a site and not others, and what these carved stones can tell us about the priorities and social identities of their communities. Analyses were often augmented by computational imaging tools – primarily photogrammetry, though reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), and geographic information systems (GIS) were also selectively applied – as a means to enhance the examination and interpretation of pieces with particularly worn or weathered carvings. By utilising a synthesis of recording techniques and theoretical approaches, it is hoped that a more fully comprehensive study of the early medieval sculpture of this region has been achieved. High crosses and otherwise undecorated ogham stones were not surveyed, as several studies on these monuments have already been done, or are ongoing. Instead, this project focused on other stone monuments with sculpture, e.g. grave-markers, boundary markers, portable stone objects, etc. Altogether, 260 carved stones were analysed for this study, distributed across 53 sites. A wide variety of monument-types are represented in this region, including some for which there are only a handful of examples in Ireland, e.g. sundials, tau crosses, gable finials, etc. The distribution of sculpture shows that major ecclesiastical sites in the southeast, particularly Emly, the premier church of Munster, did not invest heavily in stone sculpture, and, instead, chose to invest most of their resources elsewhere. This is in stark contrast to several other major ecclesiastical sites in Ireland, e.g. Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, and Iniscealtra, which produced hundreds of pieces of stone sculpture. Additionally, some of the more significant findings to come out of this thesis are the subjects of stand-alone chapters. A reassessment of the large assemblage of sculpture at St Berrihert’s Kyle, Co. Tipperary was undertaken due to the reorganisation of several carved stones at the site since this collection was last published. Sculpture appears to have been a specialty of St Berrihert’s Kyle, especially in the 8th century. This site, and the nearby Toureen Peakaun, together contain one of the highest concentrations of 7th–8th century grave-markers in Ireland, and yet, stylistically, the sculpture at these two sites are markedly different. This seems to suggest that ‘house styles’, as well as preferred monument forms, reflect the development of separate ecclesiastical identities, even between communities with close links. A group of four ‘marigold’ stones were identified in Co. Wexford with shared hagiographical, socio-political and ecclesiastical links, both with each other and with several Welsh churches, particularly St David’s. More importantly, this group of stones present us with physical evidence for ties between specific religious foundations around and across the Irish Sea, which have been hitherto difficult to identify. At the ecclesiastical site of Clonmore in Co. Carlow, components of at least one, possibly two, composite stone shrines were discovered. This new archaeological evidence, together with its already considerable assemblage of early medieval sculpture, supports a number of textual sources of the period that claim Clonmore housed a significant collection of corporeal saints' relics. Moreover, the cult of relics which had been built around this collection differed markedly in its expression from most other relic cults across Ireland and, to an extent, elsewhere in Western Europe — indicating that the cult of relics in Ireland was perhaps more diverse in its character and material manifestations than previously assumed.
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    The Irish brewing industry, c. 1780-1930: an archaeology
    (University College Cork, 2020-04) Harris, Caen; Rynne, Colin; Irish Research Council
    From the late-18th to the early 20th centuries, the Irish brewing industry underwent an extended process of transformation. This extended period saw the early industrialisation of several Irish breweries in the late-18th and early 19th centuries. This was followed by the continued concentration of the industry towards ever greater units of production in the 19th century and the rise of Guinness, in particular from the 1830s on, a brewery that had expanded to become both the most-substantial industrial concern in Ireland and the world’s most-productive brewery before the close of the 19th century. The process of transformation that the industry witnessed during the extended period under consideration laid the foundations for the makeup of the Irish brewing industry today, where the bulk of production is confined to one truly international-scale brewery. While previous histories have aimed to further our knowledge on the various factors that led to this transformation, they have been somewhat limited in their scope. This is owing to the relatively under-studied nature of many of the breweries that produced in Ireland during the period. This thesis, which is grounded in the discipline of industrial archaeology, is intended to fill many of the considerable gaps in our knowledge of the industry’s development during an extended timeframe that was key in Ireland’s wider economic, industrial, social and political development.
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    Ireland and France 2500–1900 BC: evidence for contacts and influences
    (University College Cork, 2019) Burlot, Aurélien; O'Brien, William
    During the first half of the 3rd millennium BC Ireland experienced significant cultural changes in what is known as the Late Neolithic period. The introduction of copper metallurgy sometime in the 25th century BC coincided with the arrival of new cultural influences that originated in mainland Europe, represented in archaeological terms by a distinctive range of pottery now called Beaker, and by other material innovations. Another important development at that time was a renewal of the megalithic tomb tradition in the form of the wedge tomb, some five centuries after such monuments had ceased to be built in Ireland. It has long been suggested that these developments were driven by external contacts, the most important of which were from Atlantic France. While copper metallurgy had already been practised in southern France by 3000 BC, the spread of this technology to Armorica (north-west France) came somewhat later, coincident with the circulation of Beaker material culture with some Iberian influences. The fact that the allées couvertes, a Late Neolithic gallery tomb type widely known in the north-western region of Brittany, has similar design features to Irish wedge tombs, and has similar connections with the Beaker culture, has long invited speculation as to the possible connection of the two monument traditions. This thesis is a detailed examination of the potential role of Atlantic France in the spread of metallurgy and associated cultural developments to Ireland. Three closely related topics are considered: • The initiation and development of copper and gold metallurgy, and the later introduction of tin bronze • The cultural context of this new technology, and specifically the underlying explanations for the spread of Beaker cultural influences with the first use of metal in Ireland • The development of wedge tombs in Ireland with regard to French allées couvertes, and the potential influence of the latter in terms of design and use. This thesis is essentially a review of relevant published and archive sources. It combines evidence from old excavations, notably for Breton material, which is often devoid of contextual information, but also some recent investigations with scientific analyses. The aim is to develop a wider understanding of exchanges and contacts between the two regions, but also other parts of Atlantic Europe during the Chalcolithic and earliest Bronze Age. This includes a consideration of south-west England, and its role in a triangular system of exchanges from the beginning of the Bronze Age, when its rich resources of tin and gold may have become significant for the trade in metals between Ireland and Armorica. Central to this study is the exploration of the role of Armorica as the critical springboard for the introduction of metallurgy to Ireland, within a wider Beaker network of Atlantic exchanges.