The Baltinglass landscape and the hillforts of Bronze Age Ireland

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O'Driscoll, James
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University College Cork
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Around 1400 BC, Bronze Age communities in many parts Ireland began to construct large enclosures, known as hillforts, on strategically positioned hilltops overlooking broad expanses of lowland. The enclosing elements acted as the visible manifestation of elite authority and power, and the perceived ownership of the land, people and resources within a particular territory. As a central place in the local landscape, the hillfort performed multiple functions for a disparate community, and became a symbol of communal identity. Evidence for the comprehensive destruction of some hillforts suggests they were targeted by rival groups who may have sought to seize control of a local routeway, resource or people. Hillforts are often considered indicative of Late Bronze Age warfaring practices. In Ireland, the emergence of this monument type coincided with the first appearance of the sword and shield, and can be linked with a European-wide warrior tradition. This coincided with a sudden and severe intensification of hillfort construction on the Continent, many of which, upon excavation, have shown evidence of destruction and violence. The Late Bronze Age in Ireland and Europe is generally regarded as an important period of social, economic and political re-organisation, with the construction of hillforts at the centre of these changes in society. They can provide information about the socio-political and economic climate of the period, as well as the nature and scale of conflict, inter-personal violence and power. Despite this, research of Irish hillforts is a neglected field that has not kept pace with hillfort studies in Britain or the Continent. The project will focus on a group of monuments near Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, described by Condit as ‘Ireland’s hillfort capital’. This will be the first comprehensive interdisciplinary study of that landscape and the first detailed study of any hillfort cluster in prehistoric Ireland. The Wicklow cluster comprises nine of the largest hillforts in Ireland. The project provides an opportunity to expand our knowledge of this unique grouping, as well as the entire corpus of Irish hillforts. The results help contextualize the significance of this area on a national level, assessing its socio-political, economic and ideological importance in contemporary society. More specifically, it assesses the form, functions, economy and strategic positioning of these monuments, using a combination of desk-top research, GIS (Geographic Information Systems), LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging), geophysical surveying techniques and conventional fieldwork.
Prehistory , Archaeology , Bronze Age , Late Bronze Age , Geophysics , GIS , Hillforts , Fortifications , Remote sensing
O'Driscoll, J. 2016. The Baltinglass landscape and the hillforts of Bronze Age Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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