Animals and the economy of medieval Ireland: a zooarchaeological analysis of the faunal remains from Caherconnell Cashel, Co. Clare

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Nic Cnáimhín, Róisín
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University College Cork
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Animals were central to the economy of early (400–1100 AD) and late (1100–1550 AD) medieval Ireland, and were particularly vital to the food economy, farming practices, and social status of a settlement and its occupants. With the Anglo-Normans dominating the archaeology of the later period, there is a significant gap of knowledge surrounding Gaelic sites of this period, which ultimately raises the question as to the influence of the former on the economy of those settlements. This research aims to gain a better understanding of the agricultural economy of Gaelic sites during these periods through the zooarchaeological analysis of the animal bone assemblage from Caherconnell Cashel, a drystone ringfort located in the Burren, County Clare. Recent excavations recovered a large assemblage, with an estimated 40,830 recordable bones, that displays a high level of preservation. Excavations at Caherconnell also yielded evidence of multiple phases of high-status activity, domestic structures, various artefacts, assemblages of other bio-environmental remains, and contextual and dating information. This project is part of a major inter-disciplinary study of Caherconnell, involving a collaboration with University of Galway with excavations directed by Dr Michelle Comber of the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School. The central research question of this zooarchaeological study is to gain a better understanding of the agricultural economy of rural medieval Gaelic Ireland with a focus on Caherconnell Cashel in north-west Clare. The aims of this analysis have a focus on the role of animal husbandry, hunting, and fishing at medieval Gaelic settlements in western Ireland; identifying changes in livestock farming between the early and late medieval periods to assess potential impacts associated with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans; and detecting any status implications of different animal species at Gaelic medieval settlements. The Caherconnell assemblage provides evidence of a self-sufficient producer-consumer mixed farming economy throughout the early and late medieval periods. The three main domesticates, cattle, sheep, and pig, appear to be bred and slaughtered on-site or nearby, with cattle dominating the assemblage, followed by sheep and then pig. The sites economy shows an emphasis on dairying with the particular dominance of cows, as well as the production of beef, lamb/mutton, and pork, and other products such as wool. The remaining domesticates, horse, dog, cat, and domestic fowl, would have played various roles including working animals, pets, and the production of food stuffs. Hunting, fowling, fishing, and bone working were among the activities undertaken at Caherconnell. The results of this analysis follow the previously established trends from other early medieval sites in Ireland and due to Caherconnell being situated in a landscape controlled by Gaelic lords in the west of Ireland, it is not surprising that this pattern continued into the later period with the site appearing to be unaffected by the arrival of the Anglo-Normans and the overall continuation of native tradition at Caherconnell.
Archaeology , Zooarchaeology , Medieval Ireland , Early medieval , Late medieval , Animal bones , Caherconnell Cashel , Animals , Gaelic economy , Fauna , Faunal remains
Nic Cnáimhín, R. 2023. Animals and the economy of medieval Ireland: a zooarchaeological analysis of the faunal remains from Caherconnell Cashel, Co. Clare. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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