Land use and society during the Middle Bronze Age in South-East Ireland: an integrated examination of the character, landscape setting and chronology of the archaeological and paleoenvironmental record from c.1600–1150 BC

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Date
2023
Authors
Spillane, Ben
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University College Cork
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Abstract
The Middle Bronze Age was one of the least understood periods of Irish later prehistory being characterised through a series of poorly understood metalwork assemblages. The predominance of single metalwork finds and their isolation from a recognisable domestic or funerary record led some to view the period as an ill-defined interlude between the intricacy of Early Bronze Age mortuary practices, and the technological mastery and abundance of Late Bronze Age metalwork. This limited view of the Middle Bronze Age changed dramatically during the ‘Celtic Tiger’, a boom period of infrastructural development from 1995 to 2007. Extensive excavation of hitherto un-surveyed landscapes as part of large-scale linear development schemes led to the discovery of hundreds of archaeological features dating to the period. The application of wide-scale scientific dating has helped to change how the Irish Middle Bronze Age is viewed. Recent studies of Settlements, Fulacht Fiadh, Hillforts and Palaeoenvironments that incorporated this new information suggest that the period saw a significant rise in human activity across Ireland. This included expansions in lowland settlement, forest clearance and a rise in agricultural landscapes. The period also saw the beginning of a widespread Hillfort tradition that intensified into the Late Bronze Age suggestive of shifts in societal organisation and power structures. These studies have been instrumental in improving the knowledge of these individual aspects of Middle Bronze Age record. However, there has not yet been an investigation that includes all elements of the archaeological record with the purpose of incorporating them into an integrated model of human activity. Accordingly, this thesis involves an integrated landscape-scale investigation of all elements of the Middle Bronze Age archaeological and paleoenvironmental record in SouthEast Ireland. The collection of absolutely dated sites from the region has resulted in a database of 320 sites, 622 radiocarbon dated features representing 473 archaeological complexes. A regional chronology of this dataset will be established through Bayesian chronological modelling. Location analysis through GIS will establish the spatial patterning of the sites. The production of LiDAR imagery taken from existing datasets will help compensate for distribution bias created by linear development schemes. Finally, the integration of high-resolution, well-dated paleoenvironmental sequences will contextualise the archaeological developments through an understanding the evolution of the physical landscape during the mid-second millennium BC. This thesis allows for the creation of finegrained models of human land-use, forming the basis for an understanding of the fundamental economic, societal and environmental developments during this formative period.
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Irish later prehistory , Middle Bronze Age , Bayesian chronological modelling , GIS , Statistical site location analysis , LiDAR processing , Landscape archaeology
Citation
Spillane, B. 2023. Land use and society during the Middle Bronze Age in South-East Ireland: an integrated examination of the character, landscape setting and chronology of the archaeological and paleoenvironmental record from c.1600–1150 BC. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.