All that remains: a study of social identity in Iron Age Ireland

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O'Shaughnessy, Gerard
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University College Cork
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This project investigates the complex processes of cultural change visible in the burial record of the Irish Late Iron Age. To understand the mechanism of change this project will focus on the identity of those buried, examining the representation of gender and social identities within the three contemporary burial rites. The end of the Iron Age and the transition to the Early Medieval period is tied up with questions about religious, ethnic, and social identity. These manifest themselves particularly in the burial record which sees in the first four centuries AD the change between, and the contemporary existence of cremation, extended, and crouched inhumation burials. After about 2000 years of cremation burial, the introduction of inhumation burial in the early centuries AD signifies dramatic societal changes, which are still ill understood. Previous discussion has focused on the significance of the occurrence of crouched and inhumation burials in terms of what they tell us about external influences from the Roman or Christianized world. The question of how immigrants are recognizable in these burials has been widely discussed without any consensus having been reached. This thesis concentrates on the individuals buried, and what their burials can tell us about the people themselves. Over the last fifteen years, a lot of new burial evidence has come to light in the rescue excavations of the Celtic Tiger years. In my BA dissertation, I examined the context and contents of the earliest extended inhumation burials in pre-Christian Ireland and was struck by the evidence for the significance of women in these burials. My MPhil Project follows up on this evidence and investigates social and gender differentiation within the burial record of the Late Iron Age. This will shed light on the broader question of the context and mechanisms of adoption of the new burial rites and associated cultural practices. A contextual study was conducted of the new and absolute dated burial sites that considers burial mode, including grave goods, and their association in the landscape, including pre-existing monuments and burial to garner insight into the context of the adaptation of the new burial rites. This project is a contextual study of absolute-dated excavated burial sites; sites that had been previously examined and new sites that had not been subjected to this level of investigation. This approach considers the information on the buried individual, the mode of their burial, including grave goods, osteological and isotopic data, the situation of the burial in relation to other known archaeological sites and monuments in the immediate and wider landscape as well as chronological and spatial patterning of these characteristics. The project consisted of a desk-based analysis of published and unpublished primary data including excavation reports. Data was entered into a database and interrogated. A literature review was conducted to inform the analysis and situate the interpretation of the data within the current state of knowledge. Published isotope data was recorded, and the results evaluated within the context of current understanding of this dataset. The data examined was partially provided by the supervisor Dr Katharina Becker in form of a data generated in her ongoing work and added to by information publicly available from the Instar project ‘Mapping death’. A survey of as well as other sources of information on recent excavations will be conducted and excavation reports sourced where possible. There are no ethical implications arising out of this project.
Archaeology , Iron Age Ireland , Social identity
O'Shaughnessy, G. 2021. All that remains: a study of social identity in Iron Age Ireland. MRes Thesis, University College Cork.