Internship Blog Series – Spring 2019 – Week 6

Week 6 – February 11th 2019 

by Dominic Melvin

It was just me in the office on the Monday as Denis was in Dublin at a staff meeting, working on the new website. I spent the morning continuing with my list of post-excavation jobs. Progress had been slow the week before, but it soon picked up; I was tasked with checking over the site drawings and thanks to the students learning well on site and being talented(!) there really was not much to fix on most of the sheets. Go students!

Tuesday saw Denis return and it was work as usual going over the site drawings. Evaluating the student’s plans, and knowing how these need to be brought together to create composite site plans, has improved my own planning skills – I certainly now know what makes a strong and concise archaeological illustration!

On Wednesday unfortunately I had a day off due to sickness. While I was off sick Denis spent the day with Mairead (the Program Administrator) preparing upcoming programs for the American Spring Break calendar, as well as planning outreach activities for the next few months. When working with so many students from so many amazing places this is a huge unseen part of how the program is run and I was unfortunate to not see it. The IAFS also seem to have an incredibly busy program of community outreach in 2019, to coincide with the 850th birthday of the site – it seems a very busy time.

Thursday was spectacular in Birr; blue skies and a warm fifteen degrees made the town light up and Birr castle is a must visit in those conditions. The morning was spent doing work in the office but come midday myself and Denis went on a walk to make the most of the weather. We stopped and had a hot chocolate and scone at one of Birr’s many cafes (the scone was perfect) and enjoyed Birr in the sunshine for an extended lunch before heading back to the office to finish the day.

Friday was my last official day in the office. I received a phone call with an offer of employment from an archaeological company based in Dublin. I believe their offer had a direct connection to the experience I gained from the IAFS. I would just like to thank Denis, Steve and all staff from the IAFS and the Irish National Heritage Park. You are all wonderful and this has been a fantastic start to my adventures in Ireland.

Best wishes for the future,

Dominic Melvin

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2019 – Week 5

Week 5 – February 4th 2019 

by Dominic Melvin

After travelling down from Wexford to Birr on the Sunday, Monday was a day off. I spent the day exploring parts of Birr on my own and working on preparations for the second half of the internship.

Birr is a simply stunning town, filled with Georgian architecture, but also some lovely medieval ruins when you look a little closer. It will be quite a change being back in the centre of a town having spent the last few weeks in rural Wexford.

During my travels I discovered the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) Birr Office which made my Tuesday morning easier. That morning I walked down from my homestay (with a lovely lady called Mary McManus) just up from the main street and down to the office. Denis greeted me and we then went on a walking tour of the town. We spent a bit of time at the local gardening initiative, Birr Growery, which is Ireland’s first urban food commons! This initiative is a semi-public garden for the town on land that was donated by Birr Castle. The parent company of the IAFS, the Irish Heritage School, have cooperated with the Growery on past student programs, so they regularly now visit for lunches out of the office! Sadly, due to it being winter, bringing our packed lunch here most days was not an option. The rest of Tuesday was spent writing out and beginning to work through the list of jobs I will have over the coming 4 weeks.

The post-excavation is varied and includes me checking all drawings, feature sheets, registered photos etc. I also must process the finds register and digitise all the paperwork. As I am the only intern there is lots to do. Wednesday was spent going over the photo register. This was made easy by the fact the students had made zero mistakes. Go students! I was also treated to a hot chocolate by Denis from Emma’s café in the town.

Wednesday I spent going over the sample register. I had to make sure all the sample bags registered in the register were physically there and then go through, check all details were correct, and weigh each sample. Each sample was then entered in the digital register. Processes like this, while time consuming, are an important aspect of archaeology and help to minimize human error.

Thursday and Friday were spent working through my list of jobs. By Friday afternoon I had finished the feature register, the sample register for Cutting 1 and the photo register. Not bad for just the first week. I also signed up for the pool at the Birr Leisure centre. As they have month long memberships this was perfect and swimming in the heated pool in the afternoons is great to get through winter. It’s nice to be back in a town!

Dominic Melvin

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2019 – Week 4

Week 4 – January 28th 2019 

by Dominic Melvin

The final week of the Wexford part of my internship began with amazing weather. On the Monday I was once again in Cutting 2 – this time with a barrow in hand as me and Richard, the site supervisor, were working in a recess at the back of the cutting. This area had been backfilled since the previous excavations undertaken on the site in the 1980’s but still contained many sherds of medieval pottery. As most of the serious digging in the rest of the cutting had been undertaken the other students spent the day recording, photographing, drawing, and excavating possible stake-holes within the cutting. Alan, the park’s cameraman, was on site recording a detailed update of the dig, and what we achieved, which can be found on the Irish Archaeology Field School’s YouTube channel and Facebook page!

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Tuesday unfortunately brought back the cold weather to the sunny southeast of Ireland but that did not dampen the work effort, as much as it dampened the rain jackets! Excavation continued in Cutting 2 while cutting one’s team mostly undertook drawing. The team of Cutting 1 were also extremely fortunate to gain a rare bird sighting of the Wexford Sparrow, a rare bird of the region (one which they entirely made up!).

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Wednesday was a perfect example of the unique and special working at such a wonderful site like the Irish National Heritage Park can be. Preparations had partly begun to ready the site for further work in the coming summer. After a frozen morning in which no one could conduct work as the ground was too hard some of the students continued drawing and recording while some others began to removed plant life from the ditch around the site. This is due to the possibility of new cuttings being undertaken in this area later. The day was business as usual until two horses arrived, with riders, to film a medieval battle recreation for the park. This was an amazing display of mounted combat, which distracted the staff and students for several hours. Dan and Tiana, two of the students, even got to look after the horses for half an hour while their owner was shown around the site.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Thursday was feast day! A medieval feast was created at the Heritage Parks Crannóg (a replica early medieval settlement). A Fulacht Fia, a traditional inground bronze age cooking ‘trough’ heated with hot stones, was used to boil ham, which was then consumed by the students and staff. A pizza oven made of clay was constructed by Richard in one of the small huts and used to make pizza while a small fire in the same hut was used to grill vegetarian and normal sausages. Everyone ate, played and laughed all day. Many of the students donning traditional dress got to learn about and practice with the parks recreated weaponry – all in a safe manner of course!

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Friday was the final day at the park for the students and my final day in Wexford. The cuttings were prepped and protected for the rest of winter to avoid damage until the summer. Everyone said their goodbyes and headed off home or to further travel and adventure. I packed up my stuff said goodbye and thank you to my wonderful homestay (Jackie + Family + Pets) and headed off down to Birr for the next part of my program.

Dominic Melvin

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2019 – Week 3

Week 3 – January 21st 2019 

by Dominic Melvin

It’s week three of my internship experience at the Irish Heritage Park and everything demonstrated by Richard and Denis in the first two weeks is starting to come together. On Monday I went back in to Cutting 2 and set out a new sondage which I, Zac and Phillip (students on the program) then began to excavate using a mattock. Our sondage was to follow an orange/rust coloured soil and see how far along the site it went. It appears to exist along the whole length of the cutting and is a topic of much debate between Denis and Richard, as to whether it is ‘in-situ’ natural soil, or a redeposit from digging the adjacent site ditch.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Tuesday morning was spent back in Cutting 2. Another Sondage was marked off and me and Zac continued excavating our sondage from Monday. At noon the students and staff headed down the hill from the dig site to the Irish National Heritage Park audio visual room, as Aidan O’ Sullivan and Brendan O’ Neill had come down from University College Dublin to give a talk on their MSc in Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture. Aidan gave a lecture on the program and gave examples of past projects students have completed. Experimental archaeology is the study of reconstructions of past buildings, material culture and technologies in the hope of better understanding their role materialistically and culturally in the past. Many of the students were very interested and took pamphlets on the program. I myself am applying, in hopes to start the program in September.

Wednesday was a great day. I dug in Cutting 2 – still chasing back the rust coloured soil in my sondage until 11am! After which the group received a treat. Jim, the parks falconer, took me and all the students and staff over to the park’s falconry centre. We were all introduced to the park’s birds of prey collection and even allowed to hold and take pictures with some of the birds. This was a great way to break the week up with something a little bit different and was very kind of Jim to do this for us. So thank you Jim!

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Thursday was spent removing large amounts of soil from Cutting 2. Many of the students from the cutting were concentrating on cataloguing, drawing and photographing post holes. They would also excavate the post holes and bring the contents inside to post excavations to be floated to get charcoal samples which would then be sent away to experts for carbon dating. The students and I also received a geology lecture from Steve (one of the program directors) explaining the types of stone found on site and how it came to be there. Very useful when trying to identify what is happening with the landscape of the site.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Friday was spent in post excavation. I, Melissa and Zac (students of the program) where all very lucky to have Aisling (a past intern and current teaching assistant) walk us through how finds and samples are registered, bagged and cleaned. Aisling is rather an expert in these matters, and it was great to learn from her. It was also great to learn another aspect of archaeology!

Dominic Melvin

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2019 – Week 2

Week 2 – January 14th 2019 

by Dominic Melvin

I spent a quiet weekend catching up on university work from home and exploring Wexford Town. On Monday it was all systems go and the teams of Cuttings 1 and 2 got right back in to digging. I was still assigned to Cutting 1 and continued cutting back the eastern corner. I was lucky enough to discover that the wall I had been uncovering the previous week continued to the south. This was excellent as although Cutting 1 was not producing as many artefacts as Cutting 2, we have structures! The afternoon was spent with an introduction on how to take levels by Richard (the Site Supervisor).

On Tuesday I continued following the wall until it was completely uncovered. Unfortunately, it appears to not continue the entire way through the cutting to form a corner with the already exposed southern wall. The students then spent the entire day trowelling back and cleaning the cutting in preparation for ‘publication level’ photography of the cutting and in preparation for drawing (planning). Six of the nine students in Cutting 1 began their drawings of the cutting. These drawings are undertaken using the sites grid system so they can all be joined and display real world locations. Drawings are also taken as well as pictures so hard copy information is retained for the site record. Data can be lost so the more copies, and types of information for the site record, the better.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Wednesday was spent on the drawings of Cutting 1. As drawings must be accurate this process is often slow and takes a couple of days to complete when, like with the students, it is being learned for the first time. I also spent part of the day inside in post excavations learning how to process finds. This was important because on Friday Maddy, the post excavation supervisor, is going back to university and I will be undertaking this process in the midland’s office in Birr in the next part of my internship (bye Maddy!). Wednesday was the first cold day (by Irish standards) so Steve and Denis bought us hot chips (fries to you Americans) and Wexford rissoles – a local delicacy that has to be tried – to end the day.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

On Thursday I was switched to Cutting 2 as Cutting 1 did not need me around to complete their drawings, which were starting to take shape and looked fantastic. In Cutting 2 I trowelled back for most of the day and discovered what could possibly be three stake-holes. Two of the students found pottery with engraved patterning.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Unfortunately, it had rained overnight so on the Friday all our trowelling on Cutting 2 had to be redone. This only took an hour to complete due to the teamwork of Cutting 2, who ignored the drizzle and got the job done. The students had their quiz on Friday so after morning tea Richard, Jordan (a local volunteer) and I cleaned up Cutting 2 in preparation for photos and site drawings. After that it was drawing until the end of the day. Most of the students then headed off to Cork to explore and adventure!

Dominic Melvin

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2019 – Week 1

Week 1 – January 7th 2019 

by Dominic Melvin

I arrived in Ireland on January 2nd from warm and sunny Australia.  After a 21-hour flight, the bus ride down to Gorey, Wexford (in southeast Ireland) flew by and I was picked up by Denis (one of the program directors).  I started my internship at the Carrick archaeology site, itself located in the stunning confines the Irish National Heritage Park, the very next day.  As the students had yet to arrive myself, Maddy (who coordinates the site laboratory), Denis and I spent my first couple of days cleaning out the office – after recent construction and renovation works.  Now I won’t say the office is now as nice as the view from the dig site but in my unbiased opinion, it sure is close!

Skipping over most of the weekend (which I was lucky enough to enjoy with Tara the homestay coordinator and her family, so thanks Tara!), I spent Sunday night at a minor Presentation by Denis and Steve (the other course director) welcoming the students to the park and introducing us to our homestay families.  I was placed with Jackie Gilgannon, her family, and two other students called Tom and Phillip.  Tom is an Australian from South Australia and Phillip an American from North Carolina.  The homestay also has 3 dogs and Jackie made us all feel very welcome.

On Monday we explored the local countryside including Roches castle a 16th century castle directly across the River Slaney from the dig site.  It made for AMAZING views.  That morning also involved a lecture on the history of the Carrick site.  The students were extremely tired, but Denis’s delivery of the course information and history had many laughing and excited.  Jack, from the park, also provided an enthralling tour of the Irish Heritage Park and took us through 9000 years of Irish history.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

On Tuesday we all received another lecture and after this packed on to the bus for our first out of town field trip.  The group had 19 students and me.  Our major stop was Ferns Castle, an amazing Norman castle built by the Marshal family in Ferns (north Wexford) in the early 13th century.  The castle contains one of the finest castle chapels in Europe, with fantastic surviving carved stone decoration.  This castle has a direct connection with our site at the Irish Heritage Park, as the stone castle at Carrick was also built by the Marshals in the early 13th century.  We were also kindly given a tour of the history of Ferns, in tapestry form – based on tapestries created for Ferns Castle visitors centre by a local tapestry group.  The afternoon was filled learning how to do a site plan and take baseline coordinates.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019
IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Wednesday was our last day of tours and we spent it on the south coast exploring the Hook lighthouse – the oldest ‘continually running lighthouse in the world’ at over 800 years old!  To put it mildly, it was beautiful down there and the tour guide was a wonderful lady who had answers to all the questions the students asked.  We also celebrated Hannah’s (one of the students) birthday and Steve nicely purchased her a book that we all signed.

IAFS Internship Blog 2019

Thursdays we finally got into my favourite part… digging!  After a site induction and talks on how to be safe on a worksite the group was split into two groups and assigned a cutting.  Cutting 1 was by far the ‘superior team’ and everyone got along well making jokes while cleaning the cutting face.  Cutting 2, led by Richard’s example, was humble in its ability to find artefacts and by the Friday afternoon were very tired from walking back and forth from the office to empty finds trays.  On Friday we packed and cleaned up and headed to the pub – tired but content after a great first week!

Dominic Melvin