Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 8

Posted on July 12, 2018 by Steve Mandal

In this penultimate blog, intern Madeleine Harris visits Birr Library, travels to Cork to meet with a medieval pottery specialist, visits the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin and meets with a conservator in University College Dublin.

Week 8 – 19th February 2018

This week was one of the busiest in Birr thus far, as we had meetings across the country and many things to accomplish.  On Monday, I started the day by working with the samples we had sieved during the last day on site.  Now that they were dry, I used tweezers to extract the bits of charcoal from the roots and other organic material and place it in a new bag.  We are sending our charcoal to a lab in New Zealand where it will undergo radiocarbon dating.  In order for us to send these samples out of the country, we had to submit permits to the National Museum of Ireland for export and alteration.

Birr Library

The majority of the Tuesday, I spent doing research and completing impact assessments. The library in Birr has a great local history section, which was of great use to me for my historical summary of the areas in my reports.  At the end of the day, we gathered and prepared all of the items needed for the following day.

We had an early start on Wednesday, as we were meant to be in Bandon, a town just outside of Cork, by 9:30am.  We scheduled a meeting with Clare McCutcheon, a medieval pottery specialist, who agreed to identify our pottery finds from Ferrycarrig; however, she did much more than that.  We spent the whole day with Clare and not only learned which types of pottery we found, but how to identify them, their origin, and much more.  

Our sherds included Leinster Cooking Ware, Ham Green B ware, Wexford-type ware, Wexford-type coarseware, Saintonge green glazed ware, Bristol Redcliffe ware, Mintety-type ware, and even a couple sherds of Saintonge sgraffito.  It was incredible to learn how she identified each sherd and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend the day with her.  I now feel confident about identifying pottery sherds found on site, and am excited to share this knowledge with other students.

After our day with Clare, I spent most of Thursday working with the pottery.  I took the information she shared and updated the museum database with the correct identifications. Once each piece was updated, I began labeling the sherds with their corresponding museum identification number.  This number is a combination of the excavation license number, the feature or context number, and the individual find number (for example, 17E0318: 2001: 1) and is written on the pottery itself.  To do this, I applied a varnish on each piece, let it dry, and then used a permanent pen to mark the number.

Friday was another early start, as we had various appointments in Dublin.  Our first task was to view the topographical files inside the National Museum.  These files contain a record of each artefact found in the country, and I needed the information to complete my impact assessments.  In the afternoon, we went to University College Dublin to meet with Susannah Kelly, a conservator, to inquire about a piece of timber found on site.  After asking a couple of people in the archaeology department about the artefact, we left the piece with her to conserve.  It’s hard to believe I only have one week left in Ireland!

National Museum Dublin

University College Dublin

Madeleine Harris

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 7

Posted on July 4, 2018 by Steve Mandal

This week intern Madeleine Harris learns about the discipline of oral histories, travels to Maynooth University and re-visits the Irish National Heritage Park to finalise logistics.  The range of activities indicates just how holistic our unique Winter internship is.

Week 7 – 12th February 2018

This was my second week in Birr, but we spent nearly as much time traveling as we did in the office!  On Monday, I went with Denis to a meeting with a historical group in Kilcormac, a nearby town.  They were interested in creating an oral history project involving the community, particularly the people who worked on the bogs.  It was a great learning opportunity for myself, as I knew very little about either aspect.  I loved learning about the process behind the project and the steps required to begin creating an oral history.

Afterwards, we walked through Lough Boora, a massive park situated on a reclaimed peat bog, where I was able to learn even more about this unique landscape and the business surrounding it.

Any spare time this week was spent working on my archaeology impact assessments for both Paul’s Lane Loop and the Glinsk Castle Loop.  I paid a visit to the Birr library, where I perused the local history section and researched the two areas.  The assessments need to include a section about the history of the affected area, and the local library is often one of the only places with a collection of such information.  Once the historical summary is finished, the only section left to complete is Appendix 2: Archaeological Finds.  For this, we had to make an appointment at the National Museum of Ireland, and expect to go next Friday.

Wednesday was an early morning, as we took a trip to Wexford and visited the Irish National Heritage Park.  We checked on the site, picked up some forgotten items, and met with Chris Hayes, the outdoor park manager.  We discussed topics such as future infrastructure plans for the site and site-office, marketing tactics and future videos, and preparations for the upcoming programs.  I enjoyed the opportunity to hear about aspects of the company, and the industry in general, that one would never think about when discussing archaeology.  Even though we had only been away for two weeks, it was great to visit the park and see the site again.  I hope to be back again in the future!

After continuing my research in the morning, the majority of Thursday was spent on the road again, as we traveled to Maynooth University.  Denis spoke to students in the anthropology department and presented their upcoming summer programs.  The IAFS is offering both forensic and physical archaeology modules to Maynooth students in June, which would be a terrific opportunity for them to gain hands-on experience.  We also took this opportunity to meet with the Anthropology Department head and faculty, and explored the campus a bit.

After a week of adventures, Friday was spent back in the office.  Denis and I took this day to accomplish a few projects, evaluate our to-do list, and discuss our goals and plans for the following week, which include even more day-trips!

Madeleine Harris

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 6

Posted on June 25, 2018 by Steve Mandal

This week intern Madeleine Harris travels to Birr for the second half of her internship in the Birr office.  She will be learning archaeological skills not typically taught in a field school, starting with archaeological impact assessment skills.  This is part of our unique internship which teaches a whole range of archaeological techniques.

Week 6 – 5th February 2018

After arriving in Birr on Friday and settling in our new homestay, we were excited to begin work on Monday morning! Grace, Chanel, and Liam were all here with me for the first week in Birr.  We spent most of the day getting organized and familiarized with our new office and took a tour of our new town.  Afterwards, we began sorting and finalizing records from Ferrycarrig.  Grace and I digitized the sample and finds registers, while Liam sorted through the plans to prepare them for digitization.  He had to check that the legends were labeled correctly and included all crucial information, and ensure the plans were correct and would overlap properly.  We also finished registering the finds into the National Museum of Ireland’s database and preparing for our upcoming impact assessment.

On Tuesday, we drove to the nearby village of Cadamstown to begin our assessment.  We walked the pre-existing hiking path, Paul’s Lane Loop, which took us through the Slieve Bloom Mountains.  It was a beautiful and snowy day, and we, as well as the two dogs with us, enjoyed the walk.  Throughout the trail, we stopped to take photos and notes about the various archaeological sites and monuments we encountered.  These included the abandoned village of Bordingstown and several artifacts within Cadamstown.  We used maps from the National Monuments Service to track our walk and made necessary updates along the way.

Once we returned to the office, we spent the remaining hours, as well as the next couple of days, working on our assessments.  The reports are thorough and include the proposed development, a historical summary of the area, and multiple appendices discussing the finds and monuments near the trail.  They end with a description of measures that should be taken in order for the development to occur.

After our reports were drafted, we decided to begin a second assessment on Friday.  This time, we walked along the Glinsk Castle Loop in Kinnitty.  This walk was longer but had fewer points of archaeological significance.  The main monument on the loop was Glinsk Castle.  We stopped and looked for it, but found nothing more than a few stones forming a possible border wall.

After the walk was finished, we stopped for lunch in the Kinnitty Castle Hotel to celebrate Grace, Chanel, and Liam’s last day in Birr.

Instead of returning to the office after lunch, we decided to take a final field trip, and drove to Clonmacnoise, a beautiful monastic site on the River Shannon.  It was the perfect way to spend our last day together!

Madeleine Harris

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 5

Posted on June 13, 2018 by Steve Mandal

In this blog intern Madeleine Harris describes the last week on site for the Winter/Spring program.  A great experience was had by all the students during their time in Ferrycarrig!  Maddy will now be moving to our Birr office for indepth training in other archaeological skills.  Stay tuned for further updates …

Week 5 – 29th January 2018

This week went by quickly, as it was our last week on-site at Ferrycarrig and we were busy!  On Monday, Grace and I began preparing our presentation, which we would deliver on Friday, along with Denis, Steve, and Chris Hayes of the INHP in their visitor center.  The main focus of this presentation was discussing the past, present, and future of Ferrycarrig. We spent the majority of the week working on this presentation.

Meanwhile, the students were all busy with the excavation.  In the beginning of the week, we extended Cutting 1 in two places to better identify the revetment wall, as well as the walls in the northeastern corner of the cutting.  The rest of the week was spent carefully excavating these extensions.

I also continued working on post-excavation this week, and finished rotations with the students.  Richard and the students working in the extensions kept me busy, as they discovered some unique finds in the northeastern section of Cutting 1, particularly pieces of burnt sandstone, or possible thick medieval pottery.  We plan to bring these pieces to a specialist soon to learn more about them.

On Tuesday, we were lucky to receive a visit from Claire Cotter, who excavated the site from 1986-7.  It was great to meet her and learn more about her excavation and experience.  Later in the day, Steve presented a second lecture about archaeological impact assessments, and went into greater depth.  We practiced using the various sources provided and discussed the trail we would walk the following week.

The remainder of the week was mostly spent finishing up our work.  The students turned in their site notebooks and focused on their research, the cuttings were continuing to be excavated and cleaned up, and final recordings were being made.  On Thursday, we all met at the pub for a goodbye celebration, which was a fun way to wrap up the month together.

Friday was a busy day, as we had a lot to accomplish before the end of the field school.  Most students were finishing feature sheets, which we had been working on all week.  Others continued planning and photographing and ensuring everything was registered correctly.  We also took samples from two different features and hoped to recover organic material, particularly charcoal, for radiocarbon dating.  After these were collected, Denis, Monica, Liam and I spent the afternoon floating and sieving the samples and successfully recovered small bits of charcoal, which we hope to send to a specialist in New Zealand.  Around noon, we all took a break and walked to the visitor center for our presentation.  After more than a week of hard work and preparation, we held the public lecture and presented our findings, experiences, and goals for the site.  Afterwards, attendees were invited to come up the hill and learn more about our work.

At the end of the day on Friday, we all walked down the hill together and said our goodbyes.  As students went back to their homestays to prepare for their flights home or their travels abroad, Denis, Grace and I took a journey to Birr, County Offaly, where the second portion of my internship would begin!

Madeleine Harris

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 4

Posted on June 5, 2018 by Steve Mandal

In the fourth of our internship series of blogs Madeleine Harris describes students finds, birds of prey(!) and a Fulacht Fia. What an exciting week …

Week 4 –  22nd January 2018

After a relaxing weekend, we all returned to site on January 22, ready for another great week of digging.  In the morning, Denis discussed his goals for the next two weeks with Richard, Grace and I.  We had a lot of work to get done, and the days were moving quickly! Once these goals were mentioned to the students and they were ready to begin their work, I continued post-excavation in the Big Dig and taught a small group of students about the process. I showed them how to properly wash pottery and animal bone and then supervised them as they worked.  After everything was washed, we practiced registering and bagging finds and samples that had dried over the weekend.  Later in the day, a couple of students, Max and Alice, found nice pieces of pottery – a strap handle and glazed rim sherd, respectively, and I assisted them with registering their finds.  This continued for the majority of the week, as students continued filling their finds trays, and I continued with the post-ex rotations.

Meanwhile, on site, the students were progressing with their excavations in both Cutting 1 and 2.  On Monday, the main focus in Cutting 1 was cleaning it back for photographs, whereas students in Cutting 2 focused on straightening it to a regular shape and removing the narrow baulk on the cutting’s northwest edge.  The rest of the week was then spent photographing and planning Cutting 1.

On Wednesday, we were invited to meet the birds of prey kept in the (replica) castle next door to the Big Dig.  Jim introduced us to his birds, we asked questions, and took photos with them.  It was great fun, and was a good opportunity to meet our “neighbour.”

On Thursday, we took a break from digging and participated in a Fulacht Fia and ethical hunting workshop with the Irish National Heritage Park.  Fulacht Fia are one of the most commonly found archaeological sites in Ireland, and the park has created a replica, which is used for workshops, frequently with school children.  Our workshop began when two ethical hunters came into the park with a deer they had killed, and they then proceeded to teach us about the process – gutting, butchering and cooking a deer.  We learned about the history behind Fulacht Fia and their use in the Bronze Age, although much is still unknown.  The boiled water likely served man purposes, possibly including cooking.  Once the water was boiled, we wrapped the meat in straw and left it in the water to cook.  These workshops are interesting because they provide a more hands-on historical experience and allow the students to learn a bit about experimental archaeology.

Friday was spent back on site, as students continued cleaning back, planning, and photographing both cuttings.  The students looked forward to their last weekend in Ireland, which most spent either touring the country or working on their research paper.  We also said goodbye to Maggie, Aisling, and Emily, who attended a two-week long program with us – thank you for your hard work!

Madeleine Harris

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 2

Posted on May 14, 2018 by Steve Mandal

In the second of our internship series of blogs Grace talks about Week 2. Can’t wait to get students out there digging in Summer …

Week 2 – 7th January 2018

Week 2 began on Sunday the 7th when Denis, Maddy and I went on a reconnaissance trip to Ferns, Co. Wexford.  We travelled to Ferns with the aim of designing the next day’s activities for the students; we left with far more than that.  In the typical Irish manner we happened upon the caretaker of Ferns Castle, who kindly provided us with the years of research he had collected about Ferns, in particular Ferns Castle.

We returned to the Heritage Park to welcome the students who had travelled from across the world to be here.  After a word of welcome and a poem the students were collected by their local host families with whom they will be staying for the duration of their time in Wexford.

On Monday morning Denis Shine gave the students a brief site orientation and an indepth lecture on medieval Ireland.  1169 CE (the year the Anglo-Normans came to Ireland) was mentioned many times.  We then returned to Ferns with the students for their first field trip.  The significance of Ferns Castle lies not only in the history of who built and controlled it but also in the fact that it too was a ringwork castle like Carrick.

The weather on Tuesday came down with an intention to weed out the weak from the strong, or to be more accurate those who brought wet weather gear from those who didn’t.  Steve Mandal took us around to the passage tomb at Knockroe and St Mullen’s.  Even the Irish weather couldn’t dampen the mood as we explored the site of St. Mullen’s and the collection of church remains it encompassed.

Hook Lighthouse

On Wednesday thankfully for us the weather cleared up beautifully for the field trip to Hook Lighthouse and Tintern Abbey.  Hook Lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world, built in 1172 by William Marshall and operational today.  The views from the top of the lighthouse were extraordinary and the educational tour provided by the Hook Lighthouse tour guide was very enjoyable.  Our time at Tintern Abbey was the first organised opportunity to plan a structure for the students.

On Thursday we all went on a tour of the Irish National Heritage Park, with our wonderful tour guide, Alan.  The park boasts 9,000 years of human history replica settlements, including a crannog, a monastery, a passage tomb, a ring fort and a Viking long house, all within the scenic landscape of the park.

Most excitingly on Thursday we began digging on the site.  The site area had been cleared back by park workers, but there was much twig and leaf matter to be removed so that the archaeological record could be accessed.

Maddy and Grace sieving

Friday marked the first full day of digging on site.  Sieving was begun on the soil removed from a possible disposal area within cutting 1, and both cutting 1 and 2 were taken down to the plastic that the previous dig in 1986 had left to preserve the archaeology underneath.  The site began to look like an archaeological dig on Friday and finds began to be unearthed almost immediately.

Grace Dennis-Toone

IAFS projects regularly feature in local and national news. A selection of some recent news coverage, which gives an impression of the variety of our work, is covered below. Our blog (see here) is also worth a read, especially for students wanting an impression of what an IAFS program entails.

A lot of our work in 2019 is focused on celebrated the 850th anniversary of the Carrick archaeology site, our marquee archaeology project. Our Carrick 850 Commemorations, including a conference, book launch and lectures series are described in more detail