Student research

We actively encourage students of the Irish Archaeology Field School to participate in their own research during their time with us. In this section we feature research work undertaken by past students, including graduate and post graduate theses.

Please note: where students wish to work with materials generated as part of the excavations of the field school they typically are required to be an alum of the school and may be required to complete the IAFS Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement. 

Non-invasive investigation techniques

Ashley Greene, current PhD candidate in the Department of Archaeology, Anthropology, and Forensic Science in Bournemouth University, undertook surveys at a number of archaeological sites in the Midlands in the summer of 2017, to determine whether GPR survey may be used to identify grave cuts. Specifically the research was used to test the effectiveness of automatic feature detection software Ashely is producing as part of her PhD. Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey, a technique which is still underused in Ireland, was the preferred technique for both surveys. GPR detects slight variations in the subsurface conditions (e.g. geological variations, anthropogenic activity, services) by emitting electromagnetic pulses through the ground from a transmitting antenna. If the emitted signal interacts with changes in the subsurface material, it is reflected back to the ground surface to the receiving antenna and converted to wavelets presented on a monitor held by the surveyor. As such GPR detects changes in the subsurface matrix, whether they are significant archaeological features or variations in geology. The amount of time passed from the emission of the electromagnetic signal to receiving is used to determine the approximate depth of any detected objects. Higher frequency antennas are suitable for detecting near surface objects, while lower frequency antennas have a greater potential penetration depth (up to 20m under certain conditions) but with lower resolution. Ashely’s work is ongoing, but some preliminary results on her work in the Midlands, namely at Maigh Leana, Roscomroe and Saint Brendans can be viewed here.

Ashley Greene, current MSc graduate of Forensic Archaeology in Bournemouth University, undertook extensive survey of a number of archaeological sites, to determine whether GPR survey may be used to identify archaeological features buried by rubble (2015). This work will builds on the existing topographical survey, and the geophysics survey carried out in the 1980s and in recent years, the results of the latter hampered by dumping on the site. Archaeological and forensic investigations often include the search for buried remains.  In a portion of these cases, locating the remains through geophysical survey is hindered by modern rubbish or rubble, especially when metalliferrous objects are present.  This study used a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey conducted across three areas of the Black Friary (Co. Meath) to facilitate differentiating rubble signals from possible burial signals, through determining the presence of burials and architectural structures beneath the modern topsoil.  This study was a multi-method geophysical survey (ground-penetrating radar, electromagnetic induction, and gradiometry) of unexcavated areas at the Black Friary to delineate areas of anthropogenic activity and refine the standards for ground-penetrating radar survey with the intention of acquiring high resolution data as a method to maximise the potential to positively identify grave-like anomalies (Green, A & Cheetham P 2016. Re-imaging the Black Friary: Recent Approaches to Seeing Beyond Modern Activities at the Dominican Friary, Trim, Co Meath, Republic of Ireland. Poster.


Image_Student_research_DaraDara Fleming-Farrell is undertook a PhD with the Digital Arts and Humanities, Department of History, Trinity College Dublin. Her dissertation, the Application of Digital Technologies to the Study of Skeletal Trauma will look at alternative methodologies to traditional analysis for the recording of skeletal trauma.

Dara’s research included investigating recording methodologies for trauma and breakage patterns in archaeological assemblages, drawing on archaeological and forensic anthropological data to investigate the feasibility of developing a new methodological approach for non-contact analysis and interpretation of peri-mortem skeletal trauma, using cost-effective three-dimensional modelling techniques.

Artifacts – Glass analysis

Image_Student_research_SineadSinead Middleton of the Institute of Technology Sligo is carrying out a study of the Black Friary glass finds as part of her postgraduate thesis:  using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and scanning electron microscope (SEM) to undertake multi- and trace-elemental analysis of the glass. XRF and SEM are used as they facilitate highly accurate methods of obtaining elemental analysis and are non-destructive.

The study seeks to identify major materials and trace substances used in producing the glass. Trace substances may include stray inclusions or substances added intentionally to affect properties; different additives to the glass can modify the physical properties of the material such as colour. Analysis will identify trace elements in the glass, and provide information on glass production glass trade. In consultation with the National Museum of Ireland, and examining glass from recent archaeological excavations, Sinead will further initial research carried out in Ireland on glass mainly from Iron Age contexts (Warner and Meighan 1994). A major aim of the project is to establish a database of results against which future samples can be compared.

Further reading:
  • Warner, R. and Meighan, I. G. 1994. Dating Irish glass beads by chemical analysis. In D. O’Corráin (ed) Irish Antiquity. Essays and Studies Presented to Professor M. J. O’Kelly. Four Courts Press: Dublin