Analysis of excavation licensing figures for 2011 correctly predicted reduction in construction output.


Central Statistics Office

The Central Statistics Office in Dublin

In my blog post of 12 January 2012 Excavation Licenses indicate continued reduction in archaeological and construction activity in 2011” I noted that a reduction in archaeological excavation licenses issued in 2011 of 19.6% would indicate a similar drop in the Production and in Building and Construction Index (PBCI) compiled by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The CSO published the PBCI and their final figures for 2011 on 15 June 2012 and these figures do indeed indicate a drop from 28.3 to 23.4 in the volume of production, an annual reduction of 17.3%. This maintains the high level of correlation between the Excavation licensing figures and the CSO PBCI and supports the predictive validity of the excavation licensing index.

Site this post as:

Mount, C. Analysis of excavation licensing figures for 2011 correctly predicted reduction in constriction output. The Charles Mount Blog, 27 June 2012. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=872

Indicators suggest that archaeological activity in Ireland continued to decline in the first half of 2012-revised. 9/07/12

 

Indicators suggest that archaeological activity in Ireland continued to decline in the first half of 2012.Archaeological excavation licensing figures for the first half of 2012 suggest that archaeological activity in Ireland continued to decline.

As of 30 June 2012, 230 archaeological excavation licenses had been issued by the National Monuments Service. This represents just 41% of the 558 licenses issued in 2011. The quarterly results will not have analytical value until year on year comparisons can be made beginning in 2013, however early indications are that archaeological activity in Ireland is continuing to decline. Corroborating evidence of the continued decline in construction and development activity in Ireland has been gathered by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF). The CIF forecast that just 7,500-8,000 houses will be built in Ireland in 2012. This represents a reduction of 25% on the number of houses built in 2011 and a 93% reduction on the number of houses built in 2006. The Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Manager’s Index fell to 42.5 in June from 46.3 in May. General weakness across the Irish economy is indicated by the Central Statistics Office Household Survey which shows that the number of people employed fell by 18,100 or 1% (seasonally adjusted to 0.4%) in the first quarter of 2012, with the second largest fall in the construction sector coming after the fall in employment in the hospitality sector. The construction sector has reduced from 267,000 employed in 2006 to just 103,100 employed today. The Central Statistics Office also notes that the unemployment rate has reached a new post-crash high of 14.9% in June.

Site this post as:

Mount, C. Indicators suggest that archaeological activity in Ireland continued to decline in the first half of 2012. The Charles Mount Blog, 9 July 2012. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=862

 

Identifying pottery fire-pits in the archaeological record

Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary Site 125.3

Probable pottery fire-pits at Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary Site 125.3. Image from McQuade et al. 2009.

Thanks to the work of the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology it may now be possible to identify the pottery fire-pits of the Irish prehistoric pottery industry.

One of the most characteristic artefacts of the Irish Bronze Age is pottery. It was produced in large quantities and is found at all types of sites from settlement and ritual to industrial. Until recently no prehistoric pottery fire-pits, where the clay is heated until it becomes pottery, had been identified in the Irish archaeological literature (see for example Ó Faoláin and Northover 1998, 73). Even where quite large settlement sites have been investigated like Corrstown, Co. Derry, where over 9,000 sherds of pottery were recovered, and Chancellosrland site A, where over 2,000 sherds were found, no fire-pits were identified.

UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology fire-pit.

UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology fire-pit with charcoal and pottery in situ. Photo Aidan O'Sullivan

Now thanks to the work of the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology it looks as though firing sites can be identified. At UCD Aidan O’Sullivan, Conor Mcdermott, Thomas Cummins and John Nicholl have been making vessels of various periods and types and firing them in sub-rectangular shaped fire-pits. Once the contents of the pits have cooled and the finished pots are removed what is left is a fire-reddened pit filled with charcoal and any sherds of failed pots. The great value of this experimental work (and documenting it with images and video through media like Facebook) is that it helps archaeologists identify these features in excavation reports. Aidan O’Sullivan and the others have not only demonstrated how pottery can be made in a simple fire-pits, but Aidan has noted that the field archaeologist will find.

“Charcoal, ash, burnt stones, and pieces of fire-reddened and blackened soil. You might also find heavily fired and black, sooted pottery fragments, the fragmentary remains of previously failed pots that have been through several kiln fires.”

He also noted:

“The effect of a north-easterly breeze, meaning that only centimetres away on the ‘wrong’ side, the fire was essentially cool”.

So some method of blocking the prevailing airflow across the surface of the fire-pit is needed to maintain a constant temperature. As Graham Taylor who writes pottedhistory has noted:

“If the wind is gusting it can cause huge temperature fluctuations which destroy pots.”

The wind can be mitigated by the erection of a simple wattle screen across the path of the prevailing wind.

As Graham Taylor points out:

“A common technique would be: fairly serious fire in the pit allowed to burn down to charcoal, green brushwood directly onto this, pots on to this, then more dry fuel, close over with green brush and clay leaving a few small air holes around the edge. Walk away and leave it for a couple of days. If you’ve got it right, and it doesn’t go out, it’s a gentler way to fire larger pots and get them black.”

The sealing material may be dug from a pit or pits next to the fire-pit which may be refilled with the waste charcoal and sherds of any failed pots from the fire-pit.

Therefore the elements that one might expect to find at a pottery firing site are a fire-reddened pit or pits filled with charcoal, ash, sherds of failed pots with a windbreak to the west or south and pits from which soil has been dug to seal the fire-pit. These pits can be back-filled with the sooty failed pot sherds from the firing.

Plan of probable pottery fire-pits at Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary site 125-3.

Plan of probable pottery fire-pits at Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary site 125-3. from McQuade et al. 2009.

At Cloghabreedy, Co. Tipperary a site appears to fulfil all of these criteria. The site was excavated under the Direction of Colm Moriarty in advance of the construction of the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown Road Scheme and is published by Colm in M. McQuade, B. Molloy and C. Moriarty (Eds.) In the Shadow of the Galtees. Archaeological excavations along the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown Road Scheme. NRA Scheme Monographs 4, 30-31. The site consists of two sub-rectangular pits set in a line and aligned north-west to south-east with concave profiles that measure 1.37m and 1.65m long by 0.97m and 1.25m wide and 0.25m deep. The sides and bases of the pits were fire-reddened and contained charcoal fills.

Just to the east of the fire-pits was a pair of pits also filled with charcoal-rich deposits and sherds of food vessel vase and urn. Charcoal from the primary fill of one of the pits was radiocarbon dated to 2289-2014 Cal BC (UB-7377). Set 3.3m south of the fire-pits and aligned roughly east-west were nine stake-holes that appear to have supported a windbreak 7m long. This appears to have been a pottery firing site in which the leather hard vessels were placed into the fire-pit, fired under a layer of soil from the pits and then, after cooling, the material from the fire-pits was deposited back into the pits along with sherds of failed pots.

Cloghabreedy is a good example of a fire-pit because it has a number of elements, is a single period site without the complication of earlier or later features and was well excavated and published. However, where fire-pits lack associated pot sherds or windbreaks or are separated from these features by later elements recognition becomes more difficult. The conclusion is that using the insights being gained at the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology it will be easier in future to identify the firing sites of the prehistoric pottery industry.

References

Ó Faoláin, S. and Northover, J.P.  1998. The Technology of Late Bronze Age Sword Production in Ireland, The Journal of Irish Archaeology, Vol. 9 (1998), pp. 69-88

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and carried out his post-graduate and doctoral research on the period. Since then he has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is partly based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can learn more about Charles Mount’s publications here.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Identifying pottery fire-pits in the archaeological record. The Charles Mount Blog, 9 May 2012. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=825.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Kildare

The Perceptory of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Tully near Kildare

The Perceptory of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at Tully near Kildare

For three hundred years the town of Kildare was host to a house of crusader knights.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights of Malta, originated in the early twelfth century as an international monastic order Continue reading

Early indicators suggest that activity in the Irish archaeological and construction sectors continued to decline in the first quarter of 2012: updated

Excavation licenses 2000-2011

Excavation licenses 2000-2011

Update 14/5/2012

There was no sign of recovery in April as The Irish Construction PMI published by Ulster Bank posted another fall, declining to 45.4 in April, from 46.7 in March. This is the sharpest rate of decline in the sector since October 2011 and suggests archaeological activity in Ireland is continuing to fall. See true economics.

In my last blog post on archaeological licensing I noted that archaeological excavation licenses indicated that in 2011 archaeological activity in Ireland continued to contract for the fifth year. There was a reduction of 19.6% from 694 licenses in 2010 to 558 in 2011. There was also a reduction in the Central Statistics Office (CSO) Volume of Production Index in Building and Construction from 28.2 in 2010 to 23.5 in 2011 a drop of 16.7% . Continue reading

How to build a bog road

Gravel trackway from Mountdillon, Co. Roscommon. Photo courtesy of Archaeological Development Services.

In Chapter 30 of Cogitosus’ Life of St. Brigit is an important contemporary account of the construction of a bog trackway that sheds light on the materials used, the purpose of the track, how the workers were levied and how the work was organised. Continue reading

Ireland in the Bronze Age: Help Wanted

Author requests help from the public in writing a book.

Those of you who have been following this blog or have been a recipient of my emails from time to time are aware that I’ve been collecting material for a book on the Irish Bronze Age. For the last number of years I have been collecting, collating and digesting the many hundreds of reports of Bronze Age sites excavated in Ireland. My thanks go to everyone who has allowed to me to read their reports in advance of publication. Continue reading

Excavation Licenses indicate continued reduction in archaeological and construction activity in 2011

Excavation licenses 2000-2011

Excavation licenses 2000-2011

Archaeological Licenses indicate that in 2011 archaeological activity in Ireland continued to contract for the fifth year.

Figures provided by the National Monuments Service indicate that the total number of archaeological excavation licenses issued for the year 2011 was 558. This is a reduction of 19.6% from the 694 licenses issued in 2010 and indicates that both archaeological investigations and the construction activity that they relate to have continued to decline. This represents a drop of 73% from the peak of archaeological activity in 2006. Continue reading

Coin hoards: the traditional way of hedging risk

A shilling coin of Elizabeth I

A shilling coin of Elizabeth I

Without access to banks, hedge funds or safe havens people in the past had no option in times of uncertainty but to bury their money in the ground.

In times of economic, military or political crisis when people face an uncertain future they will often take steps to protect their assets. Today this can be accomplished by selling risky assets such as sovereign bonds, withdrawing funds lodged with banks, buying gold or investing in a safe haven like Switzerland. Continue reading

Irish Flanged Axes

Flanged axe found near Castledermot, Co. Kildare.

The flanged axe is a distinctive Bronze Age form, introduced at the end of the Early Bronze Age that represented an attempt to improve the hafting mechanism of the axe head by creating a longitudinal flange combined with a latitudinal ridge to prevent the axe head from moving around on the haft while in use. With the flanged axe the flanges extend beyond the stop-ridge and curve back into the sides of the axe. Actually the use of low flanges and stop-ridges had already appeared on the earlier Derryniggin type axes about 1700-1600 BC. Another approach is represented by the palstave axes, where the flanges and stop-ridge were cast as a single unit. The palstaves appear to represent a parallel approach to improving the axe haft and may have been a later development that came into use alongside the flanged axe, though much smaller numbers are known from Ireland.

There are about 700 flanged axes known from Ireland. They take a variety of forms. Most have the characteristic crescent-shaped blade. Some have low flanges that are convex in section and others have high angled flanges. In some cases the high flanges were bent inwards to grasp the haft and these are called wing-flanged axes. Some examples have loops which acted as an additional fixing point to attach the axe head to the haft. Some of the flanged axes have decoration on the blades and flanges.

No Irish flanged axe has ever been found in association so dating them is difficult. A matrix for a looped flanged axe occurs on a stone mould from Lough Scur, Co. Leitrim along with the matrices for two flat, thin butted axes. The mould doesn’t date the flanged axe as the matrix could have been a later addition to an old mould but it does suggest that flanged axes could have developed during the Early Bronze Age. The flanged axes probably appeared while the Derryniggin axes were still in production before 1600 BC and superseded that type. No flanged axes have been found in Late Bronze Age hoards so they appear to have gone out of use by 1200 BC.

Further reading

Greer Ramsey 1995. Middle Bronze Age Metalwork: Are Artefact Studies Dead and Buried? In J. Waddell and E. Shee Twohig, Ireland in the Bronze Age. Dublin.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book entitles Ireland in the Bronze Age. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Irish Flanged Axes. The Charles Mount Blog, November 10, 2011. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=646

When was the Irish Middle Bronze Age?

Middle Bronze Age dirk from Co. Dublin.

The Irish Middle Bronze Age commenced between 1600 and 1500 BC, it lasted for about 300-400 years and ended about 1200 BC.

The Bronze Age is dated in two ways. The traditional way has been to use metal associations and typologies to define periods that are dated with reference to each other, to a handful of radiocarbon dates and to associations and typologies in central and northern Europe. In recent years this has been supplemented by radiocarbon dated chronologies and typologies of graves and associated finds and the statistical analysis of radiocarbon chronologies. The former method presents a series of successive regularly-spaced periods. The latter appears as a series of often overlapping artefact traditions of varying lengths.

The Middle Bronze Age is a distinctive period with significant developments in the burial and artefactual sphere; the numbers of identified burials decrease and decorated pottery was replaced in burials by coarse domestic pottery. The deposition of hoards decreased and side-looped spearheads, dirks, rapiers and palstaves came into use. There are an increasing number of houses and settlements known from the period including the earliest known villages.

The final phase of the Early Bronze Age is referred to as the Derryniggin phase, after the distinctive flanged axe type, or as the Inch Island tradition, after a spearhead mould, and is considered contemporary with the Arreton tradition in Britain. This was followed by the Killymaddy phase, named after a find of stone moulds for casting dirks, spearheads, blades and sickles. The Killymaddy phase is considered contemporary with the Acton Park phase in Britain. The next phase is the Bishopsland phase, named after a hoard of tools from Co. Kildare which is considered contemporary with the Taunton phase in Britain.

In 2004 Eoin Grogan placed the commencement of the Middle Bronze Age at c. 1600 BC at the end of the Derryniggin/Arreton phase, continuing through the Killymaddy/Acton Park phase and into the beginning of the Bishopsland/Taunton phase. In his scheme the period lasted 400 years from c.1600-1200 BC. He argued that cordoned urns continued in use form the Early to the Middle Bronze Age and suggested that burials containing cordoned urns, razor knives and faience beads were Middle Bronze Age in date.

In her 2007 Book on the Food Vessels and Urns of the Early Bronze Age Anna Brindley suggested that the Derryniggin phase commenced around 1700 BC at the same time as the change from collared to cordoned urns. She didn’t refer to the Middle Bronze Age but argued that cordoned urns continued in use until about 1500 BC, which would have taken them into the beginning of the Killymaddy/Acton Park phase. The razors were mainly found with her stage 2 cordoned urns which date to c.1700-c.1570 BC. She also suggested that cordoned urns could have remained in use after 1500 BC as domestic ware.

Bayliss in her contribution to the Tara – From the Past to the Future conference proceedings (in preparation) argued on the basis of her Bayesian analysis of the available radiocarbon dates that cordoned urns went out of use in the period 1670 – 1480 cal BC (95% probability), but that razors were only interred in graves from 1885 – 1615 cal BC (95% probability). This would suggest that deposition of razors with cordoned urns ended in the Derryniggin/Arreton phase at the end of the Early Bronze Age, although cordoned urns may have continued in use into the Middle Bronze Age.

In 2010 Waddell equated the Middle Bronze Age with the Killymaddy/Acton Park phase which he suggested should be dated earlier to 1600 and lasted until 1400 BC. He saw the Bishopsland/Taunton phase commencing about 1400 BC and continuing until 1100 BC, but he placed the end of the Middle Bronze Age at about 1200 BC.

There is still disagreement about about which phase the Middle Bronze Age commenced in,  Derryniggin or Killymaddy, and about whether cordoned urn burials were mainly a part of the Early or Middle Bronze Age. However, the consensus is that the Middle Bronze Age commenced between 1600 and 1500 BC and lasted for about 300-400 years into the earlier part of the Bishopsland phase before ending about 1200 BC.

Further reading

Eoin Grogan’s paper on Middle Bronze Age burial traditions in Ireland appears in H. Roche, E. Grogan, J. Bradley, J. Coles and B. Raftery (Eds) 2004, From Megaliths to Metal; Essays in Honour of George Eogan, Oxbow Books. Anna Brindley’s chronology appears in her 2007 Book The Dating of Food Vessels and Urns in Ireland, Bronze Age Studies 7, NUI Galway. John Waddell’s analysis appears in Chapter 6: Bronze And Gold And Power: 1600-1000 BC in the 2010 edition of The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland, Wordwell.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. When was the Irish Middle Bronze Age? The Charles Mount Blog, October 20, 2011. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=623

Archaeological Licenses: a Real-time Indicator of Construction Output

Excavation at the Brownstown pit, Co. Kildare indicating the close relationship between archaeological excavation and construction output.

Archaeological excavation licensing data is a real-time source of construction output data that is easily obtained and can provide a relative indication of construction activity at any time of the year.

In Ireland the main source of data on construction output is the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which produces the Production in Building and Construction Index that covers, on a sample basis, the production of all firms in the private (i.e. non-State) sector whose main activity is building, construction or civil engineering. Approximately 2,000 firms are surveyed each quarter and the survey takes approximate three months to collate and estimate and a further three months to produce final figures. Because of the detailed collation and number crunching involved this is a look-back exercise that tells you were the construction industry has been three to six months earlier. The index also has limited predictive ability, it doesn’t signal when a change in trend is going to occur.

Archaeological excavation licensing is a real-time source of construction output data that is easily obtained and can provide a relative indication of construction activity at any time of the year. Under the Planning Acts archaeological assessment and preservation by record is an integral part of the development process and must precede all development projects in Ireland that impact archaeology from house extensions to shopping centres at both the planning and construction stages. All archaeological investigations require a license under the National Monuments Acts and the licenses are granted by the National Monuments Service just days before an excavation takes place. Therefore archaeological licensing is sensitive to changes in trend. The license database is constantly updated and can be used to track activity in the sector on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis.

Chart comparing the numbers of archaeological licenses to construction output in the period 2000-2010.

Comparison of the annual figures for construction activity in the CSO index and excavation licenses in the period 2000 – 2010 (see chart) indicates a close relation between the two sets of data. From the year 2000 both sets of figures were on an upward trend but from 2002 the increase in the numbers of excavation licenses preceded and predicted the large increase in the construction index that occurred after 2004. After a short decline in 2004 – 2005 the number of annual licenses peaked at the same time as the construction index and has moved along an almost identical trend of decline to the end of 2010. The statistical correlation of the two number series is 0.805 indicating a relatively high degree of positive correlation.

What is particularly interesting about the licensing data is that it captures information about pre-development testing, which can take place years before the actual construction, as well as pre-construction excavation. For this reason the data may provide early indicators of a change in trend. The 2002 acceleration in licenses preceded and may have predicted the 2004 acceleration in the construction output. It may be useful to extract the pre-development testing licenses from the overall data and see how they correlate with construction output. There is the possibility that this data will provide early signals of both upward and downward trends in the data.

Of course archaeologists have used the number of licenses issued as a barometer of the health of the construction industry for years. The correlation between archaeological licenses and construction output suggests that any future increase in the latter will be preceded by an increase in the numbers of the former. By keeping an eye on the relative numbers of licenses issued and making quarter on quarter comparisons economy watchers may be able to pick up an early signal of a return to construction growth.

The figures for construction output were derived from the Production in Building and Construction Index published by the CSO in June 2011. The figures for excavation licenses was derived from the numbers of sites notified to the Annual Excavations Bulletin with the 2009 and 2010 figures provided by the National Monuments Service.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Archaeological Licenses: a Real-time Indicator of Construction Output. The Charles Mount Blog, October 12, 2011. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=605

The Review of the Record of Monuments and Places.

Monuments like this county Wexford mill could lose all legal protection if post-1700 sites are removed from the Record of Monuments and Places.

Introduction

In recent weeks the Record of Monuments and Places, which since the mid-1990s has in combination with the Planning and Development Acts been the basis of monument protection in Ireland, has become the focus of attention as a result of a review of the Record being carried out by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) was established under section 12 (1) of the 1994 National Monuments (Amendment) Act and provides that the Commissioners (now the Minister) shall establish and maintain a record of monuments and places where the Minister believes there are monuments, such record to be comprised of a list of monuments and relevant places and a map or maps showing each monument and relevant place in respect of each county in the state. Section 12 (2) provides that the record shall be exhibited in each county. Section 12 (3) provides that when the owner or occupier of a monument or place which has been recorded under subsection 12(1) or any person proposes to carry out, or to cause or permit the carrying out of, any work at or in relation to such monument or place, he shall give notice in writing of his proposal to carry out the work to the Commissioners (now the Minister) and shall not, except in the case of urgent necessity and with the consent of the Commissioners (now the Minister), commence the work for a period of two months after having given the notice.

 The Record is essentially a notification mechanism that functions mainly through the planning system (through policies included in the County Development Plans) to alert the National Monuments Service and other third party planning consultees to development proposals that have the potential to impact monuments in the Record. Steps can then be taken to assess any impacts and have them mitigated as appropriate.

Removal of Monuments from the Record

The legislation establishing the Record has only these three sections and there is no mechanism included in the Act for the removal of a monument, nor has a mechanism been included in any subsequent amendments. In effect once a monument has been placed on the record, as long as it still physically exists, there are no legal grounds for removing it from the Record.

The Definition of a Monument

The definition of a monument is found in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 and includes any artificial or partly artificial building, structure, or erection whether above or below the surface of the ground and whether affixed or not affixed to the ground and any cave, stone, or other natural product whether forming part of or attached to or not attached to the ground which has been artificially carved, sculptured or worked upon or which (where it does not form part of the ground) appears to have been purposely put or arranged in position and any prehistoric or ancient tomb, grave or burial deposit, but does not include any building which is for the time being habitually used for ecclesiastical purposes. There is no date involved in the legal definition of a monument; therefore a monument may be of any date.

National Monuments

The definition of a National Monument is also found in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 and refers to a monument or the remains of a monument the preservation of which is a matter of national importance by reason of the historical, architectural, traditional, artistic, or archaeological interest attaching thereto and also includes (but not so as to limit, extend or otherwise influence the construction of the foregoing general definition) every monument in Saorstát Eireann to which the Ancient Monuments Protection Act, 1882, applied immediately before the passing of this Act, and the said expression shall be construed as including, in addition to the monument itself, the site of the monument and the means of access thereto and also such portion of land adjoining such site as may be required to fence, cover in, or otherwise preserve from injury the monument or to preserve the amenities thereof.

Again there is no date provided in the definition. But the emphasis on historical, traditional and artistic traits clearly indicates that the framers of the Act had in mind that structures of recent historical date could be classified as National Monuments. Indeed a number of post-1700 structures were in fact acquired by the state and preserved as National Monuments. These include monuments such as Michael Collins’ birthplace, Eamon de Valera’s Cottage and Seán Mac Diarmada’s House.

New Government Policy

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stated in the answer to a Parliamentary Question on 20th September that:

“My Department is currently examining the recording of post-1700 AD monuments with a view to formulating policy and criteria for including them in a revised and updated Record of Monuments. The objective of the review is to achieve a standard approach nationally that will ensure that all elements of the built heritage continue to be adequately protected. (Question No. 312, Ref No: 25004/11)”

The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland have expressed concern that the review may result in post-1700 monuments being removed from the record. Many structures of post-1700 date have been highlighted on the National Monuments database in preparation for their removal from the Record. Amongst the monuments highlighted for delisting are Michael Collins’ birthplace, Eamon de Valera’s Cottage and Seán Mac Diarmada’s House which are all in the care of the State and appear on the 2009 list of National Monuments issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That these National Monuments are being considered for removal from the Record of Monuments appears to create an anomalous situation. If these structures are not considered to be monuments worthy of inclusion in the Record then should they not also be removed from the list of National Monuments as well? Some would argue that these are National Monuments because of their connection with individuals of importance in the history of Ireland. If these criteria are considered enough to justify these structures as National Monuments, then why not as a Recorded Monuments? And what about all the other structures associated with historic personages and events, are they not monuments as well?

Falling Between Stools

Another issue with the delisting is that an assumption may have been made that all the post-1700 Recorded Monuments have been included in the Records of Protected Structures included in the County Development Plans, but, this is far from the case. For example, Creenagh Bridge, Co. Leitrim LE033-038—- which is marked for delisting, is noted on a map in 1750 and is presumably older. It is not listed as a Protected Structure in the Leitrim Co. Development Plan 2009-15 nor is it included in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. If the bridge is delisted from the Record of Monuments this historic structure more than 250 years old will be stripped of all legal protection. The sweathouse at Kilmore, Co. Galway GA044-073002 is an undated structure that is situated next to a Holy Well GA044-073001- and could be part of a complex of early Medieval monuments. This structure is not listed as a Protected Structure in the Galway Co. Development Plan 2009-15, nor is it included in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. This structure of unknown date situated beside a Holy Well will may be stripped of all heritage protection. Many more monuments once thought worthy of protection will similarly have all legal protection removed under these proposals.

Conclusion

In a press statement issued on the 21st September 2011 entitled “Deenihan Confirms Post 1700 AD Monuments Will Continue to be protected”, the Minister stated:

 “There is no question of the current Record of Monuments and Places being revised until we have completed the review” he added. “When draft policy and criteria for updating the RMP have been developed, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will consult with interested parties before any decisions are made.”

It is to be sincerely hoped that following the review of the Record of Monuments all elements of the built heritage will continue to be adequately protected as the Minister has said.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The Review of the Record of Monuments and Places. The Charles Mount Blog, September 22, 2011. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=542

The houses of the Irish Copper Age 1.1

Reconstruction of the Copper Age house from Monknewtown, Co. Meath. Illustration from Sweetman 1976.

 

Introduction

In Ireland the use of copper commenced sometime in the period 2600-2400 BC with the development of indigenous copper production following after 2400 BC. The Copper Age continued until 2200/2100 BC when copper was alloyed with tin to create bronze and the Early Bronze Age commenced. The Copper Age is distinguished from the preceding Late Neolithic as mining and the use of copper and gold came into use, hoards of metal objects were deposited and Grooved Ware style pottery was replaced by a new international style known as Beaker.

Identifying the houses

In comparison to other periods there is comparatively little evidence of Copper Age houses. Copper Age activity in the form of spreads of soil containing Beaker pottery and lithic material associated with stake-holes, post-holes and hearths have been found at a number of sites such as the passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth in the Boyne Valley of Co. Meath, and at an increasing number of other sites throughout Ireland. However, in only a few instances have the excavators been able to determine with certainty the presence of actual Copper Age houses.

To date only about a dozen houses can be said to date to the Copper Age. The houses have been identified at just four sites: Lough Gur, Co. Limerick, Monknewtown, Co. Meath, Graigueshoneen, Co. Waterford and Ross Island, Co. Kerry. In the case of Lough Gur, excavated in the 1940s and 1950s, the houses are dated on the basis of association with Beaker pottery, but the remaining houses all have finds of Beaker pottery and corrobative radiocarbon dates. The Monknewtown House was dated to 2456-2138 BC, Graigueshoneen to 2460-2200 cal BC and the Ross Island houses to 2510-2150 BC.

Ross Island is the most significant site as it is an early copper mine with more than half the recognised houses of the period associated with Beaker pottery. At Lough Gur the houses were built at an established Neolithic settlement and the Circle L House succeeded three earlier Neolithic houses. The house at Graigueshoneen may also have succeeded an earlier house. The Monknewtown house was constructed in the interior of a hengiform ceremonial enclosure and was probably a ceremonial structure but is still useful for examining the architecture of the period.

The form of the houses

Most of the houses have ground plans ranging from oval to sub-circular and there are two D-shaped, and a rectangular and trapezoidal example. The houses vary in size from the largest example at Graigueshoneen, which was 7.6m in diameter, to the much smaller houses at Ross Island that measured from 5m down to just 1.2m in diameter. The construction method was variable with wooden stakes the most common method for supporting walls. The walls supported by the wooden stakes were presumably light wattle panels similar to those identified in wetland excavations. Stakes were sometimes used in conjunction with bedding trenches as at Ross island site A. A number of the houses at Graigueshoneen and Ross Island had overlapping concentric rings of stakes. This may indicate that these houses were rebuilt or they may have had inner and outer wall faces that contained an internal filling.

The houses at Lough Gur were different; they were of heavier construction with wooden posts and bedding trenches and had stone wall footings that would have supported heavier walls and roofing. In about half the houses there were post-holes that could have supported a roof but in the remaining cases it is not clear how the roofs were supported. At Monknewtown and Ross Island A and E the roof supports were internal and the houses may have resembled tents. The original reconstruction of the Monknewtown house suggests a structure like a tent with the internal posts supporting the roof and the eaves resting on the ground. Where doorways were identified these were on the northern, southern and eastern sides with no western examples.

Conclusion

The light construction and the use of wooden stakes to support probably low and light weight wattle panels and the use of a few internal posts to support the roof appears to have been the characteristic building method of the Copper Age. This would explain why so few Copper Age houses have been identified. A series of light oval structures rebuilt in the same location would leave a meaningless jumble of stake and post-holes associated with spreads of settlement material. The fact is that many of the spreads of settlement material associated with Beaker pottery and stone artefacts are probably the remains of Copper Age settlements. The really puzzling thing however is that not a single one of these definite or possible Copper Age settlements contained a scrap of copper.

Additional notes

Robert Chapple has written a very interesting blog involving an analysis of the radiocarbon dates of the Copper Age which you can read here.

Version 1.1: revised 3/10/2011

Further reading

William O’Brien’s 2004 volume Ross Island: Mining, Metal and Society in Early Ireland, Bronze Age Studies 6, NUI Galway, is the most important work produced to date on the Copper Age in Ireland and contains the excavation reports of most of the known Copper Age houses. The Lough Gur houses were published in Seán P. Ó Ríordáin 1954, Lough Gur Excavations: Neolithic and Bronze Age Houses on Knockadoon, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C, 297-459 and Eoin Grogan and George Eogan et al. 1987, Lough Gur Excavations by Seán P. Ó Ríordáin: Further Neolithic and Beaker Habitations on Knockadoon, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C, 299-506. Monknewtown is published in P. David Sweetman 1976 An Earthen Enclosure at Monknewtown, Slane, Co. Meath, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C, 25-73. Graigueshoneen is published in John Tierney et al. 2008, Beaker Settlement: Area 2, Graigueshoneen TD Licence No. 98E0575, in P. Johnston et al. Near the Bend in the River: The Archaeology of the N25 Kilmacthomas Realignment. NRA Scheme Monographs 3, Dublin.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The Houses of the Irish Copper Age. The Charles Mount Blog, September 8, 2011. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=484