Secrets beneath the Highways

Hi, everyone! GirlArchaeologist’s Facebook Page is going strong, but I’ve heard from some of my faithful Twitter followers (hi guys! Love you!!) that some people don’t like Facebook pages, and lets face it, even if you do use Facebook, those algorithms they’ve been using lately that decide for you what you do and don’t get to read sometimes decide to sweep archaeology under the carpet, and we will not stand for that! So, I’ll be cross-posting my Facebook posts over here, and hopefully getting into some longer format stuff as well. So, onwards! For SCIENCE!

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Between 2000 and 2010, Ireland constructed its new National Road Network (Americans, think of the Interstate Highway System), and all of that roadwork was preceded and accompanied by the work of archaeologists, to the tune of €250 million, representing one of the largest archaeological programs in the world!

Many of the sites excavated as part of the project were previously unknown, and would likely have gone undiscovered and unresearched without the impetus and funds provided by the highway development.

Finds included:

a cillín, an unconsecrated graveyard for unbaptized infants, used between the 15th and 18th centuries, along the course of the M6 in Co. Galway, and and others in Co. Westmeath and Mayo.

fishtraps and baskets, up to 10,000 years old, preserved in bogs, as well as a late Roman monastic mill with well-preserved timbers near Ballinasloe

an entire deserted medieval village under the M9 in Co. Kildare

an Anglo-Norman farmstead in Co. Wexford

And what archaeologists say may be most important about the work does in the past decade are the insights they’ve gained into the Bronze and Iron Ages (ca. 2500 B.C. – 400 A.D.). Studies of lipids from Bronze Age pottery shows that milk may have been an important part of the diet, when previously cattle on Ireland were thought to have been primarily used as a meat source, burnt mounds known to have been cooking sites may also have been used for bathing, and shaving may have been practiced, but reserved as a marker of elite status. Particularly cool is a double row of wooden post holes that mark out the path of a 30 meter “ritual” avenue, whose alignment has caused archaeologists to hypothesize that it was used for driving cattle down on Nov. 1st, prior to slaughter and feasting.

There’s loads more, too! I hope to highlight some of these and other amazing finds and the high quality research that has been done in Ireland in coming weeks and months so keep your eyes on this space!

All of the artifacts are now held by the National Museum, while most of the human remains have been, or will be, reinterred. Similar research occurs associated with construction projects in other countries, but don’t receive so much national attention. Why do you think that’s true? Do you think your local archaeology should be better advertised? How could archaeologists go about it? And why don’t public archaeologists and academic archaeologists work together?? (that last one is purely rhetorical, but honestly, am I the only person this annoys the crap out of? Sorry. Also rhetorical.)

Sources: Independent.ie @ http://ow.ly/o3HWb
and: National Roads Authority @ http://ow.ly/o3L12

Photo Credit: Richard O’Brian, inset: JCNA, LTD. Originally Published in Seanda, the NRA archaeology magazine, 2011 Issue 6

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