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: @
and: National Roads Authority @

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

Thoughts on the Greek Economic Crisis (and how foreign archaeologists might help)

Just a few thoughts on how foreign archaeologists and schools might aid in the current crisis… I am only a graduate student, with with limited knowledge of the administration of the foreign schools and the Department of Antiquities, so these are only offered as the roughest of ideas:

I could be mistaken, but outside of the normal 3 excavation permits per year per Foreign School, doesn’t the Department at times grant some sort of “rescue” permit with a 3 year limit specifically for the purpose of foreign projects aiding in the preservation of threatened sites? Could lists of immediately threatened sites be produced, and foreign teams put together with experience in a given period or region that could then offer their services at whatever site the Department
felt most needing?

It seems that the long-term major excavations of the Foreign schools, such as the Athenian Agora, Corinth, Lefkandi, Knossos, Tiryns, Olympia (to name a few) must be quite expensive, and are at sites that are perhaps not at such immediate risk. Likewise, these projects entail the work of a veritable army of students, specialists, and scholars, whose efforts could be directed temporarily and productively elsewhere. I don’t mean in any way to suggest that these sorts of projects aren’t of tremendous value, both scholarly and for continued tourism, but only that the immediate economic situation may call for
us to reassess where our efforts and monetary resources are best directed in the short term. The major ongoing excavations are at sites that will still be there in 5 years, while we are all, rightfully, aghast at the loss of sites we didn’t even know existed!

With news of the layoffs and pay cuts at the main Department and the local Ephorates of experienced scholars and field archaeologists, who (if I read the NYT article correctly) even at the best of times made less a year than a well-paid post-doc at an American university, shouldn’t we be exploring alternative cooperative funding and hiring practices? For example, might a system be developed where foreign “rescue” projects are responsible for paying the salary of the Ephorate archaeologist assigned to monitor or even co-direct their project? If two or three projects operating in the same region coordinated their work schedules, they could provide 3 months or more of continuous full-time contract work for a Greek archaeologist, while simultaneously benefiting from a wealth of experience and knowledge. By providing funds for the hiring of Greek archaeologists on contract, we would be providing much needed employment opportunities and reducing the workload on the Ephorates.

Another thought is that if plowing and bulldozing in order to prepare fields for the sowing of fodder is such a widespread problem, an educational campaign within the country could be funded with international cooperation. It is my understanding that the optimal plowing depth in limestone rich soils for the sowing of legumes and grasses is only 9 inches, a depth which if adhered to would minimize the damage to underlying cultural deposits. We cannot expect farmers not to plant the crops needed to feed their animals, but education and an appeal to their pride in their cultural patrimony might go a long
way towards better agricultural practices.

(This article was written as an email to the AegeaNet mailing list, prompted by a discussion surrounding this recent NYT article: “Archaeologists Say Greek Antiquities Threatened by Austerity”