The Course

Module 1 – Archaeology of Ireland

The Archaeology of Ireland is a 6 credit course that explores the 10,000 years of human occupation of the island of Ireland.

The course commences with the Mesolithic, an exploration of the longest period in Irish archaeology (8000-4000 BC), when small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherer-fisher groups occupied this heavily forested island with its restricted fauna. Settlements and activities were concentrated along waterways; funerary activities include cremation and the deposition of human bones at special places. We will track the dramatic societal changes occurring from 4,000 BC with the introduction of farming, bringing with it the first monuments, pottery, domesticated animals and cereals and, perhaps more importantly, new ideologies.

Particular attention will be devoted to the complex religious beliefs and practices that led to the construction of monuments such as Newgrange. The ability to smelt copper and create metal objects heralded a major change in the political and economic fabric from 2,400 BC. Social stratification is exemplified by the emergence of hillforts and European trade networks linked to gold and bronze. Economic collapse about 600 BC led to Ireland’s ‘dark age’ – the Iron Age. We will discuss the relationship between Ireland and Celtic communities in Europe, and examine the emergence of royal sites such as Tara – places with rich mythological associations.

The arrival of Christianity in the 5th century AD left a rich legacy of settlements, monastic remains, manuscripts, literature and ornate artefacts. Viking activities towards the end of this early medieval period are explored. The Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169 heralded a new period in Irish history, and this module covers political developments alongside changing castle architecture, new religious foundations, and the establishment of towns.

Module 2 – Training Excavation

This two week module will comprise two weeks at Moygara Castle in South County Sligo. Students will spend a total of 80 hours on site over the period, and will be directly involved in the excavation and recoding of the castle. Students will gain experience in excavation techniques, drawing, photography, recording, artefact processing, the taking of environmental samples and surveying. This is an all-weather excavation site so it is important to wear suitable clothing and be properly equipped. A list of required items will be sent on to students. Students will be assessed based upon submission of a field notebook (20%) and based upon their performance on site carrying out required tasks.

Learning Outcomes

  • Apply basic archaeological fieldwork techniques.
  • Demonstrate awareness of key recording techniques and attempt their application.
  • Differentiate soil horizons and stratigraphic contexts.
  • Comply with best practice in site excavation techniques and the treatment of recovered artefacts.
  • Demonstrate ability to take instruction and work in groups.
  • Demonstrate understanding and compliance with site based health and safety regulations.

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