You’ve got to go dig those holes

Monday, July 9

The week started with a glorious—and by that I mean wet—day of digging in mud. As we troweled up dirt and roots, Rory decided to call it quits early. Nothing particularly interesting happened today, except we found some large rocks hiding beneath some roots. Rory and Samantha (our house supervisor) took a few of us into Achill Sound to buy some groceries and gloves. It was nice to sort of be in a city-esque place for a bit.

Tuesday, July 10

The weather was not very cooperative today either. We ended early, but with a few finds (pottery and glass…unfortunately, I did not dig them up). They give us hope that we aren’t digging up a pile of rocks. Rory decided to give us our Wednesday morning lecture this afternoon so we could have all of Wednesday to dig.

He talked about Mesolithic and Neolithic Ireland. Things indicative of the Mesolithic period include: microliths (small tools), shell middens, and later on the “broad blade.” This period was also a time following the Midlandian Glaciation, which caused an isostatic lift in the ground (after the ice melted, the land literally sprung back up because there was no weight anymore). The Neolithic yields signs of domesticated animals, rectangular houses in settlements, votive deposits (many with weapons, a probable signifier of warfare), causewayed enclosures and megalithic tombs! An important change to remember, seen from the previously listed signs is that during this time people living in Ireland were not static hunter-gatherers anymore.

Our Tuesday night lecture (given by Rory!) discussed the Chronology of the Irish Tower house (basically, a castle). There are around three or four thousand of these across the Irish landscape, although most of them are in ruins, which differs from the ones found in Britain. The tower houses did not stand alone, but were enclosed by a bawn defensive, although they were not intended for siege. There is not much information on these structures, but efforts using AMS C14 dating are starting to place these towers in their time of construction. The dating may be done by taking surviving wood pieces from plank or wicker centering and plank or wicker scaffolding. About thirty tower houses have this leftover wood, but even with that small fraction, the resulting timeline begins to show sequential changes and differences in the build of the tower house, such as the disappearance of the great hall in favor of divided rooms.

Wednesday, July 11

Today’s digging involved troweling and shoveling. A few more pottery and glass pieces were found, but overall, we are still just trying to get to the end of fern roots. I am confident, however, that I am now a troweling master.

Thursday, July 12

Instead of excavating, we had an osteology workshop today with Dr. Catriona McKenzie. She went over excavation and post-excavation procedures involving human remains. Removing a skeleton from the ground is slow going to minimize damage and detail oriented so bone pieces are not lost, mixed up, or overlooked. Catriona then went over various ways you can discern the age, sex and height of a skeleton. There are developmental signs including the fusing of the epiphyses and emergence of third molars and degenerative signs including auricular surface degeneration (part of the hipbone) and dental attrition. Equipped with this knowledge, we then surveyed fake and real skeletons for these features and estimated their age, sex and height in groups. My group was lucky enough to have previous knowledge of osteology, so we finished rather quickly. We were thrown a few times by marks caused by disease or other developmental problems. For instance, we aged a male skeleton rather young because his third molars had not grown in. Catriona then showed us that the molars were simply impacted.

Friday, July 13

A workshop on drawing artifacts made up our superstitious end to the week. Anya, a previous field school student, first explained the benefits of drawing. When following the conventions, a drawing can tell you more about the form, fabric and decoration of an artifact as opposed to a picture that may mask details. We learned basic rules for drawing such as light should always be shown as coming in from the top left corner, and that certain artifacts have regulated orientation (a sword must always point down). Once a pencil drawing has been made, an ink drawing must follow. Like yesterday, once the lecture was finished, we tried our hands at drawing our own artifacts. It was frustrating, but ultimately, everyone got the hang of things. And thus concludes week two of field school education!


  1. Alana Ogata says:

    This sounds so interesting! Despite the rain, I am sure Ireland is gorgeous. In the end, what are you guys hoping to find and learn about besides pottery and glass?