Square Holes and Enigmatic High Crosses

Monday, August 6 – Friday, August 10

The last week of Achill Field School went by in a flash. Besides the usual scraping back more layers of dirt and cutting further into the middle section of rocks, there were a few new interesting things for me to do on site. In one section of dark brown dirt running down the side of the middle rock section, Rory had me cut a square hole. He told me to dig until the reddish orange material appeared. Once we knew how deep to go, it was faster to scrape the rest of the dark brown strip back. Rory told us to keep our eyes out for a piece of pottery in the dark brown material because then we could plausibly match this context to another dark brown material present in another part of the site that yielded pottery. We did not, however, find anything. Something frustrating about the pottery piece found in the other dark brown section was that the pottery found came from a modern century. The modernity coupled withthe depth at which the dark brown material occurred means that the site is probably not Neolithic, thus not a tomb. There was still a lot more digging to do when the week was over for the eventual new kids, so I still hold hope!

On Thursday, we had a half day at the site. For the other half, we travelled to Achill Beg Island. The island was once home to many promontory forts. We walked on the covered ruins of forts, a church and a cillini. Achill Beg was absolutely beautiful and a perfect last field trip.

Something else consumed my days this week: my research paper! On Thursday night I completed my paper on Irish High Crosses. I chose to focus on the physical evolution of the High Cross in Ireland. The first two paragraphs of my paper were as follows:

“Irish High Crosses, despite their longevity—they date from the Dark Ages and some 300 still exist today—are surprisingly mysterious. There are several different ideas regarding their purpose and at least twice as many on the evolution of their decorative symbols. But to understand the “what” and the “why”, I believe it is first important to turn to the “how”. How exactly did the oversized Celtic stone crosses evolve in Ireland? Of course, unproved answers also correspond to this question. Although claims and arguments have been made for a particular Irish High Cross evolutionary path, a lack of dating evidence for those morphological predecessors seems to null them.

“Before diving into the precursors of the Irish High Cross, I will describe the considered typical high cross design. Usually, “Tenons and mortices are used to unite the [three] different sections” of a high cross, namely, the base, the shaft, and the capstone, however, monolithic crosses do exist (Richardson and Scarry 1990). In turn, the shaft has an open or solid ring attached to it—open in the sense of an empty space between the angles of the cross and the ring. About “sixty-eight [remaining] crosses have the typical open ring, and almost as many have a solid circle of stone” (Richardson and Scarry 1990). A high cross could be built out of various materials, including types of sandstone and limestone and even granite, each with its own carving difficulty, which could help explain the open versus solid ring (Stalley 1996). The high cross is “carved on its four sides…often arranged in panels…The height varies from about three metres to four and a half metres or even six metres in a few cases” (Richardson and Scarry 1990). Over time, a range of variations appear on the High crosses like the decoration of the capstones, the intensity of the carvings, and embellishments on the cross such as the addition of volutes: “four stone discs…inserted in the frame of the crosshead” (Richardson and Scarry 1990). Although the exact emergence of the High cross in unknown, what is believed to be one of the earliest examples, the cross at Carnadonagh, dates from the 7th century, and “by the earlier part of the 8th century, the characteristic form of the High cross has been fully attained” (Roe 1965). Few historical sources record the creation and erection of high crosses, leaving dating to inscriptions, the time something else was built near it—such as a monastery—and comparison of style to other crosses with informative inscription or historical context. High cross dating issues apply directly to their artifact ancestors.”

If anyone is interested in reading the rest of the paper, please just ask me!


  1. Chelsea! Your research is incredibly interesting. I can’t believe how much you got to travel and all of the amazing things you saw while in Ireland. Your paper topic is something that I’m so completely unfamiliar with and it is amazing to read about your work! The pictures are also very lovely.

  2. I did some digging in Barbados this past summer, what type of methods did you use to deal with your stratigraphy?