Would you like to put your boots under my bed? (An Irish Proposal)

After a seven hour flight, two hour train ride (plus two hours of waiting for the train) and an hour and a half car ride, I finally arrived at the Achill Archaeological Field School on June 30, 2012 (Achill sounds like “tackle”). All of the students bonded with each other quickly, sharing the same nerd factor and humor that an anthropology interest brings. Fourteen (eleven girls and three boys) of us are bunking it up and although I was initially worried about the small space, living together has been smooth!

As Ireland weather goes, there has been rain every day thus far, although the sun has come out to produce gorgeous weather. I’m going to summarize my adventures by day:

Monday, July 2

I attended an “orientation” of sorts for the field school where we met our faculty: Theresa McDonald (Managing Director), Dolores Kilbane-McNamara (Field School Coordinator), Dr. Rory Sherlock (Director of Fieldwork), and Gerard Mangan (Secretary/Librarian). Theresa gave us a short presentation on Achill Parish archaeology, while Rory gave us 9000 years of Irish Archaeology in 60 minutes.

Tuesday, July 3

Today, we hiked miles through the Achill Island landscape toward the Deserted Village of Slievemore, where we will eventually excavate a Megalithic Tomb. The hike was harsh, we were soaked from head to toe in rain, mist, and bog water and sore by the time we reached the village. Rory pointed out features in various buildings, painting a picture of how the people of the past lived on the mountain. Additionally, before stopping at the village, Rory showed us a Napoleonic Signal Tower, which was pretty cool.

At night we had a guest lecture (the first of the Tuesday night lecture series) from Colin Green, who spoke of maritime interaction between Northern Ireland and Western Scotland in the later middle ages. He focused on specific clan interactions (mainly McDonnell and MacQuillan) to demonstrate that relations and living situations at the time were hardly static, and the fact that presently Northern Ireland and Western Scotland inhabitants don’t traverse back and forth is a very odd and recent occurrence.

Wednesday, July 4

Thankfully, we drove to Slievemore today; however, the excavation site was still up a large portion of hill. Huge ferns, poisonous Foxgloves, thistles and stinging nettle (I’m so glad this isn’t widespread at home) encased the rock formation that is the supposed Megalithic Tomb. Rory set out a 10x10m boundary, and then told us to weed. As there were fourteen of us, the ferns quickly disappeared, allowing us to see the grass sod below.

Before removing the sod, Rory taught us how to properly draw the levels and slopes of the site, so that one would be able to get an idea of what it looked like before we tore it up.

I plotted various measurements and drew hashers to display which way the hills went. It looked like this:









When that was done, Rory took some pictures, and then it was time to de-sod. Using spades and shovels, we cut the grass into squares, and then dug them up. But we didn’t get close to finishing, mostly because it started to pour. We celebrated Independence Day with a family style burger meal!

Thursday, July 5

We spent ALL DAY getting rid of the rest of the sod and “tidying” up the dirt trenches with the shovels, spades and trowels. It was a lot more difficult to rid the middle portion of the site from grass due to the many rocks. It was very sunny though and Rory bought us ice cream bars! I have two blisters, and the dirt hasn’t completely washed off my hands.

Friday, July 6

Today Nick Brannon gave us an extensive pottery workshop! He taught us how to spot differences in pottery based on form, fabric and decoration. He went over various types of pottery (dishware, flatware, earthenware, stoneware, hollowware, creamware, pearlware, slipware, etc.) and gave us very interesting examples of each. An fun way to discern earthenware from stoneware is to perform a “taste test”. Earthenware will stick to your tongue, while stoneware will slide off. There is a scratching technique in pottery, sgraffito, used for designs. Slipware involves liquefying a clay of one color and placing it over the basic pottery shape of another clay (imagine icing a cake). We took a short walk up the hill to the Achill Island pottery shop and saw modern day techniques as well.