Paul from Grassroots will be presenting a paper this Thursday (10 July) at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds. Paul will be talking about Angevin and Capetian landgrabs in Ireland and the Languedoc in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. These events would have had wide reaching consequences for the inhabitants of the Seagrange site.
The 28th Irish Conference of Medievalists starts tomorrow at UCD. Grassroots Archaeologists Mick Corcoran, Brendan O’Neill and Paul Duffy will all be presenting papers over the 3 day event covering topics as diverse as medieval agriculture, industry and defensive architecture.
Last Saturday, the Community Hall in Baldoyle was the scene of much colour, excitement and spectacle as the inaugural Grassroots Archaeology open day got underway. Arriving the evening before, the team had transformed the spacious, timber floored hall into a pop-up museum complete with stalls, artefacts, information panels and an education/play area for local children.
The hall on Friday evening
While the excavations last year had attracted hundreds of visitors over the five weeks that trenches were open in public space, it had been difficult to adequately interpret our findings at the trench side. With the final analysis of all of our samples and finds from season one complete, it was decided that an open day in Baldoyle would be an excellent way to share these findings with the local community and interested people from further afield.
But would anybody come? To promote the event Grassroots sent a press release to local and national papers, newsletters ezines and radio stations. The Northside People and Upside News, both ran articles on the event and the Evening Herald contacted us for an interview. We also promoted the event heavily in Archaeology and History groups, societies and forums around Dublin and Fingal and beyond.
Saturday morning was a beautiful, clear and sunny and the Community Hall, perched on the edge of Baldoyle estuary was framed by a stunning backdrop taking in the Portmarnock sandbar, the island of Ireland’s Eye and the bulk of Howth head surrounded by a deep blue Irish Sea.
As we put the finishing touches on our display and decked the entranceway with posters and balloons, we were surprised to find our first visitors waiting outside. Before we had officially opened our doors at 10am, people were waiting to come in and see what the event was all about. We were only too happy to open up and this was the beginning of a steady stream of people who would come down over the following 7 hours without letup. The buzz had begun.
On entering the hall, the visitor was greeted by the sight of Station 1 ‘Mapping the Monument’ manned by a very dapper Mick Corcoran, Grassroots archaeologist and UCD scholar (http://www.ucd.ie/archaeology/research/phd/michael_corcoran/). Mick took the visitor through the discovery of the monument via Aerial photography, and showed how the information in this photograph was supported by historic mapping. Mick explained the processes and results of Enda O’Flaherty’s Geophysical Survey at Seagrange and also had a display of Lidar images on his laptop which was very popular. At Station 1 visitors also had the chance to take a look through our Dumpy Level and to take a level on the Hall’s floorboards.
Station 1 – Mick putting on final touches
At Station 2, Paul Duffy, Grassroots director (http://independent.academia.edu/DuffyP) and Seagrange native, took the visitor through interpretive somersaults explaining the possible origins of the Seagrange cropmark within the context of Baldoyle’s medieval history. Terms such as ‘Moated Site’ and Monastic Grange’ were deciphered and visitors were told of the several Anglo-Norman barons active in the area over the 12th to 14th centuries. They also learned about the Grange of Baldoyle and the Augustinians of All Hallows. Paul also took visitors through the first season of excavations explaining where the Grassroots trenches were positioned, why they were positioned there and what they hoped to discover.
Station 2 – Paul on the job
It was very important for Grassroots to be able to display the artefacts that were recovered during our excavations. To this end, we sought permission from the national Museum of Ireland who have jurisdiction over archaeological objects in this country. They kindly agreed to let us display our artefacts once they were protected under glass. Consummate professional and part-time prankster, Sonja Laus of Proartefact (www.proartefact.com) and UCD was on hand at Station 3 to interpret our range of formal lithic tool types including scrapers and an arrow head. Sonja also explained the process of making tools from stone, displaying replica flakes and tools and the raw materials required involved in the flint knapping process. Many oohs and ahhs were produced when Sonja, who has analysed our lithic finds, explained that our distally trimmed blade fragment could be as old as the Late Mesolithic (over 6,000 years old!!!).
Station 3 – Sonja in action
Tashi McKenna (BA, MSc), true Baldoyler and Grassroots’ onsite osteoarchaeologist was our specialist at Station 4 where all of our ecofacts recovered from the excavations were discussed. To help in the interpretation of the results, Tashi had a reference collection of skulls from domestic animals. Although there was some disappointment from some of our younger visitors that no dinosaur bones were found, this disappointment soon gave way to excitement when they were given the opportunity to examine samples of animal bone, shell and charcoal through our microscope.
Station 4 – Tashi discusses the findings with total strangers
Station 5 and 6 were manned by precocious field archaeologist and academic Dave McIlreavy decked out in a characteristically eye-watering shirt. This crime against fashion did nothing to deter the bold people of Baldoyle as they gathered around to learn about the evidence for medieval metalworking at Seagrange and to see Brendan O’Neill’s replica furnace that had been used to extract metals from ore. Dave also manned the stall on Medieval ceramics with our fragments displayed under glass alongside the replica vessels of Leinster Cooking Ware also created and fired for the project by Brendan using traditional methods. These vessels have even been used to cook stew!
Station 5 & 6 – Dave in full swing….and half swing. And Brendan’s Furnace
At Station 7, Séamus Johnson, a native of Bayside (the wrong side of the tracks) who grew up within a few hundred metres of our monument delved into his favourite subject – Viking Age Dublin and its hinterland. Séamus, currently a post-graduate student in TCD explored the nature of Viking Age Baldoyle and Dublin and investigated the meaning of the ‘Town of the Dark Stranger’. Our carved bone implement was on display here alongside some photos of Early Medieval dress fasteners which make for a good comparison. Séamus was joined for a stint by renowned archaeologist and adventurer Dr. Mark Clinton, the man who was behind the discovery of the elusive Viking fortress of Linn Duachaill in Co. Louth. Mark is also a resident of the wrong side of the tracks (Sutton) but Grassroots worked hard to secure travel documents for both himself and Séamus so that they could cross over into Baldoyle for the day. Their combined knowledge and charisma made it worth the effort!
Station 7 – Seamus and Mark hotseating
Sinéad Middleton, currently finishing off her MSc at IT Sligo made the tremendous journey down to Baldoyle for the event to discuss her analysis of the glass fragments recovered from the Seagrange excavations. Sinéad’s mix of professionalism and approachability made sure that Station 8 was well attended throughout the day. Sinéad’s finding’s were of great interest and although they would seem to suggest that the glass fragments discovered were of a later date than the furnace base in Seagrange, they indicate that industrial activity at Seagrange continued into the Post-Medieval period.
Station 8 – Sinead discusses the glass finds
The bold Brendan Halpin also traversed the country to participate in the event starting off early last week from his castle Desmond Hall in Newcastle West. After loading up his destrier and pack mule with all of his medieval armaments and clothing, he took to the road and arrived just in time for the event, dusty, weary and travel sore. At station 9, visitors were wowed not only by his impressive array of weaponry and his period clothing but equally by the depth of his knowledge on the subject. Brendan is a specialist in later medieval combat and he is also renowned for his excellent tours of Desmond Hall.
Station 9 – Brendan and Gabrielle gear up
The good people from the Spirit of Folk festival who have been friends to the Grassroots Project since its inception came along to man a stall spreading the good word of this year’s festival. Spirit of Folk is a two day camping festival set against the backdrop of the beautiful Dunderry Park, Co. Meath from 19th-21st of September. It’s a family friendly weekend which celebrates all things folk! 2014 is its fourth year running and the Oaktree Charitable Trust is very proud to host this event. http://spiritoffolk.com There is a Seagrange connection as one of the festival organisers grew up literally on the Seagrange monument! Last year, Grassroots carried out an experimental cooking project at the festival using our replica medieval pots. Come down to see what Grassroots has planned at this year’s festival.
Station 10 – The Spirit of Folkers
Síle Keane who is a primary school teacher, amateur archaeologist and Connacht provincial arm wrestling champion manned Station 11 where all of our younger visitors convened to get their hands dirty, find and record artefacts and learn about stratigraphy with our dig boxes. The question trail also started from here and kids raced each other to find out a series of answers from all of the other stalls to win a prize. Síle is also an aspiring WWE wrestling hopeful and provided security for Saturday’s event. Her patented move, ‘the Carraroe Throw’ ensured that no argie bargie took place in the hall and that the event ran safely.
Station 11 – Dig boxes an treasure trails
The day was finished off with a series of short talks and powerpoint presentations by each of our specialists. While the talks were all excellently detailed and academically sound, the special nature of the event promoted a very laid back atmosphere with a nice interactive element between the speakers and the audience.
Sincere thanks to all who contributed and to all who came down to participate in our event. A great day was had by all!
The Results from the first Season of the Grassroots excavations will be show cased at the Baldoyle Archaeology Day in the Baldoyle Community Centre on the 21st of June. Come down and meet the experts, experience ancient crafts first hand and hear first-hand the suprising story of what our first year of excavating in Baldoyle has ressurected from beneath the gardens and greenspaces of the Seagrange Estate.
Paul from Grassroots will be presenting at the Spring Conference of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland this Saturday in the Absolute Hotel in Limerick. Community participation and the highs and lows of season 1 will be up for discussion
Well, after a quiet Christmas its time to start back to work on organising the second season of Grassroots excavations in Baldoyle. Plenty of work to do not only with the excavations but on the upcoming event in Baldoyle where all of the Season 1 excavation results will be presented.
A short piece about Grassroots and Brendan O’Neill’s Leinster Cooking Ware experiments can be found in the Winter Issue of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland’s Newsletter
Sonja Laus, freelance lithic analyst & macrophotographer, has very generously donated her time and expertise to carry out a Macroscopic Attribute Analysis of the chipped stone finds from Seagrange. Sonja has provided a report of her work with some excellent photographs of the artefacts.
Finally, charred cereal grain recovered from the excavations have been sent to Queen’s University Belfast for AMS dating. Hopefully the results will be back to us in time for the Spring.
Its been a very busy few weeks with the first season of excavations finishing up, and the process of post-excavation analysis beginning.
Into the mix we had the RTE radio 1 History Show interview back in early october.
This all came about thanks to local journalist Louise Denvir (http://louisedenvir.ie/) who visited the excavations many times over the last months collecting field recordings and doing interviews with several members of the project team. We would like to congratulate Louise on her recent Gold PPI Radio Newcomer Award for her work with RTÉ Radio 1.
I was in the beautiful premises of the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street (open to the public http://ria.ie/about/visit-us.aspx) last week to present the initial findings of season 1 of Grassroots to the institution that made the project possible. I would like to express sincere thanks to the committee on behalf of the Project Team and the Baldoyle Community for making season 1 a reality.
Keep an eye on the site over the coming days as we will be putting up an account of Brendan O’Neill’s experiments at the Spirit of Folk festival (http://spiritoffolk.com/) using the replica Leinster Cooking Ware pots that he created for Grassroots. Brendan put the pots to the test to see how they stewed.
Phase II of the Grassroots Excavations have been progressing well over the last few weeks. We would like to thank all of the local people who have been down to see us and to learn about the project. Thanks also to the pupils from St. Laurence O’Toole’s and the first year students from Pobalscoil Nessan who came down for a site visit last week. Here are some photos of the Phase II activity to date.
Mick and Paul working on Test Trench 3
Paul, James, Brendan and Mick working on Test Trench 4
Pupils from St. Laurence O’Toole Primary School doing their daily rounds
Rectangular feature in Test Trench 4
First Year students from St Nessan’s visit the site
Excavation underway in Test Trench 3
Mick taking levels
James excavating Test Trench 4
Gill processing some soil sampes
James and Paul try out some small bore coring
Tashi processing some of the animal bone
Local Historian Michael Hurley visiting the site
Brendan drawing a section
Phase 1 of the Grassroots Excavations took place in private gardens in Seagrange over the last month and have yielded excellent results.
Test Trench 2 under excavation
The core question of the Grassroots Project, namely – “Does anything survive of the Seagrange Monument after the construction of the Housing Estate?” – would seem to have been answered. A mere 40cm below the current ground-level, careful excavation has revealed intact archaeological deposits.
Paul drawing a mid-excavation plan of Test Trench 2
A fascinating array of artefacts were recovered from the topsoil in Test Trench 2 including 18th – 20th century ceramic, a fragment of molten glass, a sherd of potentially medieval pottery and several struck flint artefacts.
Late 18th to 20th century ceramic
Fragment of unglazed, hand built ceramic (probable medieval)
(from left to right) Tertiary flint flake, split flint pebble and secondary flake
The most exciting development however, was the retrieval of objects from secure archaeological contexts. This will allow us to accurately date the features we have found and will enable us to expand our knowledge of past activity in the area. A shallow, linear feature, possibly a drainage ditch, was excavated as well as a shallow pit and a portion of a metaled surface.
Mid-excavation shot of Test Trench 1 (left) and Test Trench 2 (right) showing linear feature and small patch of metaling in bottom right hand corner
The shallow ditch and pit were both filled with a well sorted, loose dark fill which contained large amounts of cockle shell and animal bone. A small secondary flint flake was retrieved from this fill.
Secondary flint flake
The most exciting find to date was also retrieved from this fill, a very well preserved bone pin fragment with a beautiful carved point surviving on its distal end.
Fragment of bone pin
All of the artefacts will receive specialist attention before a comprehensive statement as to their type and possible age will be made. So far Phase 1 of the Grassroots excavation has exceeded all expectation. With Phase 2 well underway, we hope to have more results soon.
As a part of the Archaeofest event that tok place in Merrion Square for Heritage Week last Saturday, Brendan O’Neil, in conjunction with with UCD School of Archaeology’s Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Ancient Technologies Research Centre, fired the replica Leinster Cooking Ware vessels he has created for the Grassroots Project.
The event and the firing were both a huge success with many visitors coming to Merrion Square to see experimental archaeology at work.
Merrion Square on Saturday
The replica Leinster Cooking Ware Pots undergoing initial warming by the fire. This is the final step in the process of removing moisture from the clay and removes the last traces of chemically bonded water. The larger of the two pots is the one that Brendan showcased at the Grassroots Heritage Week talks.
Brendan feeding the fire. The fire needed to burn for several hours being periodically replenished. This allowed a mound of very hot embers to form.
The ceramic vessels were then moved closer to the embers to dry out further. They were rotated and their position changed in order to achieve an even drying. This helps to prevent water in the clay erupting in spalls during firing which can crack or explode parts of the pot.
Brendan then raked out the embers into a ring with a clearing in the centre.
The Leinster Cooking Ware vessels and the other prehistoric vessels fired that day were then placed inside the ring.
Brendan covering the vessels with hot embers. The temperature of the fire at this point was very high necessitating the use of the long handle on the shovel.
The job nearly done
Once covered, the vessels were then left for several hours to fire
The fire was then left to burn down completely
The remaining ash and cinder was then raked away and the vessels left to cool
And the finished result! A great success, reddened by the process of oxidisation and blackened by reduction, this Leinster Cooking Ware replica pot has been created using the source materials the techniques and one of the firing methods available to the Medieval population of Leinster.