Spring 2009 Volume 23 No. 1 Issue No. 87
F E A T U R E S
08 A medieval processional staff at
13 A potted history: medieval Ulster coarse pottery.
16 Bedrocks and bullauns: more than one use for a mortar?
20 From Ireland to Crete.
24 Borderland barrows—a Bronze Age cemetery from the air.
26 Wicklow’s emerging archaeology.
31 Know your monuments:
archaeology & farming practices.
35 The use of brick in Ireland.
39 Archaeology in Ireland’s journals,
L A R S
R E G U
07 Net news
45 Book news
Cover image: Two saddle querns and rubber stones at Baltyboys Upper, Co. Wicklow.
Facts and illusion
One of the most discomforting things about the ‘economic miracle’ and the salad days of the financially carnivorous Celtic Tiger was the way our archaeological heritage was portrayed as being in constant conflict with developers who wanted our country to ‘progress’. At times it appeared that heritage-minded people were inventing archaeological obstacles to literally and metaphorically block the roads to so-called progress.
The funny thing about our archaeological heritage is that we today cannot invent the physical remains of our past. The dilapidated masonry ruins, gradually eroding earthworks, levelled sites hidden underground and the artefacts associated with them are ‘facts’ that we have inherited through both accidental and contrived circumstances.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those who, even in the distant past, had the foresight to attach cultural value to the archaeological remains of their own time and who oversaw the preservation for present generations. I would guess that their intention was not altogether cynical, as some archaeologists and historians would sometimes have you believe. It is more likely that such people were motivated by an awareness of their own culture and a sense of their own mortality.
We should also appreciate the aims and intentions of those who drew up the necessary legislation and regulations to protect our archaeological heritage. Contrary to some cranky interpretations, this was not done to stymie development, stop progress or transform the landscape into an open-air museum, but was done for noble reasons, not least of all a recognition that our culture and cultural inheritance is a valuable asset and a thing worthy of protection. It was done to ensure that the wilful, negligent or unnecessary destruction of monuments would not be allowed to destroy a resource that is valuable to individuals, communities and the people as a whole.
Our job is to understand the monuments that we have inherited, use them to discover extraordinary and ordinary things from our past, and hand them on for future generations to care for, investigate, understand and enjoy. A shared interest in the things of the past is one of those important ingredients that bind us together as a people.
If we cast an archaeological eye over our present-day landscape, structures and infrastructure, what conclusion do we reach? The illusory nature of our well-being is visible all around us: optimistic ‘For Sale’ signs, incomplete construction sites, vacated retail emporia and roads that will no doubt render themselves as useless as they are unaffordable. All of this contrasts, of course, with the shiny new modern finance palaces and the unaffordable hotels that occupy the central places and other prestigious locations. Whatever about future generations, these icons are increasingly beyond the reach of the majority of the present generations.
In the meantime, the message relayed to us from the journalistic ether is one of economic discomfort and pain, with promises of more pain to come. Currently we are also being fed optimistic messages—the sugar on this budgetary pill—that in Ireland we can re-establish the mechanisms that made such a ‘success’ of the Celtic Tiger era. You can make up your own mind about this, but I hope that there is another sustainable way forward—one that respects not only the past but also the present.