Winter 2009 Volume 23 No. 4 Issue No. 90
F E A T U R E S
08 Gulliver’s earthworks
10 Accessible archaeology
14 ‘A difficult job and a good deal of hardship’: Clerks of Works in the National Monuments Service, 1922–49
17 Megalithic art in County Tipperary
20 Surveying Templecormick with the
22 Know your monuments: Charcoal production sites
26 Christ on the Cross in early medieval
31 Home on the Grange
34 Life and death in the later Neolithic and early Bronze Age at Ballynacarriga, Co. Cork
39 Clonmacnoise: when experts meet . . .
48 Letter: The problem with progress in
L A R S
R E G U
07 Net news
43 Book news
Cover image: The Organyá Majesty (Catalunya), mid-twelfth century.
PERSPECTIVES ON HARDSHIP One of the interesting features of archaeology is that it recovers all sorts of information—the good, the bad and the ugly! It provides evidence for the spectacular and the ordinary, the remarkable and the mundane across time. The dark, wet days of this winter seem to have brought added value in terms of pessimism—the gloomy economic outlook, the shrinking euro in your pocket and the serious flooding that has destroyed homes and businesses in many parts of the country. The frustrating and often controversial analyses in the media do little to brighten up our daily lives. It would appear that public confidence is evaporating at an unprecedented rate, and what was left of national pride is now severely dented. Further hardship is a common prediction. But human hardship, well known in the archaeological record, is a relative condition.
Consider, for example, the lives of our Neolithic antecedents. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl, in The Stonehenge people—life and death at the world’s greatest stone circle (London, 1987), referred to the ‘macabre pattern’ revealed by the mortality rate— particularly among infants and children—of the populations who built the passage tombs at Quanterness and Isbister in Orkney. Most individuals were dead by the age of twenty, and barely one person in a hundred survived their fortieth year. Frighteningly and poetically, Burl states that ‘Death was no gentle stranger to these people. It was a house guest.’ He continues: ‘Appalling as this may seem today, there is no reason to think that these first farmers considered themselves unfortunate. What seems to us a grossly premature age of dying was to them normal.’
The next time you are in the National Museum, the Ulster Museum or your own local museum, consider the comfort and relative ease with which you can appreciate the nation’s past. Contrast this with strife-torn Iraq. There the military invasion has brought consequences that have piled misery upon its inhabitants. The National Museum in Baghdad, home of the archaeological heritage of the globally significant Mesopotamian civilisations, did not escape the impacts of that action. Its collections were looted, with the loss of 15,000 artefacts, of which only 6,000 have been recovered. Google and the US State Department have come up with the finances to allow scanning and photographing of the museum’s collections, to be made available on the internet. Timesonline have reported that the Iraqis see this as ‘an attempt to make good the damage inflicted on Iraqi culture in the post-invasion chaos’. While the motivation for this project may be interpreted more cynically in certain quarters, there is no doubt that it will provide a window on the culture of present-day Iraq and produce a better appreciation of and increased respect for its citizens.
Archaeology and a growing awareness of its results can raise us beyond the concerns of an increasingly materialistic world controlled by complex abstract financial systems. Let’s hope that our appreciation of ancient societies and the struggles of past communities will help us to keep our own current situation in perspective.