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Spring 2010 Volume 24 No. 1 Issue No. 91




08 Arms and the man

12 ‘Find, identify and record’

16 Cracking millstones in


20 An intriguing monument

23 INSTAR—The People of

Prehistoric Ireland: Phase 1


26 Dance traces surviving in the ritual of Freemasonry

31 The archaeological imprint of agricultural drainage systems. Part 1—Traditional drains and ditches

35 One point throughout time:

archaeological continuity at Gortlaunaght, Swanlinbar, Co. Cavan

48 Obituaries




04 News

06 Quote…unquote

07 Net news

40 Events

43 Book news

50 Hindsight



Cover image: Coonane wedge tomb, overlooking Bantry Bay. Photo: ©Dept. of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

‘MELTING’ HERITAGE Picture a tray of ice cubes slowly melting on top of a kitchen stove. Now consider the melting of the small blocks of frozen water as a metaphor for the slow erosion of the sites and monuments distributed across the Irish landscape. Sites are slowly being melted away by the forces of nature through exposure to the elements, but that erosion is being significantly hastened by certain human activities.

A timely reminder of the vulnerability of our archaeological heritage comes in the form of the recently published Condition and Management Survey of the Archaeological Resource (CAMSAR) in Northern Ireland report, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and produced by the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen’s University, Belfast. This detailed survey of sites and monuments in Northern Ireland has, for the first time, produced a scientifically determined baseline for the future management of the archaeological monuments there.

The aim of the project was to study the current survival rates and condition of pre-AD 1700 sites and monuments in a variety of settings. Some 1,500 sites were selected at random for inspection in 2004 and 2005.

The report’s own summary indicates a bleak outlook for the survival of sites and monuments. —Only 7% of the sites and monuments were found to be complete or substantially complete. —26% of sites had been damaged within the five years before the commencement of the survey. —The sites in the poorest condition and with the worst rates of survival were located on arable land, in areas of improved grassland and within urban areas. —90% of sites in State care, Scheduled sites and those subject to agrienvironment agreements were found to have survived well. —Uncontrolled, new built development, heavy grazing and grassland improvement were identified as the most destructive activities. —Sites located in unimproved grassland, in wetlands and in woodlands survived better. Such findings should ring warning bells and demand an urgent response.

The report includes proposals to enhance the archaeological record, to promote awareness and to develop good relations with the owners of sites and monuments; to carry out focused research to increase understanding of particular types of sites; to develop management strategies for sites under threat in vulnerable locations; and to augment the Schedule of monuments. Finally, there is the obvious proposal that a further survey should be carried out in 2014 to monitor this baseline survey.

Discussion of destruction rates is not only a hoary old chestnut but also a huge log in the biblical eye of archaeologists. No doubt the relevant agencies in Northern Ireland, and indeed those in the Republic, will embrace such strategies and improve on them where they exist. But one can detect a sense of urgency in the CAMSAR report.

The reason for urgent action brings us back to our watery metaphor. To save our melting ice cubes in the kitchen, we would simply remove them from the stove; to preserve their remains, we would place the tray back in the freezer. Furthermore, even if they have totally melted, a quick refill from the tap can soon conjure up more. Unfortunately, sites and monuments cannot be shifted with such ease and, unlike the humble ice cube, our outdoor archaeological heritage can never be replaced.

Tom Condit


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