Deer Park Farms early medieval rath is published! Part I

The Deer Park Farms early medieval farmstead is published, it's a big one - even if this is an espresso cup for scale!

Deer Park Farms. The Excavation of a Raised Rath in the Glenarm Valley, Co. Antrim. By C.J. Lynn & J.A. McDowell and contributors (2011): 660 pages, 205 Figures, 35 Plates, 117 Tables; The Stationary Office: Northern Ireland Environment Agency

A thousand years ago, generations of an early medieval (or Early Christian) community living at a place known today as Deer Park Farms, near Glenarm in the Antrim Glens, built, occupied and ultimately abandoned an early Irish rath, ringfort or settlement enclosure. They inhabited this farmstead between the seventh and the tenth centuries AD, building up layers of occupation and leaving behind them physical traces from hundreds of years of peoples’ lives, daily work, economy and material culture.

Between 1984 and 1987, the Deer Park Farms raised rath was entirely excavated by Chris Lynn (then of the Historic Monuments Branch of the Dept. of the Environment) and his team, in advance of local farm improvements. Digging down through the raised rath, to its lowest, waterlogged levels, they uncovered startlingly well-preserved post-and-wattle houses, beds, occupation floors, crafts debris and artefacts and palaeoecological evidence for diet, economy and environment. It is without doubt, amongst the most important Irish archaeological excavations of modern times – and its scientific publication has been eagerly awaited by many.

Indeed, this publication on the Deer Park Farms excavations looks set to shape a generation of academic debate and popular ideas about early medieval Irish society – and we will be reading and utilising this book for years to come. In this first post, I’m just going to quickly sketch out the character and contents of the book, later I’ll return for a more detailed critique and review (I have been given an advance copy to review; this is just a first comment).

Firstly, this is a book lover’s gem – it is handsomely and lavishly produced by The Stationary Office (TSO), with an attractive dust-jacket and cover and it is stuffed full of excellent images; maps, plans and sections – abundantly using colour thoughout and the drawings are clear and well-done.

There is abundant colour throughout: This is Pl. 7.5 Early medieval houses Structure Zeta and western side of Structure x, from south. From here we can see the collapsed wattle wall of Structure Zeta to the left, and the bedding area (C1291) at the bottom right, inside Structure X.

Indeed, in keeping with recent publications on Strangford Lough and the Nendrum early medieval tidal mill, the Deer Park Farms monograph has a huge amount of colour and black-and-white plates (see above). It is also physically a thumper of a book – weighing it at 6 lbs, 10 oz, a respectable size for a new-born baby! In terms of its contents, of more later, we have it all here, from  detailed site descriptions, to analysis of all phases of occupation, to comprehensive artefact studies and incredibly detailed – and innovative – palaeoecological studies.

The book’s contents page lists (and I’ll give them to you here) will give you a sense of the book; Firstly, we have the introductory materials: Chapter 1: Introduction (Lynn and McDowell); Chapter 2: Regional and Archaeological Setting (K. Neill); Chapter 3: The province of Ulster in the early Middle Ages (Charles-Edwards); Chapter 4: Placenames (Muhr);

We then move on to the description of the site excavation: Chapter 5: Pre-rath features (McDowell & Lynn); Chapter 6: Rath Period Phases 2-5 (McDowell & Lynn); Chapter 7: Rath period, Phase 6 (McDowell & Lynn); Chapter 8: Raised rath period, phases 7-9 (McDowell & Lynn); Chapter 9: Raised Rath periods, phases 10-13 (McDowell & Lynn); Chapter 10: The souterrain period and later activity (McDowell & Lynn); Chapter 11: Deer Park Farms (Hurl) and Chapter 12: An analysis of the radiocarbon dates (Warner).

A quick photo (never good for line images) of the site plan of phase 6b features. But even this plan can be used to explore early medieval concepts of space and privacy. Look at the way the entrance ramp leads straight to the house doorway, architecture to guide movement and access.

We then move to chapters on crafts and technology; Chapter 13: Objects of flint, stone and polished stone (Moore & McDowell); Chapter 14: Objects of Bone, Copper Alloy, Lignite and Decorated pieces (Hurl et al); Chapter 15: Iron objects (Lynn & McDowell); Chapter 16: Metallography of iron (M. Hall); Chapter 17: The Pottery (Crothers et al); Chapter 18: Objects of Glass and Amber (Lynn & McDowell); Chapter 19: Metalworking residues (Bayley); Chapter 20: The textiles (Wincott Heckett); Chapter 21: The Leather objects (M.E. Neill); Chapter 22: The wooden artefacts (Earwood); Chapter 23: Structural Timbers (Earwood); Chapter 24: Wicker weaving techniques used at Deer Park Farms (Hurl);

Then, we have a series of chapters that explore key aspects of the site’s environment and economy: Chapter 25: The use of woodland in the houses (M. Neill); Chapter 26: The animal bones (McCormick and Murray); Chapter 27: The condition of Deer Park Farms hair and potential for stable isotope investigation (A.S. Wilson); Chapter 28: Environment, Activity and Living Conditions (Kenward, Hall, Allison & Carrott); Chapter 29: Pollen analysis (D.A. Weir); Chapter 30: Dendrochronology (Baillie & Brown).

Finally, Chris Lynn and Jacqueline McDowell return to the fray to offer us some summative and reflective chapters, placing the site in its historical, cultural and social contexts: Chapter 31: The evolution of the mound (Lynn & McDowell); Chapter 32: Literary and archaeological contexts  (Lynn & McDowell); Chapter 33: Reconstruction of an 8th-century house based on evidence from Deer Park Farms (Lynn); Chapter 34: Críth Gablach and the status of the rath occupants  (Lynn & McDowell) and Chapter 35: Retrospect  (Lynn & McDowell). We also have an extensive bibliography, an index of the contents and a fold-out of a cross-section of the entire raised rath and enclosing ditches, all in colour and annotated.

For many of us in Irish archaeology, the Deer Park Farms early medieval rath has long been a subject of fascination and interest. I remember (many years ago) returning home one evening from UCD, where I was a First Year Archaeology undergraduate student, and watching a brief TV programme, on UTV, about the excavations. For years afterwards, I read everything I could about the site or attended Chris Lynn’s lectures – not least because of its waterlogged wood. Latterly, as a Archaeology lecturer at University College Dublin, I have used the Deer Park Farms in countless lectures and academic papers (well, not countless) to illustrate how early medieval people might have understood and organised their dwellings. Indeed, I could see myself using this book next year to prepare 5-6 lectures or seminar/workshops about early medieval Ireland!

Finally, while we were working on our reports on early medieval settlement and dwellings for the INSTAR-funded Early Medieval Archaeology Project (EMAP), we were well aware that this was going to be a key publication for our understanding of early medieval settlement archaeology.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is a key publication for our understanding not only of Northern Ireland’s history and cultural heritage, but also that of the entire island, these islands, and indeed of  lives and practices of people in early medieval Europe, c.AD 600-1000. It is also a testament to the significance of Irish archaeology in international terms and of the skills and patience and persistence of its authors – all credit to them.We will return to the Deer Park Farms early medieval raised rath excavations publication again…there is much to say.

View of the partly-excavated entrance way (C1259) into the rath, kept clean the authors tell us, as might be expected of the paved entrance or airdrochat described in early Irish sources. This book provides us with unique access (see what I did there?) into an early medieval settlement of the 7th to 10th centuries AD.


EMAP’s work and reports

Our Early Medieval Archaeology Project (EMAP) reports for 2010 have now gone online on our website as high-quality, printable pdfs. You can download these, print them out, keep them as digital files on your computer and use them in any way you want, through a citation of them as sources would be appreciated!

The project’s reports for 2010 include an EMAP Project Report providing a summary of the project’s achievements in 2008-2010; a two volume report on Early Medieval Dwellings and Settlements in Ireland, AD 400-1100, including a volume 1 with text and interpretation and a volume 2 with a gazetteer of site descriptions. We also have prepared A Bibliography of Early Medieval Archaeologyin Ireland, which can be regarded as the most complete bibliography ever compiled of the subject – hopefully its a resource that scholars will find useful.
Rob O’Hara’s MA thesis, which was supported by INSTAR Heritage Council funding to EMAP, is also now available here. It provides Rob’s thoughtful and stimulating study of a late Iron Age/early medieval transition burial ground at Collierstown, Co. Meath. Undoubtedly, Rob will be publishing this in further detail again, but this volume provides his current thoughts on the site and its wider contexts.
We have also submitted a text of a book – Early Medieval Ireland: Archaeological Excavations 1930-2009 for consideration to be a publication to the Royal Irish Academy. As a courtesy to the publishers, we are not making this text publicly available, but you can look at an earlier draft of this text here.
We will be returning to the subject of EMAP and its activities shortly, but this post at least let’s people know what we were up to in 2010!

Welcome to the EMAP Blog

Welcome to the EMAP Blog,

The Early Medieval Archaeology Project (EMAP) is a collaborative research project, funded by INSTAR and the Heritage Council. The Early Medieval Archaeology Project (EMAP) is a North/South; Archaeological Industry/University collaborative research project involving UCD School of Archaeology (University College Dublin); School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology (Queen’s University, Belfast), and several commercial archaeological sector companies such as CRDS, ACS, Archer Heritage Ltd, Irish Archaeological Consultancy and Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd. EMAP was established in 2008 with Heritage Council funding and has received INSTAR funding in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

It is well-known that the pace, scale and intensity of archaeological excavations in Ireland betweenc. 1992 – 2008 has transformed the way we view past Irish societies. Early medieval archaeology in Ireland has probably benefited most from this ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom in discovery and data gathering. The need to transform this grey literature ‘data into knowledge’ and the ‘publication crisis’ in Ireland have also been established by various professional and academic institutional policy reviews. Unfortunately the recent global economic crisis has now made these matters significantly worse – i.e. much remains to be published and synthesised at a time when Irish archaeology faces unprecedented challenges. EMAP aims to play a role in identifying, collating, interpreting and disseminating this massive volume of early medieval archaeological data and in furthering research agendas in early medieval archaeological scholarship.

EMAP’s key aims and objectives can be summarised as follows –

  • To investigate and analyse the history, character and results of early medieval archaeological excavations in Ireland.
  • To publish a series of books, peer-reviewed papers and to make available a website with an online database of early medieval sites to help transform unpublished ‘data into knowledge’.
  • To establish and promote collaborative research and graduate training links between the university and commercial archaeological sector.
Inspired by Jonathan Jarrett’s terrific blog A Corner of Tenth Century Europe, we have moved our EMAP Blog to WordPress and hope to make it a more interesting and engaging blog. More anon.