14 June 2010
Both Friday 11 and Saturday 12 June were busy days on the excavation. Aspects of both trenches are now beginning to become clear.
In the main town field trench we are currently removing significant elements of late 17th century and mid 18th century material. This is all art factual and structural material associated with the Dunluce Fair, an annual event held amidst the ruins of the abandoned town. The fair was eventually stopped due to an excess of rowdiness, fighting and drinking. In a nice twist the tradition of the fair has been revived and is now held at the castle every July and hosted by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, an event not to be missed!
The earlier remnants of the fair include stalls that sold shellfish and beer. A lot of coins have been found in the vicinity of these booths and you do not have to stretch your imagination too far to picture a slightly drunk customer fumbling over their purse to retrieve some coppers for a bag of shells before losing a coin or two.
The fair must have been some sight with hundreds of people strolling down the ruined street way socialising and buying various items. Any visitor to Ballycastle’s Lammas Fair will be familiar with a similar scene! At the top of the street we appear to have also uncovered a small smithy, possibly used by a blacksmith at the fair. We should be able to clarify this early this week.
Saturday saw the arrival of nearly 50 children as part of an event hosted by the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) at Queen’s University. This was fantastic event with children aged 4 to 15 participating in a variety of events including:
It is great to see that archaeologists no longer perceive their work as being elitist and somewhat removed from the public. Instead most projects will open up their sites and in turn begin to remove the mystique that surrounds the subject.
It is through these types of innovative outreach events that the public can readily identify with the excitement of archaeological investigation and appreciate the value of the cultural heritage resource we have here in Northern Ireland. Over the next few weeks a number of other school and community groups will be participating in the excavation and their interest is greatly encouraging.
On Saturday the YAC visited the excavation at Dunluce Castle. YAC is a UK-wide organisation run by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA). The Club has over 3,000 members and more than 60 regional branches, including two in Northern Ireland (one in Belfast and the other in Downpatrick). The Belfast Branch is based at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and has over 50 members.
The Belfast Branch has been on the go for some four years and we have held many exciting sessions often led by expert archaeologists from QUB and other organisations throughout Northern Ireland. Hands-on sessions have covered subjects as wide ranging as pottery making, flint knapping, and the study of animal and human bones and our members have even had the chance to make their own active volcanoes, mummified dolls and to create colourful Mexican Days of the Dead altars.
Last December we had a session in the Ulster Museum looking at the different types of rocks our ancestors used as raw materials for tools and in February we visited the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) in NIEA’s Waterman House where our members had the chance to undertake map-based research on their own homes as well as use the SMR archives to research ancient monuments.
Our May session was a particularly messy event, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed, when we made our very own wattle-and-daub fences as part of a session on houses in the past. These can still be seen at the front of the Archaeology and Palaeoecology Building at Queen’s but unfortunately they have started to grow!! I wonder if our ancestors had the same problems with their houses???
Archaeology is all about exciting places as well as interesting things and we have also been out and about the country and visited lots of fabulous sites:
On Saturday around fifty of our members had a fun-filled, action-packed day at Dunluce Castle on the North Antrim coast where Colin Breen from the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Ulster is currently directing a major new excavation programme. This work is being supported by NIEA and is being done in partnership with the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF) at QUB, with the crew made-up of Queen’s undergraduate students.
On Saturday, the YAC participants worked in four groups and undertook four different activities. Colin gave a tour of the castle and our members had the chance to excavate inside the manor house. They also had the opportunity to dig in the village field where they discovered a range of interesting artifacts including shells, bits of pottery and lots and lots of animal bones – the remnants of past meals! Each group also tried out some post-excavation work and this involved washing animal bones recovered from the excavation. They had lots of fun trying to guess what the bones were and which animals they had come from – mostly cattle and sheep.
Just a few minutes walk from the castle rests the peaceful graveyard and church of St. Cuthbert’s. The participants undertook a trail around the graveyard, answering questions about some of the memorials which helped them to learn about the people buried there. They studied the symbols and family crests on some of the gravestones which helped them to understand the messages the relatives of the deceased had wished to last for all posterity. They had a lot of fun taking rubbings from certain memorials and they didn’t seem to mind getting blackened hands, faces, clothes etc etc. from the charcoal crayons!!
The day was thoroughly enjoyed by all and we had lots of fun learning about the former inhabitants of Dunluce Castle, its village and its church, and all in the glorious sunshine. An added bonus to our lovely day was the exciting news that a number of our members had caught sight of basking sharks in the sea below the castle. Needless to say they were absolutely thrilled!!
The club has an action-packed schedule lined up for the remainder of 2010 which includes sessions on prehistoric rock art and the head hunters of Borneo, not to mention a spooky Halloween fieldtrip. If you are aged between six and sixteen and just love archaeology why not come and join us – you will find lots of information about the club on our website.
The growing interest in the Young Archaeologists’ Club and the fact that our members are prepared to travel long distances to attend our meetings shows there is a strong desire amongst young people to learn about the past. To protect our heritage, it is crucial we educate the young about their past and instill in them a love of our archaeological inheritance from an early age.
It would be fantastic if others in Northern Ireland with a love of the past were willing to step forward as new YAC leaders and create new branches, so that a regional network could be created. The creation of such a network would provide a real opportunity to bring together children (and adults) from all communities throughout Northern Ireland. It would be an opportunity for archaeologists and historians to share their knowledge and to help local communities discover more about their past.
Eileen Murphy is a Senior lecturer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast.
Monday 14 June – weekend catch up and what’s coming up this week.
Well this weekend was a busy one for Archaeology Days and luckily the weather was kind to us on Saturday!
I was at Castle Caulfield where we had our stone masons Kenny, Philip and Paul demonstrating the skills needed to keep this and other castles standing, visitors had the opportunity to help build a wall using lime mortar, with part of that process being demonstrated by Maybelline. Tony was explaining and showing how we survey monuments and I was running about helping where I could with the various activities such as the treasure hunt and arch building puzzle.
We had done some of these activities with the local schools during the week and were very pleased to see so many of the children back with their families, particularly Emily, who stayed most of the day and helped out. There was the added bonus of a musket man and a pike man who gave demonstrations of warfare, fired the musket and beat the drum.
At Hillsborough Fort the usual weekend visitors got a surprise when they encountered medieval knights in armour, civil war soldiers and lots of muskets and cannon. I gather local MP and Environment Minister Edwin Poots turned up and enjoyed himself also!
Next weekend is the big one, being the Solstice weekend! There are 3 astronomical events:
The Navan Centre is also running workshops with Living History characters during a fun family day out – with the chance to win prizes!
Still with a bit of a paganish feel to it, Lagan Valley Regional Park is holding ‘A Midsummer’s Night Drum‘ at the Giants Ring. This is a family event when lots of drummers will give you the chance to have a go and join in a drum circle, learn about African rhythms and dance and generally have a good time. There will be drums there for people to use, but if you have your own – or anything else that you can beat out a rhythm on, bring it and a picnic along for a fun evening. This is the one I’m going to, sounds fun!
Of course this weekend is also Father’s Day, so why not treat your father to a visit to some of these events, I know someone who thinks it’s a better present than a box of chocolates! The National Trust is holding an Archaeology Day and Father’s Day event at Florence Court with demonstrations and a chance to have a go at archery.
Also this coming week is the big opportunity to visit Colin’s excavation at Dunluce (who is blogging about the daily happenings here), so go along on Thursday (the 17 June) and see it all for yourself.
Why not visit Greencastle this weekend, with the opportunity of a tour around the castle and the motte and church.
This weekend also sees the start of our Living History weekends, from now until September, every Saturday and Sunday there will be Living History enactors adding interest to some of our most beautiful sites. We have Early Christian monks at Devenish and Nendrum Monastic sites, a Cistercian monk at Inch Abbey (there’ll be one at Grey Abbey this weekend too), keep an eye on the website as there’ll be lots of other events over the summer where Living History characters will be putting in an appearance.
Gail Pollock is a photographer in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and co-ordinates Archaeology Days.