| 6 December 2008
Treasures on Irish roadside
The Irish economic boom may be over, but its flurry of road building has uncovered a wealth of archaeological finds with lasting value. In particular, digs along proposed routes have shed light on 'unknown' archaeology that may not have otherwise been examined, according to Rónán Swan, acting head of archaeology at the National Roads Authority. The scale of road-related archaeological digs has increased massively in recent years - in 1993 there was one road excavation, in 2007 there were 579 - and they usually turn up something of interest, says Swan. "Most places that we start doing investigations around the country we will find archaeology there," he says. "It's a testament to the wealth of archaeology that we have in this country, and that we have incredible levels of preservation. It's not just the actual site that's important. There can be a tremendous amount of results from post-excavation work, looking at the samples and reports and records."
Some of the sites - most obviously the M3's route at Tara - have courted controversy, but ultimately Swan believes this road-building period will have a profound impact on our understanding of how ancient Irish people lived day-to-day. "It's telling us about the mundane, about how people lived their lives, it's not just the extremes of the biggest, best, oldest and earliest." The NRA is keen to share the results with the public through talks, exhibitions and publications, says Swan. "It gives people an easy way of accessing the past, and there's a tremendous thirst on the parts of local communities to find out what's taking place in their area and what's involved." For more information see www.nra.ie/Archaeology.
Edercloon in Co Longford has long been a popular site for roads, as development work on the N4 showed. Excavations there revealed a network of wooden trackways and platforms in the raised bog, dating from around 3,600 BC right up to AD 800, explains archaeologist Caitríona Moore. The acid conditions of the bog preserved the wood extraordinarily well, right down to the nick marks made by tools through the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages. The trackways, which frequently criss-crossed and merged, provided access from dry land across and into the bog. They could have been used for rituals, hunting game and gathering plant material for bedding and roofing, and the extent of the tracks indicates community activity, says Moore.
The dig also turned up several large collections of artefacts, including wooden bowls, wheels and spears. "We found 51 artefacts buried in trackways. There was something around every three to five metres," says Moore. "There are two schools of thought on this - they may have been left there as refuse, or they could have been part of rituals." Wood and pollen samples from the site are now being examined to find out more about how the ancient trackways were sourced and built.
Source: The Irish Times (6 December 2008)
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