Student Notebooks

Achill Island, Ireland: Morgan

June 23, 2014

My name is Morgan Ireland and I’m from Dallas, Texas, where I’m studying Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. I came to the Achill Field School because I wanted to get some archaeological field experience and I find the sites which this field school excavates very interesting. I hadn’t any previous field work experience before I came to Achill.

During the first half of the second week on site we finished the removal of all the peat on top of the structure and cleaned down the underlying surface so we were better able to see the structure of the mound so we could start figuring out what it may be. I spent the second half of the week learning how to plan and creating a plan of Quadrant 1.  Planning is essentially, as I learned, a way by which archaeologists look at and illustrate what is happening on the site. In order to create an accurate plan of all the rocks in the quadrant, we used offset tape measurements to measure a few points from each rock and used this framework of points to create a scaled-down drawing of each rock’s shape as well as their position. This was more tedious than the digging we did during the first week, however it was exciting to learn and create something which is so integral to the archaeological process.

For Wednesdays field trip we were lucky enough to get nice, sunny weather for the day, so we got a lot of spectacular views of the island. We also got to go see a pretty wide variety of different sites around North East Achill. The first site we visited was a portal tomb near the base of Slievemore. This site was a really prime example of what a typical portal tomb looks like, so it was really cool to be able to see it in person as opposed to just in a picture. In this same area, we also went to go see a very mysterious site. There were many megalithic stones sticking out of the ground, but although they were clearly well structured no particular pattern was visible as the site had been partially robbed out. We learned that on an older map this site was labelled as a “Pagan Burial Ground.” After those sites, we took a trip up to the 19th century Achill Mission. This mission was originally set up by a protestant minister at a time when Achill was hit hard by famine. This site gave some very interesting insight as to the religious history in Achill and how different religious tensions were built over time. On this field trip, we also got to see the preserved forest at Dugort. This forest was preserved on the beach all the way from the Bronze Age. It was amazing to see the cluster of tree trunks preserved on the beach! This was a pretty unique site to get to see and I had never heard of preserved forests such as this one before. The next site were some coastal middens near that same beach. Middens are essentially huge trash heaps. The ones we saw were essentially huge mounds of shells, mostly from people in the past eating creatures that live inside the shells. The last site we saw was a nearby killeen. These sites are burial grounds for children who died before they were baptized or for drowned sailors and fishermen when it was impossible to tell if they were Catholics or not. The idea was that these people could not be buried on consecrated ground so they had to be buried out in a killeen. This idea was later taken back by the Catholic Church and the killeens on the island were given blessings.

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