Many of the most important discoveries in environmental archaeology in recent years have emanated from excavations associated with NRA road-building programmes. These finds have allowed us to establish new and important insights into food, farming and environments in the past. For example, the “Cultivating Societies” project revealed that when farming arrived into Ireland in the centuries after 4000 BC, it spread to many areas of the island at a phenomenal rate. The “EMAP” project and my recent postdoctoral project highlight a huge boom in farming in Ireland during the early medieval period (AD 400-1100). One of my new projects is revealing exciting discoveries about late prehistoric farming and environments in Ireland - a period that is quite poorly understood.
Researchers compare disparate datasets through time and space to come up with 'the big picture'. But to allow robust analyses, it is important that there is a standardised approach towards environmental sampling and reporting of archaeobotanical data. This was not the case unfortunately in recent years. In order to address this problem, I worked with the NRA to develop guidelines on the retrieval, analysis and reporting of palaeoenvironmental remains recovered during archaeological excavations on road schemes. The new guidelines are now being implemented on their projects. The guidelines enable a standardised approach, ensuring that palaeoenvironmental work conforms to the best professional standards, and is focused on achieving high-quality and scientifically meaningful results.
The guidelines focus on certain categories of remains, including plant macro-remains, charcoal, wood, pollen and insects. The guidelines were written by me and a colleague, Dr Ellen O Carroll, who is an expert in charcoal, wood and pollen analysis. Contributions on insects were also provided by Dr Eileen Reilly. It is exciting for us to see the guidelines finally in place, and we anticipate that they will enable even more exciting discoveries about how people lived and worked in ancient Ireland.
* Note that the NRA will soon be no more, because it is joining forces with the Railway Procurement Agency to form a new organisation, Transport Infrastructure Ireland. But the guidelines will still apply!