Monday, 31 August 2015

Celebrating Heritage Week 2015

In Ireland, we have just finished celebrating Heritage Week 2015. Heritage Week in Ireland is coordinated by the Heritage Council and is a part of European Heritage Days. These are a joint initiative of the Council of Europe and the European Union in which over forty countries participate each year. The main aim of European Heritage Days are to promote awareness of our built natural and cultural heritage, and to promote Europe's common cultural heritage. Heritage is so important in Ireland that we spend a whole week celebrating European Heritage Days!

53c50ac59f34a90d418280cc_logosecond.gifI was involved in several events that took place during Heritage Week. One of these events was organised by team members from my current major research project, "Seeing Beyond the Site: Settlement and Landscape in Later Prehistoric Ireland". The project is funded through the INSTAR scheme, which is coordinated by the Heritage Council. For Heritage Week, the team decided to show how we are using archaeological science to find out about foods, environments and people in ancient Ireland.

We held an 'open-lab' morning at the Department of Archaeology, University College Cork, where our project is based. Over the course of three separate hour-long sessions, members of the public learned about the period that we are studying (Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Ireland, 1200 BC to AD 400), the types of plant and animal foods that were eaten, how foods were processed, and what local environments would have looked like.

An update from our Twitter account
We started with an introduction from Dr Katharina Becker, who welcomed participants and explained what we are doing in our research project. Then we moved onto my area - archaeobotany. We looked at charred barley grains dating to the Late Bronze Age, and we compared them with modern barley grains to understand how the archaeological material had become preserved. We also looked at other types of cereals that were eaten in late prehistory, and then we learnt about the types of foods and drinks that would have been produced. Thanks to the National Museum of Ireland, our visitors were able to grind cereal grains on a real archaeological quern stone, possibly dating to the Bronze Age. We estimate that this was the first time in more than 3000 years that the quern stone had been used to grind grain!

We then moved on to look at animal bone with Caitlin Nagle, learning about the many animals that were farmed and hunted, and how their bone remains can provide insights into how animals were raised and butchered. Finally, Dr Ben Gearey showed how teeny-tiny pollen remains can provide remarkable insights into the types of environments in which people were living (and people's impacts on their environments), and how we can look at ancient farming strategies through pollen analysis.

The visitors to our open lab were a bright bunch, asking lots of good questions and having fun with the hands-on quern experience. We were delighted that we had a full house for each session. Public engagement is an important aspect of our project, so watch this space for further initiatives over the course of the project.


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