Sunday, 28 August 2016

Heritage Week 2016: food in Iron Age Ireland

In Ireland, we have just finished celebrating Heritage Week 2016. Heritage Week in Ireland is coordinated by the Heritage Council and is a part of European Heritage Days -- an initiative of the Council of Europe and the European Union. 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. We celebrate for a whole week in Ireland, with more than 1700 events organised throughout the country.

This year, I was again involved in the event organised by my 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 hosted an event, Food and eating in Irish prehistory, in the Cork Public Museum to showcase research activities on our project.

We showed adults and children how archaeologists find out about life in Iron Age Ireland (700 BC--AD 400) through investigation of plant remains, pollen, animal bone, artefacts and archaeological sites. Staff from the Cork Butter Museum joined us to showcase traditional techniques for making butter. An artisan baker in Cork -- Declan Ryan from Arbutus Breads -- also created breads so that people could see (and taste) bread made from cereals that were typically grown in Iron Age Ireland. We had several hundred visitors, and it was a very enjoyable day.

Grinding grains on a prehistoric quern stone (image: UCC)
During the event, I introduced people to archaeobotany by showing them beautifully preserved examples of charred barley grains, dating to the later prehistoric period. We compared the ancient grains 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.

You can see more about my work on the day here, thanks for videos produced by University College Cork to promote the event.

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