Archaeologists have been impressed by the huge treasure trove of artefacts that have been discovered so far during excavations of a crannog in Northern Ireland. They are providing a “snap-shot” of life in Ireland between the 9th century AD to the 17th Century, and further work may reveal more items that could date back even centuries earlier.
The crannog – an artificial island in a lake – is located in County Fermanagh in the southwest corner of Norther Irland. Digging began in June, and has revealed a small settlement of about four or five houses. It is believed that the island was occupied between the years 600 AD to 1600 AD. The waterlogged site is turning up many kinds of objects related to daily life in the Middle Ages.
Some of the most striking finds are a wooden bowl that has a cross carved into its base, a unique find from an excavation in Ireland, parts of wooden vessels with interlace decoration, and exquisite combs made from antler and bone, status symbols of their day that date to between 1000 and 1100 AD.
Other finds include what is believed to be the largest collection of pottery from a crannog in Northern Ireland, as well as ornaments of iron, bronze and bone. As the site is waterlogged, a huge volume of wooden remains have been found, from gaming “chess like” pieces to drinking cups right through to the timber foundations of dozens of houses. Parts of at least two different log boats have been discovered, and a wooden oar – from deposits several centuries older than the boats – has also been found. Some of the combs are similar to ones found in Dublin and York that date to Viking times. Archaeologists have also discovered leather shoes and agricultural equipment, along with knives and highly decorated dress pins.
British Environment Minister Alex Attwood explains, “On my two visits to date, I have found the site, the dig, and the archaeology beyond my imagination, enormously exciting and changing my view of our history and Irish life. This is the first substantial, scientific excavation of a crannog in Northern Ireland. What has been found has the potential not only to be internationally important but ultimately to lead to a reassessment of life in Ulster in early Christian and medieval times.”
The archaeologists believe this crannog was the home of a noble family that would have included parents, grandparents, children, servants and retinue. They lived in houses that would have been little bigger than a large modern living room, cooking and sleeping in the same space. The house walls were insulated with heather and other plants. Living conditions were probably cramped, but reasonably comfortable for their time, though the humans must have shared their homes with lots of unwelcome guests – abundant bugs and parasites of all kinds, and the surrounding lake must have resulted in damp floors from time to time. The small houses were very cramped, with little private space for the people living there.
The objects found show that people were very sophisticated in their tastes, living as farming families, butchering their own animals and ploughing the land for crops. They were very skilled at metal working and woodworkers – excelling at carpentry to construct the houses and crafting and decorating wooden containers of all sizes. They played board games probably around the fire on cold evenings and we can assume they sang and played music though no instruments have been found so far. They wove their own cloth, having spun the wool from their own sheep.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Fermanagh District Council will be hosting an Open Day on Saturday, December 1 for members of the public to visit the crannog. It will include a series of talks at the Fermanagh County Museum, followed by a guided tour of the site.
Access to the site for the tour can only be obtained via an official coach at the Fermanagh County Museum at Enniskillen Castle Museums. Spaces are limited for the talks and the tour of the site and booking is advisable on 028 6632 5000 (NI) or 048 6632 5000 (ROI).
Minister Attwood added: “Archaeology is a fragile and finite resource. Once sites such as this have disappeared, we can never get them back again. Such sites have the ability to teach us a great deal and we owe it to future generations to rescue and to safeguard what we can. It will further enrich the fascinating fabric of our history and I am sure bring even more tourists to our shores. Anyone who visits on Saturday will simply have an unprecedented opportunity to see how our fore fathers lived and to see history revealed before our very eyes.”
The archaeological work will continue until the end of December, and in the new year a road will be built over the crannog.
Source: Northern Ireland Executive
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