Thursday, 30 April 2015

Seminar report: "Matters most foul". Investigating chickens in the archaeological record

On the 2nd of April, the UCD Archaeological Society were host to Dr Julia Best from Bournemouth University. Her talk, “Matters Most Fowl: Investigating Chickens in the Archaeological Record” was part of a wider project “Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human – Chicken Interactions.” Various universities are working together on this project, including the universities of Bournemouth, Cardiff, Southampton, Oxford, York, Nottingham, Leicester and Roehampton. I have to say I never knew there was so much to know about chickens!
Today there are approximately 20 billion chickens on earth, and they serve a variety of purposes. They are food, pets and even in some places have religious importance! However, their role in the past has been overlooked, partially because of the difficulties involved in recovering and identifying chicken remains.
Chickens were domesticated in South East Asia, from jungle fowl. There is a lively debate surrounding their exact origins, but it most likely took place in China in 8000BC and spread westwards. There are remains in India dating to the 3rd millennium BC, and the first reliable European dates are found in Bulgaria, in 1000BC. They reach Britain by 100BC, although there are some rare remains before this.
Chickens are also represented in the archaeological record by material culture. A chicken brooch has been found in Reinhem Hesse dating to the 4th century BC. It was included in a high status burial. In Britain, a collection bronze coins dating to the Late Iron Age are inscribed with chicken imagery. These objects give us an insight into the importance of chickens in ritual and cosmology. In West Deeping, a whole bird was recovered from under a doorway, it has been hypothesised that this is linked to fertility. Chickens have also been recovered from mortuary contexts, and sometimes represent exotic trade links.
In Roman Britain, chickens were hugely important. They are frequently included in burials, either on platters to serve as food, cremated or whole in pots. In other burials chicken ornaments are included rather than the chicken itself. The cockerel is linked to Mercury in Roman mythology. Mercury helped people to move from life to the otherworld, and is also connected with the coming of the day. This may explain the presence of chickens in burials. In Uley there was a Roman temple dedicated to Mercury, and significant amounts of male chicken bone has been recovered from the site, possibly linked to ritual activities.
Chickens in the past had different morphology from modern chickens, as they were not bred to be as large as chickens today. The osteological remains show that morphology also changed in the past, which can tell us about disease and living conditions. Following domestication, there are higher levels of osteopetrosis, as chickens were kept in close proximity and disease spread quickly. At a site in Lyminge, Kent, chicken remains show evidence for viral arthritis, probably a result of the marshy living conditions. At a Roman site in Belgium, hundreds of broken bones have been found, that may represent a cockfighting arena.
Osteological features can also tell us about what features were important in the past. Crested skulls , five toed legs and yellow legs were all seen as rare and therefore important. Today these traits are more common as they were bred for in the past. Indeed it is rare to see a chicken with grey or red legs, which were originally the norm.
The presence of a spur, in either male or female chickens was seen as high status. Larger spurs were preferable, and was related to display and prestige. However, it may also be related to the advantages it presented in cockfighting.
Scientific analysis of the composition of bone can also reveal a lot. A burial site in Vienna dating to the 7th century AD, shows that chickens with higher levels of protein were associated with higher status burials. The people they were buried with also had higher levels of protein. This suggests the chickens were fed scraps off the table.
When talking about chickens it is important not to forget eggs. A wild jungle fowl will have a clutch of 4-7 eggs per year. However, this was increased due to selective breeding during and after domestication. Originally eggs probably played a small part in diet, however that increased significantly under the Romans. The Chester Amphitheatre in Britain  (70-80AD) shows that eggs were sold as snacks during plays and were important in the diet.
The medullary bone in hens is made of calcium for the eggshell, which depletes and replenishes as the hen goes through the different stages of laying eggs. This can allow the bird to be sexed, as well as revealing how important eggs were in the diet. An assemblage with high levels of medullary bone represents a society that used eggs regularly, lower levels suggests eggs were less important.
An interesting study in the Outer and Inner Hebrides Islands, Scotland compares the levels of wild seabird and chicken bones. A settlement at Bornais shows a gradual increase in chicken following their introduction at 400-800AD. However, there was still a reliance on wild seabirds. Following analyses, it was found that 40% of the chicken bone was medullary. This suggests that chicken were exploited for eggs, while seabirds were used for meet.
This seminar covered a wide geographical and chronological range, with a focus on the osteology. The project covers many other areas, including material culture, genetics and many others.

 If you are interested in finding out more, they can be found at or on Twitter @Chicken_project.

Many thanks to Dr Julia Best for a truly egg-cellent seminar. 

By Patricia Kenny

Monday, 20 April 2015

Seminar series: "Bewitched by an elf-dart": prehistoric artefacts in traditional Irish folk magic and medicine"

The next seminar will be:

Thursday 23rd April 2015
Newman building, Room A109

Marion Dowd
IT Sligo

"Bewitched by an elf-dart": prehistoric artefacts in traditional Irish folk magic and medicine"

CLICK HERE for all seminar posters and reports. 

Seminar report: “Interpreting change and diversity in Early Bronze Age burial practices"

On the 26th of February Dr. Chris Fowler of Newcastle University visited UCD to give a lecture on “Interpreting change and diversity in Early Bronze Age burial practices: Northeast England, c. 2500-1500BC”. With a successful turnout the seminar began with Dr. Fowler discussing the following questions in relation to the topic at hand:
  •  How did funerary and mortuary practices in NE England change during the period c. 2500-1500 BC?
  • How diverse were those practices in different centuries?
  • Why were buried dead treated in the ways that they were? On what basis were people selected for burial?
  • What does this tell us about change and diversity in social relations, cosmology and relationships between the living and the dead?

To begin answering these questions Dr. Fowler along with a number of other colleagues collected data from 355 burials at 150 sites which were excavated between 1810 and 2009. The data was then analysed in order to get a better understanding of the variation which comes with Bronze Age burial practices.

Rites of Passage:

In terms of the data Dr. Fowler began to examine how these relate to the earlier concept of the ‘Rites of Passage’ which ‘transform’ the individual from a living person to an ancestor. To better understand this, a model of how we can conceive the rite of passage was constructed. This appeared as follows:

The model tackles the phases of burial in relation to community reaction. Dr. Fowler highlighted the need to address burial concerning the living rather than the dead. “Funerals are for the living” – a concept which permits us to see the celebration of death as a way of aiding the mourning process and to transform the deceased individual into an ancestor. However the placement of physical burial is currently under scrutiny as it may fit into many places along the model. This model of the ‘rites of passage’ was then used to interpret the data given above.

Dr. Chris Fowler took his spectators through a ‘chronology’ of Bronze Age burial to see how the model and data develop over an extended period of time. These are the results he found:

2500-2200 BC:
  •           The data showed very few burials in the period between before 2500 BC and 2200BC.
  •           There were a number of crouched burials.
  •           Towards the end of the period burial mounds start to make an appearance.

2300-2100 BC:
  •           Short cist burials which measured around 1m long.
  •           East-West orientation.
  •           Body usually facing east with the head following the E-W orientation.
  •           Accompaniment beakers/flint knives or copper-alloy daggers (after c.2200BC).
  •           During this period there is also an appearance of shared burial.

It should be noted that Dr. Fowler highlighted a possible differentiation in positioning within a cist burial based on sex. On average women were shown to have been placed on their right side with their head oriented to the west while their bodies faced south, while men were placed on their left with their head oriented east once again with their bodies facing south. This appears to have been the distinct feature which differentiated the sexes in burial. Much of the data had shown that material culture did not represent a definitive pattern of placement in relation to sex.

2200-1950(?) BC:
  •           Copper alloy/Bronze daggers placed in burials all maintained a specific orientation in burial.
  •           The metal used for these weapons came from south-western Ireland which creates questions in use of imported material in ritual.

Hasting Hill, Tyne & Wear:
To emphasise his ideas of ritual practices from the previous period he focused on Hasting Hill. Here the remains of a 40-55 year old male were present (dated to 2194-1977 cal BC) It was accompanied by an unusual high-bellied S-profile Beaker, bone pin, flint knives, antler pick, cremated adult bones, weathered child bones (c. 5 years old), scraps of animal bone, fish bone, teeth and sea shells. He was buried on his right hand side with his head oriented west and his body was facing south; this is an exception to the common practices of the period. This indicates a formalised ritual practice but also a knowledge of previous burials at the same location.
Two later burials from the site expose that this burial practice style was carried throughout the following periods.

2000-1850 BC:
Burials during this period were oriented North –South and are mainly located in Norththumberland. Bodies were accompanied by late beakers in deep graves. The bodies were placed within organic containers. Afterwards a mound was placed over the burial. Dr. Fowler interprets this placement of the mound as an association with integration with the earth. The use of vessels in burial the dead integrates as well with the living. By placing a deceased relative within a vessel which was used to feed the living directly associated the action of feasting with the ancestors.
Cremation during the period included the following actions:

  1. Burning of the remains
  2. Collection of the remains
  3. Placement of the body into the beaker
  4. Placement of the beaker into the ground
  5. Construction of the mound
Concluding Remarks:
It is difficult to understand a distinct change in burial practices over time. Only the minor changes within the burials can be used to identify cultural variation. Isolated periods show a tendency to preserve the dead in a stylised position. The dead either joined a community of the dead or their existence was reintroduced into some form of world for the dead.
Diversity within burials should be seen as deliberate. The smallest of variations within these graves are the result of changes in society/ritual/decisions.

By Brandon Walsh

Sunday, 19 April 2015

AGM 2015 !

Dear everyone,

It is that time of year again, the time of the AGM, the time to say good bye to the old committee and hold elections for the new one! This year, the AGM will take place on Friday 24th April at 5pm, in the School's Reading Room (K012 -TBC). In order to run for a position on the committee, you need to be there in person! Here are the positions you can run for:

(Nota bene: all new position-holders will receive "training" from the outgoing committee members, especially auditor, treasurer, trip advisor, and web admin. So no need to worry!).

Hail Caesar! As auditor, you are the head of the committee and represents the Society. You are in charge of coordinating everything and make sure things run smoothly. You get to introduce the inaugural lecture speaker - yay! - aaaand to do all the paperwork related to the society- boooh! But don't worry, your committee is there to help you! 

You're the Money Man/Woman! You are in charge of keeping track of the Society's expenses and all that. It is a very stressful position, and involves a lot of paperwork and duties. BUT, not only is it great experience and looks good on your CV, but also, you won't be left alone with this daunting task: the Senior Treasurer (a responsible adult, currently Dr. Steve Davis) is there to make sure you don't do anything wrong and bring the Society to bankruptcy ;) 

You are maybe the one most important person in the committee! No, seriously, you are the one who organises meeting, hunts other committee members down to remind them of said meeting, you also take minutes and email them to everyone, thus making sure everyone is up to date with what is going on. See what I meant? The committee neeeeds you!

Public Relations Officer! You are the Face and Voice of the society, the one who looks after all society members and make sure they're having a good time. You are in charge of organising social events, and the one society member can ask about anything that is going on in the Society (as you are the one writing the weekly emails). You are also the main contact point for the organisation of the weekly seminars - along with the auditor.

Trip Officer
It's all in the name! You're the one who gets to organise The One Big Trip of the Year and bring the society abroad! Other than that, you also organise local trips, and other events. Now before you get all excited and start planning trips to exotic destinations, just bear in mind that as a Trip Officer, you not only need to organise transport, accommodation (where relevant), entry to sites, etc. etc. but you are responsible for everyone going on your trips! So no losing freshers abroad please. Nein, nein, nein!

Web administrator
You are the Messenger of the committee, and for this you have two essential weapons of choice: Facebook and this absolutely beautiful website (what? biased? Of course, the current web administrator is writing those words...). So just as the secretary needs to keep the whole committee informed of everything that is going on, YOU, as web administrator, need to tell THE WHOLE WORLD about it! Facebook events, website posts, Tweets... You make sure events are publicised, seminar reports are uploaded and events documented by pictures and write-ups on the website. You make sure the Society goes down in history and archaeologists of the future can find out about what we did!

And you guys, may not need to stand for elections, but you are the blood of the committee. You are the fuel that brings this wonderful machine to life! You are the minions who make it all happen! 

Right, if this has not convinced you to stand for elections, then there is nothing more I can do for you! You should still come to the AGM and vote for your mates!

Friday 24th April
K012 (TBC)
Be there!

Web administrator

Monday, 13 April 2015

Seminar report: "Clontarf, Orkney and the Age of Piracy in the Late Viking Age"

On the 5th of February 2015, the UCD Archaeology Society welcomed Dr. James Barrett, from the Institute of Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.
His presentation was titled, ‘Clontarf, Orkney and the Power of Piracy in the Late Viking Age’.

Dr. Barrett began his presentation to us, by speaking of the first known record we have of the Earldom of Orkney, which was that of Earl Sigurd, evident in the Annals of Ulster. He posed the questions around which his seminar would be based.
These questions were:
  • Was the Earldom of Orkney comparatively wealthy and powerful?
  • If so, how?
  • What implications do the answers have to wider economic patterns in the Irish and North Seas between 900 AD and 1200?
The Earldom of Orkney included north mainland Scotland and Shetland.  He gave a brief example of wealth and power from Orkney by speaking about the Burry Hoard from c977-1010. At the time there was no actual coinage in Orkney, so it is widely believed that silver arm rings which were discovered, were used as the main standard unit of exchange.

The rest of his seminar was focused around these points and ideas with particular reference to the two main sites in which he had a part in excavating. These were Quoygrew and The Brough of Deerness. Quoygrew was an Island of Westray while The Brough of Deerness was a tidal island and a Chieftain stronghold.

He spoke of the economic boom, which took place at Quoygrew in the 11th and 12th Century. This boom was a feature of all parts of their economy, including agricultural, pastural and marine. There was large scale evidence of fish bones, mostly cod, dating back to the 11th and 12th century. There is evidence of an increase in dairying from this time, with a focus on the culling of neonatal calves. This is evident from the discovery of the bones of new born calves dating back to a period between the 10th and 12th centuries. There is also evidence at Quoygrew of the production and exportation of butter. Butter is believed to have served many purposes at the time, including for fat and for industrial purposes such as a lubricant for wheels.

There is also evidence at this site of imported material culture, most of which has come from Norway. This is evident in the discoveries of steatite vessels, hones and combs. This develops the idea that trade links had been established between the Northern Worlds. Dr. Barrett discovered that the inhabitants of Quoygrew at the time tended to use vessels instead of ceramics.

When speaking on piracy associated with Orkney, he presented us with several examples of where this piracy took place. These examples were:
  • 1014 Battle of Clontarf, Ireland
  • 1058 Magnus Haraldsson’s invasion of England
  • 1066 Harald Hardradis’ England invasion
  • 1138 Battle of Standard, Yorkshire
  • 1171 Askell Mac Turcaill’s attempt to retake Dublin
  • 1194 Battle of Florvag, near Bergen
He spoke of evidence where pirates associated with Orkney decided to leave and seek employment in Norway in an attempt at rebellion. This led to the Earl going to Norway the following year to submit to the kings’ rule, in an attempt to maintain his position. Following this submission Shetland was taken away from the Earls rule, royal officials were put in several estates of the Earldom.

When speaking of the Brough of Deerness, he gave a brief description of its characteristics and layout. It was a tidal island with 30 buildings. One of these buildings was a chapel. The layout suggests that it was processional in its plan, with two front buildings and a long walkway towards the rest of the settlement. This layout is believed to be one of the reasons why history has interpreted the Brough of Deerness as a monastic site. This interpretation also comes from the discovery of both a church and beehive like huts in the same settlement. The houses in the settlement were three aisled houses and pit houses, well structured with four posts. The settlement itself was a defensive one, set up facing eastwards so as they could spot all approaching threats.

Dr. Barrett spoke of the Brough of Deerness possessing evidence of several different examples of material culture, all imported, from Norway, the Baltic and Irish Seas and from Anglo Saxon settlements. A major problem with these discoveries is that it is very hard to date them, as the settlement was built on top of a promontory fort. This has resulted in findings from both settlements making it difficult to differentiate between the two.

One example Dr. Barrett used to show the trade between the Northern Isles and the Irish Isles was in the 10th century where Irish pins on Norwegian graves were replaced by local copies. In the 11th and 12 centuries however we see a change in trade patterns between these two Isles. Irish trade oriented to Chester, Bristol and France, while Norwegian trade became local and to both Scottish and English Ports. 

By Paul Kingston

Seminar series: "Getting to know you": the role of environmental experiences and daily interactions in the development of human-non humans relationships in the Early Mesolithic

The next seminar will be:

Thursday 16th April 2015
Newman building, Room A109

Nick Overton
University of Manchester
"Getting to know you": the role of environmental experiences and daily interactions in the development of human-non humans relationships in the Early Mesolithic

Friday, 3 April 2015

UCD Relay for Life 2015

Dear everyone, 

This year again, the Society will be taking part in the UCD Relay for Life! The event will take place on the astropitch opposite the UCDSport centre (follow the noise! ) on the 14th and 15th of April. It will start on the 14th at 12pm and run for 24hours. 

To see how things went last year, click here.

The information below is taken from the UCD Relay for Life Facebook page: 
  • What is Relay?

Relay for Life UCD is a 24-hour CANCER awareness and fundraising event taking place on our very own campus in mid April! We have all been touched by cancer in some way, and this event gives a community like UCD the opportunity to FIGHT BACK!

  • What happens during Relay?
A special aspect of RELAY is that you would be a member of a TEAM. Teams are made up of between 10-15 people whereby at least one member of the team must stay on the ‘track’ at all time, RELAY IS NOT A RACE. You may run, dance, skip or somersault around the track if so you wish. The TRACK will have numerous interesting, FUN stands,stalls and entertainment set up by each TEAM to raise funds for the IRISH CANCER SOCIETY! Working TOGETHER to FIGHT BACK!

  • Survivors’ Lap
This can only be described as INSPIRATIONAL! The opening lap of the RELAY will be completed by cancer survivors. This is WHY we relay! 

  • Candle of Hope Ceremony
The Candle of Hope Ceremony takes place later in the evening as darkness begins to fall. Prior the event, everyone in the community is invited to dedicate a Candle of Hope to someone you know who has been touched by CANCER. As the evening
approaches, the candles are set around the track and lit by participants. It is during this time that the TRUE MEANING of RELAY hits HOME! 

Relay for Life 2014

  • Why do we Relay?
CANCER will affect 1 in 3 people in Ireland during their lifetime. Unfortunately, this statistic is only rising. WE HAVE TO FIGHT BACK! All the funds raised through sponsorship and fundraising will go to support the IRISH CANCER SOCIETY ‘s national services and mission to achieve world-class cancer services, working towards fewer people getting CANCER and that those that do- have better outcomes and improved treatment. FIGHT BACK! 

Relay for Life 2014
UCD Archaeology & Classics Society joining up for a Historical Shield parade