Monday, 23 November 2015

"Cyborg Smiths: Bone, Stone, Metal and Memory in Early Medieval Britain"

Inaugural Seminar by Professor Howard Williams, University of Chester

Report by Emily Mooney

The Archaeology Society was delighted to receive Professor Howard Williams of the University of Chester to present the topic of smithing in early medieval Britain for the annual Inaugural Seminar, which took place on Thursday, the 5th November 2015. Professor Williams' work focusing on death, memory and materiality in early medieval Europe has made a significant and influential impact in his field. The material for his lecture on the night was sourced from his own current and ongoing research into the concept of the early medieval smith and the character's associations with places by means of connecting facts with stories.
In his talk he discussed the dynamic interplay between the elements of the smithing process and how it could be construed as an elite way of life. Within his research he has singled out four key areas of focus - word smiths and artisans; carving smiths; bone, stone and landscape; and holy smiths. In the first area he discussed the subject of the mythical smith Weland and his supposed depiction on the Volund Stones and also on Frank's casket, in which he seems an anti-hero, depicted as a man of power and violence through the act of smithing. The second area of study Professor Williams presented to the audience is the idea of how Weland is again depicted on carvings as a cyborg figure, a manipulator of bodies and materials to suit his purposes. The next are of focus was on the connections between bone, stone and the landscape - the archaeology of smithing within the landscape, with emphasis on the monument known as Weland's Smithy located on the Lancashire Ridgeway, moving away from the archaeologies of metalworking and elite metal objects. He also discussed the corporeality of skeletal remains fond at Weland's smithy - could they be the remains of Weland himself, or they were the bones of his victims or they were even Weland's treasure constructed himself. The setting in which Weland's smithy is to be found is indicative of ceremonial activities that took place there. The final area of discussion for the lecture was on the topic of holy smithing sites and how they were infused into a Christian monastic landscape. 

The lecture was concluded with the question of the role the smith played in the imagination and the mythical landscape and the nature of the role and power of the smith among elite society. Overall the society's inaugural lecture for 2015/2016 was a great success and was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who attended on the night. Best wishes to Professor Williams and no doubt the school will welcome him back before too long.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

"'Eavedrip' Graves and the Treatment of Infant Burials in Early Christian England" 

Seminar by Dr Elizabeth Craig-Atkins

Report by Claire Hyland

The lecture given by Dr. Elizabeth Craig-Atkins from the University of Sheffield was on the topic of infant burial customs in Early Christian England and how the Eave-Drip graves of infants may have been considered a form of posthumous baptism in a world of high infant mortality. Throughout Early Christian England, centered on the 7th-12th centuries, infant burials were often found clustered around the walls of churches. It has been suggested that by placing the infant burials near to the eaves of churches, it was hoped that the rain water that flowed down the roof would be sanctified by its contact with the church and would drench the infant burials in posthumous baptism, thereby ensuring a guaranteed place in heaven for the very young who perished early in life. Such burials usually revolve around infants under 1 year and who were stillborn or died soon after birth.
Throughout the lecture, Dr. Craig-Atkins stressed the importance of viewing the Eave-Drip in its proper historical context in order to fully understand how and why such burial sites were utilised especially for infants. She stated that studies of childhood in archaeology have the potential to focus on explorations of the life course of an early medieval child and its significance. Despite the evidence that very young children were treated differently in funerary customs, the topic has not received enough archaeological attention. In the early medieval period, infants were often buried in unusual locations and burial forms. The Dorchester Roman town house (4th-5th A.D.) is such an example. In osteological data, assessment of age at death is very accurate (the exception being stillborns or those who died shortly after birth) although telling the gender of an infant is incredibly difficult to determine without the use of DNA. Such assertions are based on dental data, epiphyseal fusion and bone length.

In Raunds Furnell’s hypothesis on the treatment of infant burials in early medieval England, he discovered that children under two years were often buried close to the church and that such a practise originated in the 11th century. He referred to such burials as ‘Eave-Drip Graves’ and noted that the infant burials were clustered around 1.5m within the church walls and that most were under a year old with Hereford, Pontefract and Spofforth being examples. However, the theory of eave-drip burials has received criticism. Recovery bias such as the failure to properly identify juvenile bones and a lack of a satisfactory explanation behind spatial patterning has been cited as to elucidate non-ritual explanations for the phenomenon of eave-drip burials. Taphonomy, which states that infants are often buried in smaller, shallower graves than adults and that selective preservation will often leave only certain remains behind, is suggested as an alternative to eave-drip graves. However these factors, as Dr. Craig-Atkins notes, only take into consideration preservation which does not create eaves-drips patterns. Demographic factors, such as peaks in infant mortality and there being few examples of multiple eaves-drip burials, may explain their quantity but not their unusual location in the early medieval churchyards.

Eaves-drip burials are seen as a further reinforcement of the baptism ritual and to ensure that the unlucky infants receive a place in heaven. Although early Christian writers are extremely poor at documenting funerary rites and the relevance of baptism was questioned at times, baptism was important enough for the county of Wessex in 640 A.D to pass a law insisting that all infants over 30 days be baptised. Regarding infant burials there seems to be a broad cultural distinction between infants and older children especially in regards to speech and independence. Rites of passage associated with children seem to have been the advent of speech, limited independence and the cessation of breastfeeding all of which occur around the age of two. Were children who passed the age of two therefore considered to be more valuable in terms of how they were buried? Is there a connection between the onset of speech in children and the alteration in funerary patterns? Were eave-drip burials reflections of an early Christian community attempting to echo negative connotations on the deaths of very young children? All in all, the subject of infant burials in early medieval England is fascinating, engaging and justly deserves more research and analysis with regard to its archaeological value.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

UCD Archaeology Society International Trip Information

Prague 10th – 15th January

Research done to accommodate a group of 28 people for 6 day/5 night period
For further information or to book a place contact

€20 deposit is required when booking a place.


*Flights to be booked and paid for by each individual person*

  • Dublin to Prague: FR7326
  • Departing Dublin at 13:40 - Arriving in Prague at 17:05
  • Prague to Dublin: FR7327
  • Departing Prague at 17:30 - Arriving in Dublin at 19:10
  • Cost without check in baggage: €67.98
  • *Flight prices will vary slightly depending on when they are booked. The
  • sooner they are booked, the cheaper they will be*
  • Source of information:
  • Also the option of flying with Aer Lingus for €98 at roughly the same time.
  • Check Aer Lingus for details.

Public Transport:

  • No Metro to/from the airport, service only by bus.
  • Metro runs on 3 different lines (map below) from 4:45
  • am to 12:00am at 1 -3 minute intervals. 

Useful Metro Vocab:

  • eskalátor - escalator
  • linka (A, B, C) - line (A, B, C)
  • metro - subway
  • estup - transfer
  • stanice metra - subway station
  • trasa - route
  • vstup - entrance
  • výstup - exit

Cost: Single 30 minute journey ticket: 24 CZK/ €0.90 – cost of public transport will be covered in the tourist card.

Accommodation: Fusion Hotel:


  • 50m to the Wenceslaw Square
  • 50m from Můstek metro, line A,B,
  • 30m to the nearest tram stop
  • 850m to the Old Town Square
  • 450m to the Main Railway Station
  • 10km to the airport.
  • From the airport:
  • The bus costs cca 60 CZK and it takes
  • total cca 30-40 min to get to the hotel.
  • Bus AE to main station


  • 4 person Flexi Room ensuite (7 rooms) –
  • Single Beds
  • Breakfast included.
  • Private bar and club
  • Restaurant
  • Ensuite bedrooms
  • Free wifi

Cost: €125 per person for the 5 night stay
100% of the payment to be paid 3 weeks before arrival
For more information:

Prague Tourist Card:

  • A sightseeing pass
  • Visit a number of sites including: Prague Castle, world-class Jewish Museum, Old Townhall and Petřín Tower etc
  • Entry to 50 different attractions free of charge
  • Discounts to 30+ more attractions, restaurants, pubs, etc.
  • In addition gives you unlimited access to the City Public Transport
  • Saves up to €60 per person

Cost for 4 day card:

  • €47 student up to the age of 26
  • €65 adult
  • Can be purchased at the airport


  • Weather: expected to be between 1 and minus 1 degrees on average so please do bring warm clothes and waterproof walking shoes as snow is expected
  • Money: Czech Republic don't use Euro but use Krona. Exchange rate is roughly €1 = 330 czk
  • Can be exchanged over there at a special rate with the tourist card, however I would recommend exchanging money before we depart.
  • If you plan to use your bank cards, check that there's no bank charges.

Provisional Agenda

Day 1: 10th January 2016: Arrival day

  1. 13:40: Depart Dublin Terminal 1
  2. 17:05: Arrive in Prague Airport
  3. 17:20: Gather group in arrivals and head to hotel
  4. Check into hotel and allocate rooms.
  5. Evening Free

Day 2: 11th January 2016.

  1. 10:00: Meeting in Hotel Lobby
  2. 10:45: Historical Prague Bus Tour
  3. 2 hour bus tour taking in the sites of Old and New Town Prague. Picks up and drops of in Old Town Square.
  4. 12:45: Break for Lunch
  5. 14:00: Prague Castle Tour B: Circuit B includes Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, The Golden Lane, The Powder Tower, St. Vitus Cathedral, St. Wenceslas Cathedral. Closes at 16:00 during the Winter
  6. 16:00: Return to Hotel
  7. Evening Free

Day 3: 12th January 2016.

  1. 9:00: Meeting in Hotel Lobby
  2. 9:30: Old Tower Hall and Tower, Astronomical Clock and Tower
  3. 11:30: Jewish Museum and Synagogue
  4. 12:30: Break for Lunch
  5. 13:00: Kinsky Palace and St. Agnes Convent
  6. 15:00: Panoramic boat cruise 
  7. Evening Free.

Day 4: 13th January 2016.

  1. 10:00: Meeting in Hotel Lobby
  2. 10:30: National Museum and Prague City Museum
  3. 13:00: Break for Lunch
  4. 14:00: Troja Chateau and Veletrzni Palace
  5. 16:00: Head back to Hotel
  6. Evening Free

Day 5: 14th January 2016.

  1. Day Trip to Tábor
  2. Times to be confirmed

Day 6: 15th January 2016: Departure Day

  1. 10:30: Check out of hotel
  2. Afternoon free
  3. 14:00: Regroup at hotel and head to airport
  4. 17:30: Fly out of Prague Airport
  5. 19:10: Arrive in Dublin T1
  6. And then you’re free.

Breakdown of costs per person (before subsidized):

  • Flights (to be booked individually: €68
  • Hotel for 5 nights: €125
  • Prague tourist card: €47
  • Total: €240
  • I’ve applied for a grant and hope knock this down to €160 - 180 all inclusive.

Please keep an eye on the emails for updates. Any questions please do
contact or
Any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. I’d be happy to help.
All the best,