Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Irish Lithic Landscape Project: A raw material provenancing project integrating geochemical and petrographic analysis of material for prehistoric Ireland

A report by Mary Cain

On the 22nd of September, the UCD Archaeology Society welcomed its first guest speaker Dr. Killian Driscoll to present his current research he is conducting at UCD along with two of the college’s lecturers, Dr. Graeme Warren and Professor Gabriel Cooney. The aim of the research was to be able to analyse cretaceous flint from chalk deposits in Co. Antrim, and chert from Co. Sligo, taking geological samples from each site and analysing them alongside the archaeology from the area.

As Dr. Driscoll pointed out, throughout archaeology in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the attitude towards the use of flint and chert have had an influence in how the raw material contributes to our understanding of how past societies utilized their raw materials. The main attitude has been that flint is the prefered raw material while chert is of poorer quality. However, it is important to note that the main sources of flint on the island come from the North, specifically along the Antrim coast line, while chert is dominant across most of Ireland. 

Another reason in conducting this research has been to see how near or far chert and flint was procured as a raw material based on the archaeological evidence. It is important to see how material that is either procured locally or at a great distance makes its way into an archaeological excavation. To understand this, laboratory analysis was conducted on the chert and flint samples. The main methods of analysis were Macroscopic analysis, Geochemical analysis and Microscopic analysis.

In total, 400 hand samples were taken, with 170 from outcrop groups. The outcrops could range in type, some cliffs along the seaside or inland to small exposures easy to access. A series of analytical methods were carried out on each of the samples, ranging from non-destructive methods to destructive methods, such as petrography which requires thin sections of the sample to be examined. While the results are still being investigated, currently the LIR is currently being housed as a physical collection at University College Dublin with an online database for flake stone tool raw materials. The investigation is still ongoing and will continue through 2017.

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