My 2017 SPUR project in the Department of History focused on an archaeological archive. The research primarily dealt with a) a collection of prehistoric artefacts being prepared to go to the National Museum of Ireland for permanent storage and b) material from the excavations at Moynagh Lough near Nobber in Co. Meath.
I started with the assortment of prehistoric artefacts. It is believed that the collection originally belonged to C.M. Leeth, a clergyman in the nineteenth century, and then passed into the hands of Alexander Pringle. It was common in the nineteenth century for clerics to gather such collections for local education. From Alexander Pringle the collection passed to his nephew Dennis Pringle, retired lecturer in Geography at Maynooth. The collection mostly included items from the Mesolithic (the ‘middle stone age’) and the Neolithic (the ‘new stone age’), from various parts of Ireland.
Moynagh Lough is the site of a crannog (an artificial island in a lake) in Co. Meath. Excavations directed by the late John Bradley there in the 1980s and 1990s uncovered an extensive number of objects from the Mesolithic, Bronze Age and Early Middle Ages. There is a small number of artefacts from the Neolithic too. The site was known to nineteenth-century antiquarians, but knowledge of the site was lost until it was uncovered again in 1977. The site was not continually inhabited; there were hiatuses between the different eras mentioned. I was fascinated to learn about the diets of the people who lived at Moynagh Lough: from the animal remains recovered during the excavations, for example, archaeologists can learn about the role food played for the people living at the site and what that says about the broader society. One particularly interesting item recovered was coprolite, which is fossilised faeces. Analysis of this can reveal what people were eating, which also provides information about the ancient landscape and the climate locally.
SPUR provided me with a great opportunity. It offered a window into the world of archaeology, which is something that I was not familiar with before. From dealing with the artefacts from Moynagh Lough and the other artefact collection, I learned a lot about Ireland in prehistory especially. Working on SPUR, I learned how to properly handle artefacts. My duties included categorising, listing, numbering and deciphering what was written on the artefacts from the nineteenth-century collection. I would like to thank my SPUR mentor Dr Michael Potterton and the Maynooth Experiential Learning office. It was an excellent and rewarding experience.