The Medieval Rural Settlement Project in Ireland
This public klecture is held in the framework of the Faculty Research Seminar.
The Medieval Rural Settlement Project in Ireland: using archaeology and landscape to re-imagine economy and society in the later medieval period
Georges Duby challenged medievalists across Europe to vocalize the life of the non-literate peasant and the hum-drum nature of daily life. In Ireland, historians and then historical geographers were the first to raise the interesting questions and provoke discussions, but the archaeologist has emerged as the scholar who can continuously present new insight and new data. In this lecture I reflect on where scholarship in Ireland has a wider contribution to make. We look at the question of cultural continuity across the middle ages, and at cultural visibility or identity. Recent research has focused on Gaelic identity, where attention has tried to show the material expression of the native, indigenous people. Current research is examining how territories were organized and the extent to which it is possible to discern the economic activities. This task is much easier to realize on the lands of the non-native Anglo-Norman colonist, and the lecture will look at recent results from the Dublin region where we can begin to speak of the ‘Total Economy’ by studying the rural-urban continuum. In the more extensive Gaelic territories of the native Irish, we must rely more exclusively on archaeological information. The evidence is most clear when considering lordly or noble settlement. The example of the O’Conor lordship in the west of Ireland is cited. Consideration of the wider non-noble settlement is still in its infancy. There are issues associated with visibility. Archaeologists have yet to examine Deserted Medieval Villages in detail, to look for social distinctions that might be suggested in the size and disposition of particular plot sizes, or by the distribution of ceramics across a complex. My lecture concludes that our previous paradigms are based on simplistic assumptions about where people lived and how they engaged with their environment. Current information suggests a reality that was far more complex and is far more interesting.
Dr Niall Brady (email@example.com) is a specialist in agrarian technology with research interests in landscape and underwater archaeology. He directed the Medieval Rural Settlement Project, 2002-10, for Ireland’s archaeological research institute, the Discovery Programme, and he is currently director of the Archaeological Diving Company Ltd, Ireland's premier marine and underwater archaeological consultancy.