The main focus of the North Munster Research Project was, using the known archaeological record as a foundation, to achieve a detailed view of the processes and changes involved within later prehistory (The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, c.1000BC-100BC). This landscape study draws on a wider time frame spanning the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age (c.1600BC-400AD). The national and international context of the archaeological record was another fundamental element of the research.
The Study Area
The study area covers an area of c. 7,000km2, consisting of the lower catchment of the River Shannon, comprising the counties of Clare and Limerick and portions of counties Kerry and Tipperary. The main focus of the project is, using the known archaeological record as a foundation, to access the nature and range of settlement, economic, social and ritual patterning in a regional framework and in this way to achieve a detailed view of the processes and changes involved within later prehistory (The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, c. 1000BC-100BC). This landscape study draws on a wider time frame, however, spanning the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age (c. 1600BC-400AD). Placing the archaeological record in its national and international context is another important element of the research.
This region was chosen for intensive research for a number of reasons. The archaeological data available for North Munster indicates that a complex and wealthy society emerged during the final phase of the Bronze Age. The area can be viewed as a distinct region but its identification as such relied on the study of artefacts. It had already been highlighted as a significant area in terms of the specialised bronze and gold work recovered, the high degree of craftsmanship involved in the manufacture of individual items, and the size of some of the assemblages of Late Bronze Age material such as the gold hoard from Mooghaun, Co. Clare. However, little was known of the regional settlement or economic background and there was only slight evidence for ritual (other than the probably ceremonial deposition of hoards). Another important issue is the transition to the Iron Age. There is a concentration of metal objects of Late Bronze Age date in the core area and this contrasts with the distribution of the smaller quantity of Iron Age material. The latter mainly comes from the northern part of the area. These contrasting distributions provide a difficulty in assessing the nature of the Late Bronze Age - Iron Age transition in the region as well as in understanding the developments in the Iron Age itself.