Late Iron Age and Roman Ireland 800The ‘Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland’ (LIARI) Project was established to investigate the nature and impact of interactions between Ireland and the Roman world, particularly Roman Britain. The project used both traditional archaeological methods of analysing artefacts and the results of recent excavations as well as the latest scientific methodology.

Did Romans come to Ireland?

A scientific technique called isotope analysis (hyperlink) was used to investigate whether the human remains dated to the first five centuries AD were those of people born in Ireland or the remains of migrants. The chemical composition of tooth enamel which doesn’t change after childhood and is influenced by the geology of the region, can be used to estimate where these individuals spent their childhoods. Analysis of the teeth of a seventh century AD male burial from Ninch, county Meath revealed that his childhood was spent in central or Eastern Europe. The tooth enamel from other burials suggests that these individual had migrated to Ireland from Roman Britain.

Hyper link (Isotope analysis for example was used on human remains dated to the study period, to find out whether or not these Iron Age people had grown up in the region in which they had been buried. Tooth enamel is formed in childhood and does not change in later life. A mineral called strontium, which comes from the bedrock, is in our groundwater and finds its way into all aspects of the food chain, forms part of the enamel. By comparing strontium levels in tooth enamel with geographical maps of strontium distribution we can judge whether tooth enamel matches the region in which it was found and where they don’t we can suggest where the individual might have migrated from.)

What effect did migrants and new technologies from the Roman world have on the Irish landscape?

The Hill of Uisneach, county Westmeath was famed in early literature as the sacred centre of Ireland and the meeting place of the ancient provinces. Excavations of the hill in the 1920s revealed a ditched enclosure dating to the third to fifth centuries AD under a later conjoined ringfort. This Iron Age activity at the site led to the selection nearby Lough Lugh as the location of an environmental study. Pollen and chironamids (non biting midges) extracted from the bed of Lough Lugh allowed scientists to begin to reconstruct the Iron Age landscape.

What was built in the Iron Age?

The team used geophysical survey (hyperlink to an explanation) to look beneath the surface of a number of monuments that research suggested could be date to the Iron Age. One of these was at Faughan Hill, reputed to have been the burial place of Niall of the nine hostages. . Survey here revealed an extraordinary array of buried archaeological remains that includes at least two massive hilltop enclosures (the largest measuring about 450m in diameter), as well as many smaller enclosures and burial monuments. Taken together, the survey results indicate that Faughan was centre of regional importance in late prehistory, when it used by local communities as a place of assembly, ceremony and burial. isotope analysis, as well as landscape, geophysical and paleoenvironmental investigations.

Terms to explain: Isotope and geochemical analysis

Geophysical Initiated in September 2011, the ‘Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland’ (LIARI) Project is the latest in a series of research projects undertaken by the Discovery Programme. Combining artefact studies, the findings of recent archaeological excavations and new discoveries arising from isotope and geochemical analyses, as well as landscape, geophysical and palaeoenviromental investigations, the project aims to characterise and critically assess developments in Ireland during the first five centuries AD, and to reassess the nature and impact of interaction between Ireland and the Roman world, especially Roman Britain. To help contextualise the evidence for both continuity and change in the archaeological record of the period, the project is centred on four key research themes: sacral and secular landscapes; fluid frontiers; language and literacy; and identities and materialities.

An extensive programme of fieldwork using non-invasive technologies including geophysical survey and remote sensing (LiDAR and photogrammetry) was undertaken by the project in the Meath–north Dublin region. Some of the sites targeted for survey include the large coastal promontory fort at Drumanagh and the island of Lambay, as well as series of prominent hilltop sites (e.g. Knockbrack, Co. Dublin, and Faughan Hill and the Hill of Lloyd, Co. Meath) suspected on the basis of archaeological, topographical and early documentary evidence to have been important focal centres in late prehistory.

This work has conclusively demonstrated the prehistoric importance of these sites, with Faughan Hill in particular emerging as a place of exceptional, if previously unrealised, archaeological importance. Famed as the traditional burial site of Niall of the Nine Hostages and located within sight of the important archaeological complex at Teltown, Faughan Hill can now be seen to be the location of an extraordinary array of buried archaeological remains that includes at least two massive hilltop enclosures (the largest measuring about 450m in diameter), as well as many smaller enclosures and burial monuments. Taken together, the survey results indicate that Faughan was centre of regional important in late prehistory, when it used by local communities as a place of assembly, ceremony and burial.

New insights into mobility and migration during the late Iron Age have also been generated by the application of strontium and oxygen isotope geochemistry to select burials of late Iron Age and transition period date, while collaborative palaeoenvironmental research focused on Lough Lugh, a small pond located within the multi-period archaeological complex on the Hill of Uisneach, Co. Westmeath, is revealing important evidence for ancient landscape use and environmental change.

A major report on the project, entitled Late Iron Age and 'Roman' Ireland, was published in November 2014 as part of the 'Discovery Programme Reports' series. In addition, individual members of the LIARI team have also published on different elements of the project.

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