Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Settlement, Political and Social Transformation in Armagh, Northern Ireland
Tina Thurston Principal Investigator
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Under the guidance of Dr. Tina L. Thurston, Jennifer Shaffer-Foster will collect data for her doctoral dissertation. Building on two past seasons of archaeological fieldwork she will conduct a geochemical survey followed by small scale excavation in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Armagh contains both an Iron Age (700 BC-AD 400) civic-ceremonial center and an Early Medieval (c. AD 400-1200) Christian administrative center, legendarily founded by Patrick. The region thus has the potential to shed light on how social and politicas structures developed and changed over this extended time span. Ms Shaffer-Foster will identify sites belonging to a variety of social classes, permitting consideration of both the role of ruling authorities and community-based conditions. This will provide a more balanced understanding of changing sociopolitical relationships, an approach that has applications in both prehistory and the present. It will also provide insight into how, in subsistence based societies social institutions serve to provide stability and mediate change. Archaeology has the ability to trace change over long periods of time and the lessons learned are applicable in third world regions of the world today.<br/><br/>During the Irish Early Medieval period, raths, circular domestic enclosures with a wall and ditch, were constructed across the island. Archaeological work has focused on these structures because they are highly visible, are sometimes very wealthy, and because unenclosed, or ?flat? sites lie hidden under ubiquitous pasture beyond the scope of visual prospection. Yet understanding these little-studied flat sites is crucial, as they appear contemporary with raths and likely housed the majority of the population from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Because of their near-zero visibility, the project uses geochemistry to systematically identify flat sites, determine their use vis-à-vis raths, and examine how property was distributed, providing a ?bottom-up? as well as a revised ?top-down? perspective in an era that saw shifts from a typically more egalitarian Iron Age basis to a more centralized organization. Full coverage geochemical survey, managed within a GIS database, will reveal sites in the landscapes surrounding five raths, progressively further south from Armagh and thus the oversight of newly established authorities. Results of test excavations in ordinary settlements indicated by elevated phosphate can be compared with the better-known elite sites that dominate the region's archaeology. <br/><br/>Results will be made publically available online and the project will further Ms. Shaffer-Foster's academic and intellectual development.