New Year’s meeting in the Boyne

In late January 2020, PTP organised a short meeting and fieldtrip with Bristol team members Professor Richard Evershed and Lilly Olet. Lilly joined PTP in September 2019 with a PhD project that combines organic residue analysis of Middle-Late Neolithic pottery and radiocarbon dating. Neither Richard or Lilly had ever seen a passage tomb before, so it was high time to give them a proper introduction!

Project overviews and strategy meetings were slated for Day 1, but there was full day fieldtrip in county Meath planned for Day 2. The first stop was Fourknocks passage tomb, followed by a tour of the recently re-designed Brú na Bóinne WHS visitor centre and topped off by guided tours of Newgrange and Knowth passage tombs. A hugely memorable day was had by all, with VIP treatment from staff at the Brú na Bóinne WHS visitor centre. Special thanks also to Dr Neil Carlin from UCD School of Archaeology for being our designated driver/chauffeur for the day!

Lilly admiring the carved lintels inside Fourknocks passage tomb
UCD PhD Patricia Kenny, Richard, Jessica, Fabienne and Lilly in front of Newgrange
Neil pointing out the quartz spread in front of one the Newgrange satellite tombs

Proteomics and archaeology

In November 2019, PTP invited project collaborator Dr Mike Buckley (University of Manchester) to host a special seminar on the potential applications of proteomics in Irish archaeology. The event took place in UCD, timed to coincide with Science Week (10-17 November), and was supported by the Archaeology and Heritage division of Transport Infrastructure Ireland. Collagen fingerprinting, and proteomics more generally, is one of the key methodological approaches employed by PTP to access information stored in the collagen of unburnt bone fragments and tooth enamel. This is especially important for archaeological bone assemblages from Ireland, where preservation levels can be very low and bone is quite degraded leaving few macroscopic or morphological features left to analyse.

Interest levels on the day were high, with Mike fielding a raft of questions from museum curators, TII project archaeologists, as well as post-ex managers from commercial archaeology companies and staff and graduate students from UCD. Thanks to all who attended!


It’s been very quiet from us for quite a while now. Like many research projects, the Covid-19 pandemic threw us quite a bit off course and upset many of our plans for 2020 and beyond. But we’ve been working away in the background, making progress in whatever areas we could. We’ll be bringing you up to speed on developments so far, with a little look back to late 2019 first on the list! Stay tuned…

PTP in the papers

IT_article_Sept2019The Passage Tomb People project was the subject of an article by Sean Duke in The Irish Times in late September. The piece focused on some of the more high profile sites we will be sampling for the project: the Boyne passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth and the material excavated from them in the 1960s onwards. It was nice to see a key message of our project filtering into mainstream media – the huge potential of molecular-level analysis on archive archaeological remains! You can read the full article here.

Animal husbandry & isotope systems

IMG-9905In August, Passage Tomb People hosted its first research workshop at UCD, bringing together colleagues from France, Belgium, Spain, and across the UK from Orkney to Oxford. With a mix of prehistorians, zooarchaeologists, osteologists and geologists present, all working on aspects of human-animal relations and isotope systems in the northwest Atlantic, the event captured a very stimulating range of methodological and theoretical approaches. An informal but intensive day of short talks and round-table discussion was rounded off by a workshop dinner with lots of new research relationships forged!

Art and archaeology collide

IMG_9655It’s always satisfying to share PTP research with new audiences and this July the project was drawn into the world of visual artist Liliane Puthod and her latest solo exhibition ‘How long after best before‘ at Pallas Projects/Studios in Dublin 8.

In this exhibition Liliane was questioning society’s relationship to temporality, immediacy and the standardisation of commodities. For Liliane, the exhibition space thus becomes a temporary archaeological site where different timescales are viewed simultaneously, yet within a particular space producing a specific social time. In this context, Liliane was very interested in how PTP was questioning the ‘where’ and ‘how’ people lived and how they sustained themselves in the past. Jessica was invited to give a public talk on PTP in the exhibition space, a fantastic opportunity for translation and knowledge exchange and to reflect on the project’s ultimate aims.


Back to Anglesey for the summer solstice

IMG_9467In late June, Jessica made a return trip over the Irish Sea to sample some of the stunning later Neolithic pottery from sites in North Wales. Many of these assemblages have only been uncovered in recent years due to developer-led activity on the island of Anglesey and adjacent areas. Beautiful examples of the potter’s craft in their own right, they will also yield new information on diet and farming strategies in the Neolithic, thanks to microscopic lipid molecules trapped in the clay matrix of the pot. On an island like Anglesey, with a lot of granitic geology and resulting acidic soils, this data is especially important, as it provides information on animal products (milk and meat fats, for example) when the animal bone itself does not survive.

IMG_9435Jessica’s visit also coincided with the summer solstice and a wonderful programme of outreach and discovery at the famous Bryn Celli Ddu passage tomb. A team from the University of Central Lancashire, Manchester Metropolitan University and Cadw are currently investigating an Early Bronze Age cairn in the field next door and PTP were delighted to get involved in a couple days of excavation! You can read about the Bryn Celli Ddu research project here

In the shadow of the Great Mound

At the end of May, the Passage Tomb People project featured in the annual Knowth Lecture Series, an excellent season of archaeology talks aimed at the local community and Office of Public Works staff. Project PI Jessica gave the lecture to a packed room in the beautifully refurbished exhibition space at Knowth Farm Buildings. This complex is directly across the road,Knowth_lectureMay2019 and just metres away, from the main passage tomb mound at Knowth – a very inspiring location indeed! Due to launch officially later in 2019, the new exhibition spaces at Knowth are set to become a important educational resource for the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site and PTP certainly hope to use them again during the project.


New team member for PTP!

We are delighted to welcome onboard the newest member of the Passage Tomb People team: Dr Fabienne Pigière. Fabienne is an experienced zooarchaeologist, previously based at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. Her research interests focus on human-animal-environment interactions through time in northwest Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, in particular documenting the evolution of the acquisition, processing and consumption of animal resources. Her role on PTP will be to oversee the faunal analysis at both macro and molecular levels, and she is looking forward to tackling the challenge of our particularly poorly-preserved animal bone assemblages!


Podcasting with Amplify Archaeology

A few weeks ago, Jessica was interviewed by Neil Jackman of Abarta Heritage for his excellent new archaeology podcast series: Amplify Archaeology. The subject was passage tombs, and they chatted for nearly an hour on origins, classification, meaning and the contribution of archaeological science to understanding these fascinating monuments and the people that built them. You can listen to the podcast below:

You can also subscribe to the entire Amplify Archaeology podcast here. Highly recommended!