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!

Pottery and pits in North Wales

In early March Jessica hopped over to north Wales to discuss sampling with regional experts Dr Frances Lynch of Bangor University, Jane Kenney of Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, and Cat Rees and Matt Jones of C.R. Archaeology. There are such striking similarities with Ireland in the Early and Middle Neolithic – in both regions fairly substantial timber houses are followed by much more ephemeral scatters of pits and hearths. There was lots of discussion about what this shift in settlement remains might mean, as well as a chance to drool over the stunning Middle Neolithic Mortlake pottery from Cat and Matt’s site at Llanfaethlu, Anglesey. Many very highly-decorated vessels were recovered from pits overlying the earlier houses at this site and these will hopefully yield some exciting information into subsistence and animal husbandry during the mid-late 4th millennium BC.

However, the most impressive ceramic vessel was probably the one used to serve up Jessica’s mid-morning cup of tea! PTP is really looking forward to further research in Wales over the summer.



A January meeting in Orkney

Earlier this month Jessica flew out to Kirkwall for the first proper project meeting with PTP’s Orcadian collaborators: Jane Downes, Ingrid Mainland and – added bonus – Colin Richards. Together they hold a wealth of information about the islands’ Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology and a very valuable day was spent troubleshooting and talking through sampling strategies for the coming months. On the drive back to the airport, we even managed to squeeze in a quick tour of the main passage tombs and associated settlements. Unfortunately, both the light and rain clouds were low so all Jessica managed to successfully snap was Kirkwall airport! We’ll have to wait till we’re back again in the summer…

A rainy January view from the plane at Kirkwall airport

Passage tomb people does science week!

For Science Week 2018 (11 – 18 November), the Irish Research Council commissioned a light projection show on Barnardo’s Square on Dame Street. Running from 6pm each evening from 12 – 16 November, the projection featured thought-provoking questions drawn from the work of some of their Laureate Awardees. This year, one of the questions featured was ‘Who were the passage tomb people?’ which was inspired by our project. It was very exciting to see our research projected onto a building in Dublin’s city centre! The full-length video can be viewed here.

a hallowe’en lecture in aberdeen

Last month, project PI Jessica Smyth was invited to speak at the Northern Archaeology Research Seminar Series in the Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen. The subject matter of the lecture ‘Molecule to Monument: the Passage Tomb People project‘ was particularly apt given the spooky date! There were lots of great questions about PTP from the students and staff assembled and some warm Aberdonian hospitality afterwards – all in all, a fantastic visit.