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.

On a molecule hunt

In September, Passage Tomb People took to the road to collect the exceptional 4th millennium BC faunal assemblage from Kilshane, Co. Dublin. This enclosure site was excavated in 2004 along the route of the N2 motorway, revealing the remains of nearly 60 cattle deposited in the bottom of the enclosure ditch. Bone doesn’t survive very well in most Irish soils, so this is a truly remarkable site and will hopefully provide important insight into animal husbandry around the time the first passage tombs were being constructed. We will be building on the zooarchaeological analysis undertaken when the assemblage was first excavated, hunting for new molecular-level information still hiding in the bones and teeth.

Left: loading up the van. Right: one of the cattle skulls during excavation

Passage Tomb People at EAA 2018

Jessica was in Barcelona last week at the European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting, presenting Passage Tomb People to the wider archaeological community.


With nearly 3000 delegates and 4500 papers this year, EAA is one of the biggest archaeological annual conferences. Lots of fun and great to catch up with colleagues from different countries, but pretty exhausting at the same time!

Prof Michael Herity Memorial Lecture at Rathcroghan, Tulsk

Project PI Jessica (unofficially!) launched the Passage Tomb Project last Friday 24th August during Heritage Week at the Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, Tulsk, Co. Roscommon. She was invited to give the 3rd Annual Professor Michael Herity Memorial Lecture with a talk entitled ‘Passage Tomb People: seeking the monument builders‘.

Professor Herity (1929 – 2016) was a renowned archaeologist and Professor Emeritus in the School – then Department – of Archaeology at UCD. He had very wide-ranging research interests spanning the Neolithic to medieval periods, publishing in 1974 the book ‘Irish Passage Graves‘ (essential reading for our project!).