Conference 2020 Abstracts

Island archaeologies and the conundrum(s) of ‘insular connectivity’

Duncan Garrow, University of Reading

This talk will explore the seemingly contradictory notion of ‘insular connectivity’ in relation to a series of different islands, located around mainland Britain, during the Mesolithic and Neolithic. Islands in the past were, of course, often highly connected, and this connectivity was key to their identity, yet island populations regularly did things their own way as well. This double-edged trait often leads to apparent contradictions and complexity in the prehistoric record. Exploring a series of examples encountered over the course of island-focused research in recent years, some of these archaeological conundrums will be outlined, considering the role that ‘insular connectivity’ plays and how it is manifested in island material cultures.

Duncan Garrow teaches European later prehistory (with a particular focus on Britain) and archaeological theory at the University of Reading. His research interests include long-term histories of deposition, burial practices and material culture, and island archaeologies.

Modes of transport in coastal and island communities of the west coast

Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh

Settlement of coastal regions and islands and the exploitation of maritime resources are strongly affected by available boat technology. Vernacular boat types, including modified forms of non-indigenous types, are shaped to respond to specific environmental conditions and economic imperatives. Forms of transport are dependent on the material culture and technological expertise of a given community, but external factors such as capital investment in local infrastructure or distance from markets also play a role.

Of necessity, island culture closely corresponds to that of the mainland: islands may be seen as extensions of coastal communities, having tangible and intangible cultural elements in common. In historic times, many island settlements started out as places where livestock was grazed for the benefit of a landowner, managed by just a few individuals, in time acquiring the status of a distinct community. In the nineteenth century especially, the merits of island living included not only greater proximity to hunting and fishing grounds but also their potential to act as refuges for the dispossessed.

Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh is director of the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. His research interests include the study of vernacular boats, fishing and settlement patterns in Atlantic island and coastal communities.

Different islands, different approaches: surveying the built heritage of Clare Island, Clew Bay, and Island Eddy, Galway Bay

Paul Gosling

The Royal Irish Academy’s New Survey of Clare Island was a multidisciplinary project on a grand scale. Surveyed and published between 1991 and 2019, it built on a pioneering baseline survey of the island undertaken between 1909 and 1915. Since 2010 a community group has been conducting an interdisciplinary survey of Island Eddy, a small but strategic and now uninhabited island in Galway Bay. The contrasting scope and scale of the two surveys provide an opportunity for comparison not only of results but also of issues such as access, funding, community engagement and the distribution of results.

Paul Gosling is an archaeologist who lectures part-time in the Galway–Mayo Institute of Technology. He was a joint editor of volumes 4 and 5 of the Royal Irish Academy’s New Survey of Clare Island (2005 and 2007) and is an active member of the interdisciplinary survey of Island Eddy.

St Kilda—‘the last and outmaist Ile’

Angela Gannon

In 1527 Hector Boece’s description of St Kilda as ‘The last and outmaist Ile’ first brought this remarkable archipelago to the attention of a wider audience. Rising as dark silhouettes in the Atlantic Ocean some 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, the islands epitomise the romantic notions of isolation, insularity and a life on ‘the edge of the world’. Yet while there is no doubt that the archaeological remains on this archipelago are exceptional and represent unique responses to such a distant and dramatic landscape, it is equally clear that life here can only have been sustained if the islands belonged to a much wider social and economic network. It is this story of connectivity that makes life on St Kilda, ‘the last and outmaist Ile’, so enduring.

Angela Gannon is an archaeological investigator with Historic Environment Scotland. She has participated in several major field survey projects across the length and breadth of Scotland. She is co-author of St Kilda—the last and outmost isle, which was nominated for three book awards and is the subject of her contribution.

Island worlds and silent worlds: the cultural landscape of archipelagos and amphibious piracy

Connie Kelleher

The inclusion of coastlands and islands on early maps and charts reflects the use of these areas by mariners, whether for licit or illicit reasons. One such chart, dating from 1612, illustrates the ‘pirates harbours’ of West Cork and the archipelago of Roaringwater Bay at a time when piracy was in its heyday along the south-west coast of Munster, and with connections extending across the Atlantic to places like Newfoundland and north-west Africa. Identifying archaeological markers for this activity is where the difficulty lies. Certain sites, however, are providing insight into the use of remote coastal areas, both shorelines and islands, and the cultural sculpting of those places to suit the needs of such users. Sites include rock-cut steps and platforms, sea caves, careening places, names and place-names, as well as certain shipwreck sites; in addition, supporting contemporary historical accounts and comparative evidence from elsewhere assist in our understanding of how such maritime landscapes were utilised and manipulated.

New sites can throw new light on activities that depended on silence and secrecy for success. Many provided the littoral link between land and sea. The archaeological identification and recording of these coastal access points and submerged sites is therefore critical, particularly when considering the threat from climate change or loss through other cultural impacts, before time and tide remove them forever.

Connie Kelleher works with the National Monuments Service’s Underwater Archaeology Unit in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and is visiting lecturer in the Department of Archaeology, University College Cork.

Understanding value and loss at Irish coastal heritage sites

Anthony Corns and Louise Barker

The CHERISH climate change and coastal heritage project is a six-year EU-funded Ireland–Wales project (2017–22), under the auspices of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, the Discovery Programme, Aberystwyth University’s Department of Geography and Earth Sciences and Geological Survey Ireland. Its aim is to raise awareness and understanding of the past, present and near-future impacts of climate change, storminess and extreme weather events on the rich cultural heritage of the Irish and Welsh seas and coast. The team link land and sea and employ a variety of techniques and methods—ranging from terrestrial and aerial laser scanning, geophysical survey and seabed mapping to palaeoenvironmental sampling, excavation and shipwreck monitoring—to study some of the most iconic coastal locations. We will be looking at the methodologies of the project and, through a series of case-studies, showcasing work undertaken on the coast and islands of Ireland and Wales.

Anthony Corns has been the Technology Manager for the Discovery Programme for the past twenty years, responsible for the management of the applied technology research, including project management, 3D data capture at a range of levels, GIS for cultural heritage, dataset management and archiving, and more. He has participated in several EU-funded projects and is currently the chairman of the European CARARE Network and a member of the management board of the COST Action SEADDA: Saving European Archaeology from the Digital Dark Age.

Louise Barker is a senior archaeologist with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales and has worked as an archaeologist since graduating from Newcastle University in 1996. She specialises in landscape survey and interpretation and has worked on a wide range of sites and landscapes spanning all periods from prehistory to the present day. She is part of the EU-funded CHERISH project, investigating the impact of climate change on the maritime and coastal zone of Wales and Ireland, and has a research interest in coastal promontory forts and the islands of Wales, having worked on many during her sixteen years with the Royal Commission.

Learning from Loss: insights from twenty years of public archaeology at the Scottish coast

Tom Dawson and Joanna Hambly

Since 2000 the SCAPE Trust, a small team of archaeologists at the University of St Andrews, has worked with the public in monitoring, documenting and taking practical action at threatened coastal heritage sites across Scotland. This paper will present findings from two recent projects. From 2012 to 2016, the Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk Project put community volunteering at the heart of a national survey to update records and prioritise action at eroding archaeological sites. In 2018 the Learning from Loss programme brought over 100 people from local communities together with academics and heritage practitioners from the USA and Scotland to explore attitudes to coastal heritage loss and climate change. These projects have taught us an enormous amount about the state of Scotland’s coastal heritage resource, its potential and how it is being affected by natural processes, as well as about public attitudes to heritage loss.

Joanna Hambly is a Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews and project manager at SCAPE, where she is in the happy position of being able to combine archaeology with her passion for involving volunteers and her enjoyment of being on the coast.

Tom Dawson is a Principal Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews and manages SCAPE. He has worked in archaeology around the world and since 2000 has brought this experience to bear in applying fresh approaches to tackling eroding coastal heritage through public engagement and community action.

Over Nine Waves: seascape character assessment in Ireland

Tracy Collins

This paper introduces a Seascape Character Assessment project commissioned by the Marine Institute (Foras na Mara), the State agency responsible for marine research, technology development and innovation in Ireland. The assessment was undertaken by the environmental consultancy Minogue and Associates. Tracy Collins was the archaeologist on a project team that included environmentalists, ecologists, landscape architects, geologists and GIS specialists. The paper outlines the aims of the project and details the cultural heritage aspects, illustrating the variety of the cultural heritage of the Irish coast and islands since earliest times. It will discuss some lessons learned during the project and how cultural heritage might be enhanced and protected into the future.

Tracy Collins is a professional archaeologist and director of heritage consultancy Aegis Archaeology since its establishment in 1997. As an archaeologist working in the contract sector, she has worked on cultural heritage of all periods but has a special research interest in medieval monastic archaeology.

The tides that bind: foreshore archaeology and the community of Mersea Island, Essex

Oliver Hutchinson

Since 2016 the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN) has worked with the residents of Mersea Island to record and monitor archaeological sites and features at risk from coastal erosion. What started with a handful of local folk keen to learn more about their island history has grown into a network of budding foreshore archaeologists from all corners of the community. The team now comprises over 50 island residents, including local oystermen, dog-walkers and the occasional holidaymaker. Since their first foray onto the foreshore, fourteen new sites and over 70 new features have been recorded. Their valuable work has revealed the scope of coastal change on Mersea over the last 40,000 years and has preserved by record many significant sites and features that have since been lost to the sea. This is the story of how this island community’s work to study the past is helping them to understand the challenges they will face in the very near future.

Oliver Hutchinson leads the Mersea Island Discovery Programme, a community foreshore archaeology project based in Essex, England, that began in 2016. It is one of six such programmes within the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN) of England, aiming to train volunteers within coastal communities to record and monitor archaeology threatened by coastal erosion. Oliver is also a presenter on Channel 4’s Britain at Low Tide and an Honorary Research Assistant at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

Beyond resilience: cultural heritage and coastal change in the MENA and East Africa regions

Colin Breen

For millennia, coastal and island communities across the Middle East and North Africa were involved in trade and communication networks bound to the sea. These past societies have left an extraordinary cultural landscape and artefactual legacy that is entwined with contemporary notions of identity and belonging. These landscapes, however, are under significant threat from the intensification of human activities in coastal environments, and from the impacts of climate and environmental change. This presentation provides an overview of the impacts resulting from natural and anthropogenic change across these regions and examines the role that coastal and island heritage plays in contemporary society. It also addresses how maritime cultural heritage can be an intrinsic part of developing more sustainable coastal communities.

Colin Breen is an archaeologist and a Reader in the School of Geography and Environmental Sciences at Ulster University. His professional work focuses on past maritime societies and landscape change, as well as addressing environment and conflict. He is currently a project lead on the Arcadia-funded MarEA project ( in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and on the Global Challenges RftD Network in East Africa ( He is further involved with the Honor Frost Foundation in its work in Lebanon and Syria.

How to access the online presentations

Access to the conference is free but attendees must register HERE. The five pre-recorded sessions will be broadcast via the Archaeology Ireland website on different days in early October, as outlined in the programme. The conference will be introduced and closed by Michael MacDonagh, Chief State Archaeologist, National Monuments Service, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and each speaker will be introduced by Archaeology Ireland editor Sharon Greene.

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