Land, Sea and Sky: the archaeology of coasts and islands.

The sea is a natural highway, linking islands to islands and peninsulas to peninsulas. Our concept of an Atlantic world was created by voyages of exploration and settlement bridging far-flung coastlines.

The traditional focus of maritime archaeology has been on the ships that carried people across the sea, all too often ending up on the seabed as wrecks. There is also, however, a diverse range of sites and features in coastal and intertidal areas. Similarly, archaeologists have tended to focus narrowly on the concept of the island as something that could be looked at in isolation, as a laboratory for understanding how insular societies develop, but island life is underpinned by linkages and interchanges across the sea.

Taking this wider perspective provides us with an opportunity to explore how people created distinctive island and coastal worlds. How did people create distinctive maritime heritage and traditions? How does the evidence reflect the balance between the notion of islands as fixed and bounded and the fluidity and interconnectivity of the movement of people, with the sea as both boundary wall and gateway?

Currently, islands and coastal environments are experiencing the powerful impact of the climate crisis. Rising sea levels are leading to the erosion and submerging of coastlines, and we are faced with the challenge of recording their rich archaeology. It seems timely to explore the archaeology and settlement of islands, coastal areas and the sea that links them.

This conference sets out to explore the connections of archaeological heritage with local and coastal communities and its role in establishing a sense of place.

The programme, developed by conference adviser Professor Gabriel Cooney (UCD), provides an interdisciplinary gathering of eminent scholars and practitioners to explore the connections between islands and mainlands—what have come to be called ‘islandscapes’. The notion of archipelago worlds and the sea as a highway is a reminder of the importance of longer voyages and the ability of seafarers from earliest times to use the currents, to move along coastlines, to use the intervisibility of mountains to ‘island hop’ and, more importantly, to connect seemingly distant lands. These contacts were often the spark of major social change.

01 October: Session 1 

Island archaeologies and the conundrum(s) of ‘insular connectivity’ —Duncan Garrow, University of Reading

Modes of Transport in Coastal and Island Communities of the West Coast —Críostaír Mac Cárthaigh, National Irish Folklore Archive, UCD.

03 October: Session 2

Different Islands, Different Approaches: surveying the built heritage of Clare Island, Clew Bay and Island Eddy, Galway Bay—Paul Gosling, Department of Heritage and Tourism, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology

St Kilda – The last and outmaist Ile—Angela Gannon, Historic Environment Scotland

06 October: Session 3 

Island Worlds and Silent Worlds: the Cultural Landscape of Archipelagos and Amphibious Piracy—Connie Kelleher, Underwater Archaeology Unit, National Monuments Service, DCHG

Understanding value and loss at Irish Coastal Heritage Sites—Anthony Corns, The Discovery Programme & Louise Barker, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

08 October: Session 4 Seascapes in focus:

Learning from Loss: insights from 20 years of public archaeology at the Scottish coast—Tom Dawson and/or Joanna Hambly, SCAPE, St Andrew’s University

Over Nine Waves: Seascape character assessment in Ireland—Tracy Collins, Aegis Archaeology

The Tides That Bind: Foreshore archaeology and the community of Mersea Island, Essex—Oliver Hutchinson, CITiZAN (the Coastal and Intertidal Archaeological Network ) Discovery Programme Officer, Mersea Island

10 October: Session 5 

Beyond Resilience: Cultural Heritage and Coastal Change in the MENA and East Africa Regions—Colin Breen, School of Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Ulster


Close of conference statement: Michael MacDonagh, Chief State Archaeologist, National Monuments Service.

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