Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Gleninsheen Gold Collar

The Glensinsheen Gorget (collar) is considered to be among the finest gold ornaments ever produced in Ireland. It dates to the Bronze Age and is thought to have been created between 800-700 BC. It was discovered in the Burren at Gleninsheen, Co. Clare by a young boy out with his dog. He spotted ‘something’ in a fissure (or ‘grike’) between two areas of limestone pavement (known as ‘clints’) and retrieved this treasure. Unfortunately, not everyone was as enthused with his discovery and, thinking it was a piece of coffin furniture, he was forbidden from bringing it inside his home. It languished under a bush for a number of years before it was identified as archaeological and was passed on to Adolf Mahr, then head of the National Museum of Ireland.

It’s a wonderful piece of complex ornamentation that would have been utterly striking when worn in the Bronze Age, but it’s the story of its discovery and near loss to scholarship that draw me back to it time and time again when I visit the museum. Go see it for yourself and be seduced by this incredible piece of artistry and craftsmanship, but spare a slight shudder at the thought of how close we came to losing it forever …

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A pair of cheek-pieces of unknown type from Ireland – request for information

My good friend B G Scott is researching Iron Age horse harnesses. He is currently looking for parallels to the cheek pieces illustrated below. Please feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who may be able to help. You may either contact him directly, or all messages/comments on this blog and other social media outlets will be passed back to him. Thanks to all who can assist on this - it is much appreciated.


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The cheek piece shown in these rather poor pictures is one of a pair, unprovenanced except to ‘Ireland’. The arms end in simple animal heads, and there is no decoration anywhere. It seems likely that the two strap tags do not belong with the piece.

I have not been able to locate a parallel to date, and would be most grateful if any colleagues have come across anything similar.

All assistance gratefully received and fully acknowledged.

Best wishes
Dr Brian G. Scott

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Phoenix at the National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland has many wondrous, beautiful, and rare objects on display. Just think of the spectacular Bronze Age gold display, the Ardagh Chalice and the other amazing artefacts in the Treasury, the prehistoric pottery, along with the Viking and medieval material upstairs. Most people are unaware that the museum also boasts a mythological rarity … their very own phoenix. This mosaic gem is near the very Dandy Lion on the ground floor, near the centre of the Bronze Age gold exhibit. I’ve long thought him a particularly arrogant bird, rising up with flame-feathered wings outstretched and an imperious look in his eye. On more recent consideration, I’m not sure if he’s not just using a cloak of superiority to mask his discomfort at having an especially barbed and sharp tongue … it must be the source of much distress and suffering. Go visit the museum & spare a thought for the phoenix.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Dandy Lion at the National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland at Kildare Street, Dublin, is simply stuffed with treasures – room after room and case after case of the very finest and most important artefacts from this island. When faced with such a rich and beautiful selection to catch your intellect and imagination it can be easy to miss interesting little treats hiding in plain sight. On my last visit to the Museum, I renewed my acquaintance with this rather dashing mosaic lion. He’s easy to miss in the Bronze Age gold display, but he’s certainly worth the time to notice and appreciate. I particularly like the jaunty twist of his goatee and the calm, assured look in his eye.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Wreck of La Belle and the archaeology of French Texas

Last November I had the good fortune to be in Austin, TX. Although I was there in my guise of IT guy to attend the Tableau conference, I had a little free time to myself got the opportunity to visit The Bullock Texas State History Museum. Should you get the chance, I would heartily recommend a visit. For those who can’t make it (or need some encouragement to go) I offer this brief collection of posts, showcasing some of the exhibits. To my mind, the premier exhibit in this fascinating museum is La Belle: The Ship That Changed History.

The story started in 1684, when Louis XIV sent Robert Cavelier de la Salle off with four ships and 400 people. The plan was to head to North America and establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. The new colony would become the focus of lucrative trade routes and everyone would get rich … very rich! Well … that was the plan … and things didn’t quite go to plan. To be fair, I’m rather stretching the meaning of the phrase ‘didn’t quite go to plan’ here. Poor Robert accidentally sailed past his destination, lost ships to mishaps and marauders, and was eventually murdered by his own crew … as I say, not quite to plan! In 1686, La Belle, was wrecked in a storm and sank into the mud of Matagorda Bay. What was a disaster in 1686 proved to be a remarkable discovery in 1995 when the ship was located by archaeologists. The lengthy ensuing excavation allowed the recovery of 1.6 million artefacts, along with a sizeable portion of the ship’s hull. The museum provides a wonderful website with some beautiful photography that I urge you to visit (here). From a European perspective, this is a fantastic survival of post-Medieval French maritime history that also provides insights into trade practices and social conditions of the period … it just happens to be located on the other side of the planet …

The Ship
La Belle was a three-masted ship that measured approximately 54ft in length, 15ft wide, had a 7ft draft, and carried around 35 people. It was designed for navigating shallow coastal waters as well as sailing up rivers as part of De la Salle’s programme of exploration. Interestingly, La Belle was never intended to sail across the Atlantic. Instead, she was supposed to have been packed up in the belly of Le Joly, another of his ships, for assembly in the New World. As it turned out, the other ships were already too full with other supplies and La Belle was constructed at Rocheford, in France. As it was a ‘kit ship’, the main timbers were each carved with a combination of letters and Roman numerals to match so it could be reassembled in the correct way. I was particularly taken with the system used – the central reference point was the mainmast and ribs forward of this were numbered IA-XIIA (Avant) while the ribs behind were labelled ID-XVIID (Devant).

Obviously, the lower portion of the hull and side of the ship have survived well, but items of rigging have also been found. The three-holed wooden artefact on the left (above) is a deadeye ‘block’ or pulley used in the adjustment of the ship’s sails. The example on the right is a fiddle block variant. Owing to constant use and wear, these pieces were usually made of durable hardwoods, such as oak or lignum vitae.

This is a single block, the simplest form of block pulley used on board ship.

This 1:12 scale model of La Belle gives a clear indication of what it would have looked like when new and is cut away to reveal the layout of the internal compartments and their contents, based on surviving documents and the archaeological evidence.

Items for daily life in the Colony
One of the points that the exhibit makes very well is that while the individual artefacts all have important and interesting stories, it is the totality of the finds that give us insights into what Europeans thought was necessary to create a sustainable colony in North America. This collection included necessities such as cooking pots, plates, bowls, a surgical kit, a collection of carpentry tools, along with unworked iron to make nails and other necessities.

This collection of brass cooking pots and a colander was found nested inside each other, along with a ladle and a pair of candlesticks. They had been stowed in the ship's hold inside a large chest.

Even in the New World the necessity of grinding grain to make bread remained the same as at home. This rotary quern will be familiar to archaeologists on this side of the Atlantic. For anyone not familiar with the artefact, a upper stone is turned by hand against a stationary lower stone and the grain is ground to flour in action between the two. As this example has no central perforation to introduce grain into the mechanism or a partial hole near the edge to facilitate a wooden handle, I presume that it’s the lower stone.

The excavation found four barrels of axe heads, but no axe handles. The assumption is that the colonists would have made handles once they landed and then used them to create houses and a defensive compound. They would also have been prized trade items, used for exchange with the indigenous population.

La Belle contained a large collection of combs, many of which were probably intended as trade goods. However, this pair of combs preserved together in a wallet were most likely the personal property of a sailor or colonist. In particular, the fine comb on the left is thought to have been for checking for lice.

As well as the stamped decoration on the handle, this shallow bowl or porringer has the name ‘C. Barange’ inscribed on its side, possibly the name of one of the sailors.

Trade items
While some artefacts may be seen both as useful to the colonists and as trade items, much of La Belle’s cargo, and that of the other ships in his fleet, would have been intended only for trade. The largest portion of these trade goods would have been glass beads, but they also brought bells, knives, finger rings, mirrors, combs, and vermilion dye. De la Salle traded these for food, horses, guides, along with furs and hides that he intended to send back to France.

During an earlier mission through Canada, De la Salle learned that the Native population liked and valued glass beads, so he ensured that his expedition to the Mississippi carried them in their hundreds of thousands.

Over 500 knives were recovered during the excavation, many of which were intended for trade purposes. These included straight knives, carefully wrapped in paper, and folding-clasp knives.

On the left is a sample of the 1600 brass hawk bells recovered during the course of the excavation. While designed to be worn by trained birds of prey in Europe, they were traded to the Native population to be sewn on to clothing. On the right is a selection of the 1603 brass finger rings, also for trading, recovered from the wreck. These are known as ‘Jesuit rings’ owing to their religious iconography.

Attack and defence
De la Salle and his colonists knew that they were going to an environment that was hostile to them, so the expedition was well stocked with weapons. Bronze and iron cannon were carried in the hold of the La Belle. These were intended to protect the fledgling colony, while a number of deck cannon and swivel guns protected the ship. Smaller weapons (for both hunting and defence) included two different types of firearms, supplied with a number of different forms of shot and ammunition. As the industrial capabilities necessary to produce projectiles and powder did not exist where they were going, and could not be independently manufactured by the colonists, they brought as much as they could with them. It is interesting to reflect that of the 86 barrels retrieved during the excavation, 33 contained shot, while a further 16 were filled with gunpowder.

On the left is a brass powder flask for pouring measured amounts of gunpowder into a firearm. To the right are a selection of three surviving gunpowder cartridges, each originally holding a pre-measured charge of gunpowder.

The guns on board were flintlocks, which required a gunflint as part of the mechanism to create a spark and expel the projectile. This image shows a collection of rather lovely examples. Even after all these years in archaeology, it still strikes me as so strange, seeing this most quintessential of prehistoric technologies still used until (relatively) recently. I put it down to having spent too long among the prehistorians. 

Two of the flintlock muskets recovered from the wreck.

This firepot is a remarkable survival, not simply that the ceramic vessel is intact, but that the wooden lid and fuse holder are also preserved. If this example had been used, a grenade would have been placed inside the pot with the fuse sticking out of the top. When thrown, the pot and grenade would have exploded upon impact.

The colony at Fort Saint Louis faced difficulties from the outset and by 1688 La Salle and most of the settlers were dead and the settlement was in ruins. The remains of the site were discovered by the Spanish officer Alonso de León the following year. De León ordered the burial of the cannon and burnt the surviving buildings. Eventually the location of Fort Saint Louis was lost and the eight iron cannon (one pictured above) that defended the settlement remained buried until accidentally discovered by a ranch foreman in 1996.

This is one of three bronze cannon found in the hull of La Belle. All three have dolphin-shaped lifting handles and bear the crest of the Admiral of the French Navy.

The story of La Belle is part of the much larger history of the French colonisation of Texas. It’s a remarkable tale and is much less well known than it should be (or at least it was to me ... again, I blame it on consorting with the prehistorians). I’m not going to attempt to give even an outline, but instead direct the interested reader to the Wikipedia page [here]. I’ve tried to present some of the highlights of this wonderful exhibition, but there is much more to see here and in the museum as a whole – if you get the opportunity to visit in person don’t let it pass you by!

In a lot of my posts I add the suggestion that if you like my writing, I’d be grateful for a donation. Nothing too extravagant – just the price of a pint or a coffee (but I’ll probably just spend it on books). In this case, I’d also add that if you were so inclined, you could consider throwing a few of whatever your local currency is in the direction of the museum: here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Working Tools of the 5th Dragoon Guards

Every Masonic Lodge has a collection of what are termed ‘Working Tools’. They are copies of the types of tools used by stonemasons (or ‘operative masons’) and are used in Masonic rituals to teach moral lessons to the candidate undergoing a particular ‘degree’. In most Lodges, these are relatively plain and simple. However, once in a while you see examples like this – in silver, with engraved decoration, and testament to high-quality workmanship. This set of Working Tools in its carrying case, with recessed spaces for each item, originally belonged to Lodge 570. This was a Lodge associated with the 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales's) Dragoon Guards, constituted under a ‘Travelling Warrant’ in 1863. This set of Working Tools is dated 8th October 1866 and is decorated with the Regimental badge of a trotting horse over the letters DVG. The set is today on display in the museum at that Grand lodge of Ireland, Molesworth Street, Dublin.

Entry to the museum is free and is open to the public Monday to Friday throughout the year.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Burial 40 The Mound of the Hostages, Tara

Bipartite vase from Burial 40 at The Mound of the Hostages, Tara, Co. Meath. This burial was represented by a spread of cremated human bone. Analysis indicates that these represented two individuals. Two pottery vessels were associated with the burial – a tripartite bowl & the pictured bipartite vase – along with a flint knife. The burial dates to 2033-1831 cal. BC (3600±60 BP). The artefacts are now housed at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Inside the Museum: Grand lodge of Ireland, Molesworth Street, Dublin

The last time I was in Dublin I had the good fortune and a little spare time to visit the lovely museum at the Grand lodge of Ireland, on Molesworth Street. The museum aims to give a broad outline of the history of Freemasonry in Ireland, display some of the best regalia, jewels, and artefacts, along with telling the stories of some of the people associated with the Fraternity over the years. The museum is open to the public Monday to Friday throughout the year and (best of all) it’s free! On my last visit, I only had my camera phone available to me, so the quality of the shots is less than astounding. However, I’d like to use this short series of posts to present some of the wonderful items on display there and, maybe, convince you to go take a look for yourself the next time you’re in Dublin!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bronze Age burials at The Mound of the Hostages, Tara

Bronze Age pottery vessels from The Mound of the Hostages, Tara. Housed at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Inscribed Gravemarker

Inscribed gravemarker made from a reused quern (grinding) stone, 9th-10th century. Commemorates Sechnasach. Found at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, now in National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

‘The excavation was a financial success’ | Irish Commercial Archaeology in 2015

Screenshot of the Tableau Dashboard. Available [here] and at the end of this post
Archaeologists are supposed to be rather good at digging … out in the field it’s quite a bit of what we do. When I left field archaeology in 2011 it was, I suppose, inevitable that I would find something else to delve and dig into. One of the topics that has engaged my attention in recent years is the reconstruction of the financial histories of individual archaeological consultancies to create an impression of the sector as a whole, based on a few publicly available ‘Key Financial Indicators’. The process started with an examination of Northern Ireland’s four archaeological consultancies for the period from 2007-2013 [here] and, while imperfect, was sufficient to plot much of the post-2008 collapse of the industry, even if the 2013 data was only for a single company. A second post [here] updated the dataset with the 2013 financial details of two further companies. My original point in this was to demonstrate the financial fragility of the sector and underline the dangers this posed for excavated archives, should one or more company declare bankruptcy. The approach proved popular with many archaeologists (though perhaps not with the company owners themselves) and I was prevailed upon to extend my analysis to companies in the Republic of Ireland [here]. At that time, the data ran from 2001 to 2014. It was at this point I also introduced the use of Tableau dashboards that allowed the user to interact directly with the data and create their own dynamic visualisations. An advantage of this was that it allowed the user to replicate and interrogate my methods, along with allowing them to drill down to the information most pertinent to their own interests. In a further post [here] I updated the Northern Ireland story to include 2014 data. I then took the decision to pay for access to the Summary Accounts submitted by individual companies to Companies House. Although relatively expensive, the access allowed me a more granular view of the individual accounting categories that made up the high level KFIs. It also gave me the opportunity to extend the historical view back to 1998 (and for one company, up to 2015), thus charting the rise of the commercial archaeological sector as well as its fall. My most recent work on the topic [here] has expanded the Northern Irish dataset to include 2015 results for two further companies. For this iteration of the report I was persuaded to drop my earlier attempts at obfuscation and name actual companies. All this concentration on the Northern Irish scene has reminded me that I have neglected the financial landscape of the Republic of Ireland. This post seeks to remedy that situation.

What’s New?
Following the precedent set in the last update of the Northern Irish data, this iteration of the dashboard will no longer use a Three Letter Acronym (TLA) to obfuscate the names of the companies. The actual company name will appear in the Company Name filter, if occasionally shortened to fit the space available. The list of Key Financial Indicators has been expanded from four to eight, the same as the NI dataset. While I felt that there was much to recommend the graph of Average Values, it was very small and difficult to read. For this reason I have dispensed with it entirely, to free up space for the expanded data table. The Data Points graph, indicating the numbers of accounts submitted per year, while valuable, didn’t need quite so much space to be effective. It has been moved to the bottom right-hand corner, again, to provide more space for the data table. The calliper filter to select the Year, and the dropdown to switch between the active and inactive companies (or both together) remain. However, a new Living Wage filter has been added. This allows the user to exclude/include companies that have agreed or refused to sign up to the Living Wage initiative. A third category exists for companies who have yet to be contacted for a response. Finally, available accounts for the Galway-based Arch Consultancy run from 2005-2103, but were not previously in the dataset. Previous iterations of the dashboard have been confined to a single tab, but here I’ve added a second (termed Mega-fauna) to examine the unequal value of One Company against Everyone Else in the sector.

The 2015 Data
Some 20 companies submitted 2014 accounts that are available to me. For 2015 this number dropped to 18. Four of these companies did not (or have not yet) submitted 2015 accounts: Lane Purcell Archaeologists; Association of Archaeological Consultants of Ireland; Eachtra Archaeological Projects; Moore Archaeological and Environmental Services. Of these, Lane Purcell Archaeologists have submitted a Request for a Voluntary Strike Off and may be considered to have ceased trading, though they have not formally been dissolved. The Association of Archaeological Consultants of Ireland company have now been dissolved. In the previous iteration of this dataset, 2013 was the last year I had summary accounts for Moore Archaeological and Environmental Services. This has now been updated to include 2014. Interestingly, this company was dissolved in May 2016, but applied for restoration in July 2016. Two further companies submitted their first sets of accounts in 2015: Shanarc Archaeological Consultancy and Archaeological Service Providers.

Archaeological Development Services last submitted accounts in 2012 and have a number of documents on file regarding the liquidation of the company. However, for whatever reason, they appear to still be considered as active by Companies House and I have (not without reservations) mirrored that designation. The previous version of the dataset contained 2015 accounts for Valerie J Keeley and these (obviously) are retained. This company too is listed as Active, but the documentation includes notices of Voluntary Winding Up and the appointment of a Liquidator.

As there are too many companies in the RoI dataset, I don’t propose going through them one by one, as I did for the NI consultancies. Instead, I want to look at overall figures and trends about how the sector is performing as a whole. Anyone interested to examine the changing fortunes of any company at an individual basis will find the tools to do so on the dashboard.

As I have done before, the discussion will include data only from companies still considered commercially active. Although I recognise that this somewhat limits the full historical perspective, it does have the advantage of centring the discussion on only those entities actively excavating sites and providing employment. In terms of Fixed Assets, 2015 saw a slight decrease in value from €1.13M to €941K. It is broadly in line with the €911K recorded in 2013, and while it represents some form of short-term stability and continuity, it is indicative of a lack of recovery from historic highs of €6.9M recorded in 2007. The Stock/Other category includes investments and works in progress and can incorporate some rather disparate assets that are hard to otherwise categorise. That caveat aside, it is clear that this category has shown a remarkable increase to €1.06M in 2015, up from €0.5M the previous year, and the historic low of €343K in 2012. Once again, the figure is well below the historic highs of nearly a decade previously when the total hit €3.2M in 2006. Debtors also show a healthy increase in 2015 to €1.86M, from a 2013 low of €1.21M. This is well below historic highs of €9.98M and €10.3M in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Debtors are an interesting and, potentially, double-edged category as the figure records work billed for, but as yet unpaid. It’s money that (all things being equal) is coming your way, but you don’t actually have it in the bank. In a healthy financial environment, this should be only a minor consideration, but in less certain economic times it is eminently possible that such funds may never materialise. This may be either be through the debtor being unwilling or unable to pay, leaving the company with a reduced cash flow and, in turn, unable to pay their own debts. I will return to this point in due course. For the moment, looking at Cash at Bank, 2015 appears to have been a relatively successful year with a total of €2.83M recorded, up from €2.10M in 2014, and broadly comparable to 2013s €3.08M. While a strong performance, the figures are well down from historic highs of €5.12M in 2007 and €6.52M in 2011.

One of the advantages of access to the summary accounts, rather than just the high level KFIs, is that it allows us see how creditors can be broken out into two sub-categories – those that are payable within the coming year and those that are payable within a timescale greater than one year. The Current Liabilities payable within the coming year were recorded at -€2.05M in 2015. This is an improvement on the -€2.18M from the previous year, and significantly better than 2007s historic highs of -€9.75M. Creditors to be repaid outside of the current year usually includes business loans and the like. In 2015 this figure was recorded at -€571K and has remained relatively consistent since 2011s total -€712K. These figures represent a significant recovery from the high of -€3.4M returned for 2007. Gross Current Assets would, ostensibly, read like a good news tale of recovery in 2015 to €5.73M from a low the previous year’s total of €4.05M. It may even be hailed as the first step back after a seven-year decline from 2007s record €17.75M. But that’s not the whole story. As noted in previous posts, this figure is in part composed of the monies owed to the companies by their debtors. It bears repeating that this is work that has been carried out, but has yet to be paid for, and in uncertain financial conditions may never be paid. For this reason, I’ve introduced a simple calculation to demonstrate the percentage of the Current Assets that are composed of unsecured debtor value. Of the 19 companies who submitted accounts in 2014, and are still listed as active, this figure ranged from 0% to 189.16%, with the mean being 55.18%.  This may be compared to the 18 Active companies who submitted 2015 accounts. Here the figures ranged from 0% to 97.62%, with an average of 47.48%. While still relatively high, the situation does appear to be improving in this regard. The final KFI is, of course, the summed Net Worth of the sector. The 2015 figure is €3.07M and it is the first time since 2008 (€12.51M) where it is an increase on the previous year. While it may be seized on as a positive sign, and an indicator of steps towards prosperity, I would caution that it is a single year’s results that could yet go either way.

Taken together, the KFIs are mostly going in the right direction. Net Worth, Current Assets, etc. are all improving, while levels of debt appear to be under control. Probably even more importantly, the average percentage of Debtor value that makes up part of the Current Assets calculation appears to be at manageable levels and has decreased since last year. This looks like an industry on the cusp of a full recovery. Even the fact that there are 18 companies dividing the sector between them appears to give the impression of vibrancy. But that’s not really the case. In my previous post on the financial histories of the Irish consultancies I noted that the years 2008 and 2009 would appear to be “nothing less than an extinction-level event for the Irish commercial archaeological sector”. In that time a significant number of the large consultancies either shut up shop, or were vastly reduced in their circumstances. While some of smaller companies have emerged and adapted to fill the financial niche, the sector is still dominated by a just one “great predator”.  To give an indication of how much this one company (who I shan’t name, but we all know which one it is) dominates the Irish scene, I have reconfigured the datasource to show all the other currently Active companies combined into a single entity. You’ll find the dashboard under the ‘Mega-fauna’ tab.

In terms of Fixed Assets, the One Company had €235K in 2015, as opposed to €706K for the rest. This is hardly surprising as each of the smaller companies have to provide their own premises, vehicles, and digging equipment etc., resulting in significant duplications. Again, in terms of Stock/Other assets and investments, One Company has a 2015 result of €70K, far below the €997K of the combined others. The breakdown of the Debtors is interesting – this One enterprise returned a 2015 total of €908K, not far below the €958K of Everyone Else. To put that another way – of all the money that is owed to Irish archaeological consultancies, almost 49% of it is owed to this One Company. This One Company has a 2015 Cash at Bank total of €1.87M, in stark contrast to the €965K of Everyone Else – that’s almost exactly two-thirds of the current Cash holdings belonging to a single entity. When it comes to the Current Liabilities payable within one year, this One Company returned a figure of -€523K, against the -€1.53M for the combined rest of the sector. Again, putting that in context, of all the short-term debt in the sector, this one consultancy holds slightly more than 25%. The situation is even starker when we examine the figures for Creditors to be paid back at a term greater than one year. The 2015 figure for Everyone Else is -€571K, while the One Company has no long term debt, and appears not to have had since 2009. The gross Current Assets show this One group with a total for 2015 of €2.85M, just behind the €2.92M for Everyone Else. Again, this shows that 49% of the total value for the sector is tied up in one company. It is also worthwhile noting that the percentage of the Current Assets made up of Debtors is 31.9% at this one firm, very slightly better than the 32.8% for the combined remainder of the sector. Finally, the Net Worth variable indicates that one company recorded a value of €1.58M in 2015, slightly ahead of the €1.49M for the combined rest of the companies. Think about that for a second – just over half (51%) of the Net Worth of the entire sector is held by a single entity. My original comment from when I first examined this data was that “In short, this one company is the most cash rich, is worth more, has more assets, and fewer debts than the rest of the sector combined.” In the time since I made that statement the only thing that has changed is the relative value of their Fixed Assets. One other point that I’d like to draw from the relative Net Worth graph is how this one company has fared in relation to the rest of the sector. The Everyone Else line shows Net Worth rising to a peak of €11.3M in 2008, and falling every year to €790K in 2014. Thus, 2015s total is the first time in eight years where their Net Worth actually increased over the previous year’s result. By contrast, the trajectory taken by this enterprise is one of steadily increasing Net Worth from their first available set of accounts in 2006 (€405K) to a peak of €1.77M in 2012. Their results in the years since are all comfortably in the €1.5M range. The implication to be taken here is that when the rest of the sector was doing well, they were too. But when the sector went into post-2008 freefall they managed to effectively insulate themselves from it. When everyone else is either a dinosaur that evolved into birds, or furry little mammals filling the vacant spaces, this is the dino that ducked the meteor.

Net Worth for One Company vs Everyone Else. Tableau Dashboard [here]
Right … let’s get something straight here. I want to make it abundantly clear that this company employs many highly-skilled and respected staff – many of whom I regard as among the best in the business – and that all comments offered here are not about them as archaeologists, but about the behaviour of this company as a corporate entity. In particular, I bear no ill will to this enterprise for their success. If anything, the financial stability they have achieved indicates that the archaeological artefacts and archives in their care are unlikely to come under threat – at least in the short term. They have done well and whatever happened – luck or strategy – that kept them not only from extinction after everything went to pieces after 2008, but largely financially unchanged, they are to be respected for it. However, this is the main company that has refused to sign up to the Living Wage agreement for their staff. This is also a company that was among the vociferous opponents of the Unite Union’s attempt to get a Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) for commercial archaeologists in the Republic of Ireland. This would have set appropriate wage levels and standards for the profession, helping ensure that skilled staff received fair remuneration and that all companies operated on a fair and level playing field. The defeat of the SEO application at the Labour Court allows this group and some of their principal but smaller competitors to continue to undercut other firms, continue to offer wages that are less than just to their employees, and continue to unfairly shape the sector to their wills. While I may not resent them their financial success, I do resent the fact that this has been achieved from the dedication, skill, and hard work of a workforce that has been – and will continue to be – undercut, underpaid and under respected.

When faced with a large beast marauding the landscape there are two routes that are available to the individual. You can stay on your own and you will, in all probability, get devoured by the creature. The other option is to band together for mutual protection and defence. We know that in the past this included digging ditches, putting up banks and palisaded fences, but we don’t quite need to do that today. Instead, I have a simple plea to all current or aspiring archaeologists in Ireland – both north and south – if you’re still working in the field and would like to see the profession continue your choice is simple: go join the Unite Union. The Facebook page Unite Archaeologists - Digging for a Living Wage is your best starting point and will guide you through the simple process of becoming a Union member. It is only when members of the profession stand together that they can protect themselves from the predations of large companies that control the market and ensure that a healthy and fair profession develops. Once people are organised and motivated – with palisades built and ditches dug – that’s when they go hunting for monsters …


For the best viewing experience of the Tableau dashboard, I would recommend going to Full Screen mode (F11) … there will be less scrolling needed!

Access the dashboard directly at the Tableau server here.

The first part of the title of this post is taken from the song ‘Dig’ by NOFX from their 1994 album Punk in Drublic. But, of course, you knew that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Medieval Pottery

Reconstructed medieval jugs on display at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Knight Jug

Detail of 13th century wine jug, decorated with figures of armoured knights and monkey figures. Made at Ham Green, Bristol. Recovered during excavations at High St., Dublin. Now in the collection of the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Three Sides Live | Professor Etienne Rynne Lectures | October 1994 | Part III

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Prof. Etienne Rynne at the decorated east window of Annaghdown Cathedral,
 Co. Galway, in 1996 (© Chapple Collection)

In this, the third and final lecture, Prof. Rynne tackles ‘the big three’ of Irish Early Christian metalwork: The Tara Brooch, The Ardagh Chalice, and the Derrynaflan hoard. All of his obituaries noted that he accompanied the Ardagh Chalice to the British Museum when it was disassembled for cleaning and restoration. This gave him remarkable insight into the manufacture of the piece which, unfortunately, he never got around to publishing. While never filling the void, I hope that this very rushed presentation can go some way towards an understanding of its construction. Students of the Prof. will also recognise his oft-repeated (and terribly misogynistic) anecdote about women wearing their conference name badges upside-down. I have to say that, since hearing that story, I have always kept an eye out for its occurrence at conferences. I’ve only observed it a few times, and always by men rather than women. This recording nicely demonstrates the verbal backlash he received (and expected) for uttering it in public!

Again, I’ve included a rough timeline through the lecture, giving the order of the topics he covered and some of his quips and anecdotes.

Video also available: here

0:18 Tara Brooch: ‘it’s on chocolate boxes and it’s on Dancing Girls’ breasts … or it used to be’
0:42 Tara Brooch is different from everything else
1:01 Penannular & pseudo penannular
1:28 tied on with woven silver wire
1:50 illuminated manuscripts
2:02 ‘The Tara Brooch about 700 ... 725’
2:38 not made of gold! ‘There is only one gold brooch in Ireland at this time – the Dalriada Brooch from Lachan, Co. Derry’
3:22 ‘you can get the measurements yourselves quite easily, I can never remember them!’
3:43 Tara one of the earliest known brooches
3:53 ‘it was cast in the cire perdue method, or the lost wax method’
4:44 ‘it took me four lectures ... or five lectures I think for my ordinary students’
4:53 Bettystown 1850
5:42 sent to the Great Exhibition in London in 1862 & returned missing some filigree
6:09 how they held these panels in place
6:18 ‘just a little detail to show you’ … the dog that only the wearer can see
7:42 ‘If you don’t see the reason for this … next time you go to a conference … and I know I’m going to have P------- B----- and others giving out now that I’m being a male chauvinist pig and all the rest … I’m not! … I’m just telling you a fact … women don’t as often go to conferences as men … and often they come along with the husband … just shows they’re not as used to it … and when you go to conferences and things, you’re given your name on a little label and your name could be P------- B-----, or something … and I challenge any of you to go to any conference … and you’ll see … and nine times out of ten it will be women … who will have … because they’re not used to it … or don’t think the same way … you put it on upside down … quite often you’ll see people walking around with their name and it’s as proud as punch, and their name is upside down … because when they read it, they read it upside down’
8:48 [over loud disagreement] ‘I am just stating that [inaudible] [audience member: ‘very brave’] don’t blame me, I have no [] It’s the same idea’
9:24 [problem with slide projector] ‘why is this not working?’
9:45 missing panel & how they’re held in place
11:05 gilded
13:00 amber
13:15 decoration on the back
14:13 Niello
15:55 ‘So you can see – the Tara Brooch is pretty fine’
16:14 lost wax method
16:26 ‘chip carving … or kerbschnitt to be more correct’
17:01 ‘it’s a marvellous piece, but let us move on from the Tara Brooch to the [indistinct] du temps, the greatest piece of work metallurgical, artistical, probably ever done in the world … it’s Benvenuto Cellini or any of them couldn’t have done the Ardagh Chalice’
17:34 found in hoard in 1868
18:03 probably never used
18:19 ‘it’s a marvellous piece … the proportions are beautiful … I think it’s about seven-and-a-half inches high … [utters list of possible dimensions in quick succession] … it doesn’t matter! It’s elegant!’
18:41 the bowl
19:06 how it’s held together
19:28 handles
19:45 raised glass studs
20:31 moulds for casting glass studs found at Lagore crannog (with glass stud still in it)
20:58 how they were held together
22:40 the bowl girdle
22:00 description of the panels
24:11 Audience member: ‘is that lettering down at the bottom?’
ER: ‘Holy Lord! [audience giggling] there’s the bowl … obviously, somebody has seen something! … but the number of people that go in [to the National Museum of Ireland] and look at the Ardagh Chalice and DON’T see! … that’s one thing you learn from archaeology … I keep telling you … [] I tell my students – if they learn nothing else, they learn to see, not just to look!’
24:44 ‘I’ve brought people into the museum and I’ve brought them … borrowed from the museum the big magnifying glass and they still couldn’t bloody well see!’
25:04 inscription on the bowl ‘the names of the twelve apostles … minus Judas … I think I say in the hand-outs that St Paul replaced Judas … most people say that … I’ve been looking into it later and according to the gospels it was Mathias who replaced Judas … and I’m going to have to check to see … check these bloody names and see whether Paul is included at all’
25:48 ‘same sort of letters as the Book of Lindisfarne
26:00 ‘how did they get the girdle on to hold it?’ … note of ER travelling to the British Museum to see it taken apart
28:04 the foot mount
28:54 silver-topped rivets to hold the handles
29:08 Brass rim
29:25 the bottom
30:56 ‘I think the projector is not one I’ve used locally … usually’
31:44 upper & lower foot girdles
32:07 blue glass studs that the chalice stood on when in use
33:17 ‘those are copper and silver wires … probably done like Mr [indistinct] through a hole [indistinct] in a spool … put thread through it and you get a long hollow string and then they cut it and opened it out’
33:36 ‘and these are very interesting … and I know … you could lick your finger and just wipe them you could see for a minute, but in the British Museum they actually put oil on them and they were able to get them so you could see through them ... or translucent … just long enough to take a photograph before it dried out … and if you look you can perhaps notice … a pattern behind … [indistinct] but here is the silver panel that’s behind them all … there’s a stamped silver panel’
34:27 ‘and I’m finishing with Derrynaflan … I forgot to bring down … I should have brought down the slide with the chalice of Derrynaflan and the chalice of Ardagh next to one another … because I’m going to tell you that [] the chalice of Derrynaflan is a second rate object! I know if we hadn’t got the Ardagh Chalice we’d say it was terrific … and any other museum or country in the world would give its eye teeth for it … but it’s a very poor imitation’
35:20 Derrynaflan & Ardagh hoards thieves’ hoard vs. custodian’s hoard
36:10 Paten
36:36 strainer
36:40 covered by bowl
36:48 paten & stand are the prize pieces
37:00 possibly made by same person/workshop who made the Ardagh Chalice
37:17 strainer
37:30 Ardagh Chalice was take/given & replaced with Derrynaflan Chalice
37:40 Derrynaflan 50 to 60 years later than the Ardagh Chalice
38:00 the strainer
38:14 The tape stopped in the recorder at this point – apparently due to an oily residue on the tape.

ER continues on the strainer: ‘It would make an awful mess! … in other words … and furthermore … this is bronze … this handle is too springy and light … if you filled it up with wine it’d go woop like that … clearly … this was not meant to be used … neither were the other objects … they were for presentation on an altar for special occasions … feast days … like the Ardagh Chalice … like the Book of Kells … like all these objects … Do socair glór Dé agus a onóir, mar sin de [to the peaceful glory of God and his honour, and so on] … there is the chalice … it looks lovely ... it isn’t … it’s [indistinct] it’s a poor effort! It really … It’s missing the rim … brass rim which take the bare look off the other one …’

After a little more explaining how awful the Derrynaflan Chalice is, the tape quality degrades markedly as the lecture ends

Prof. Etienne Rynne at the north doorway of Annaghdown Cathedral
Co. Galway, in 1996 (© Chapple Collection)