Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland (LIARI) Project Conference

I'm delighted to welcome a new guest writer to the blog. Philippa de Barra is a Cork-trained archaeologist, and human bone specialist. She is currently working as an intern with The Discovery Project, and one of the team doing sterling work to organise and promote the upcoming The Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland (LIARI) Project Conference in Dublin. I have asked her to tell us a little about the conference and some of the interesting research that the project is attempting to coordinate. If you have the opportunity to get to Dublin for what promises to be an amazing weekend, you really should go ... otherwise, read on for a taste of what you'll be missing ...

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This weekend, The Discovery Programme’s Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland (LIARI) Project will hold a conference in Trinity College Dublin.  ‘Ireland in a Roman Worldi’ takes its title from the Project’s multi-disciplinary research goals, which focus on the period AD 0–500, a period that has until quite recently remained somewhat under-researched within Ireland.  In many respects, the dialogue about Rome’s relationship with Ireland and the social and cultural meaning of Roman finds in Iron Age contexts has been neglected, in part because the culture-historical narrative of the island traditionally placed it well beyond the influence of the Roman Empire.  Over the past 10 years individual researchers both inside and outside Ireland have been reconsidering past interpretation with an emerging consensus that the growing body of imported material, dating to the entire Roman period through to Late Antiquity, could no longer be ignored.  This is the first core research project at the DP which utilises innovative technology to target areas of rich archaeological potential using high resolution aerial survey, GIS and LiDAR.  Alongside these we are employing the latest scientific methods in isotope analysis that can reveal the origin of people, their animals and their material culture and more excitingly trace their pathways across Ireland and beyond her shores.

One of the most important aspects however, is the fostering of collaborative relationships between the Project, individual researchers, higher education institutions and research bodies within and outside Ireland.  The project team has invited a variety of academics to speak at the conference, many of whom are already collaborative partners with LIARI, in order that we begin to co-ordinate and share knowledge across parallel aspects of the research.  It is important to remember that we are considering engagement with the Roman administration in the Irish Iron Age, rather than suggesting occupation, as any direct military involvement has yet to be demonstrated.

After delegates are welcomed by Professor Terry Barry, Chairman of the Discovery Programme, Jacqueline Cahill Wilson will open the conference with an overview of the LIARI project’s findings to date. She will also outline the team’s hopes for the conference and the programme for future work.  Conor Newman will present the first paper entitled ‘Ireland in Late Antiquity’.  This should help set the Irish scene for our delegates.  Edel Bhreathnach will then look at evidence for literary and linguistic links across the Irish Sea, and what this may tell us about Ireland’s relationship with the Roman Empire.

The second session will take us across the sea to Scotland, led by Fraser Hunter.  Dr Hunter is principal curator of the Iron Age and Roman collections in Scotland, and he will explore Roman influence on local identities in Scotland.  We will also hear from Anthony Corns, acting CEO of The Discovery Programme, who will outline how the technologies mentioned above can play an important part in the LIARI project.  Both speakers will be introduced by UCD senior lecturer Aidan O’Sullivan, who previously participated in the LIARI workshops.

After lunch, delegates will be welcomed back by James Eogan.  The next three sessions concern life on the frontiers of the Roman Empire.  Andrew Gardner will look at the Roman west, such as the Lower Rhine region, but also the maritime frontier between Britain and Ireland.  David Mattingly will then bring us as far as the Libyan Sahara, which has revealed a range of cultural interactions between Rome and the Garamantes, and ask what this may mean for Irish researchers.

From there, we travel beyond the Rhine into what is known as the “Barbaricum”, led this time by Hans-Ulrich Voss of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.  Dr Voss will detail Romano-Germanic interactions and he will introduce us to the Corpus of Roman Finds from central Europe.  This is similar to the database on which the LIARI project is working to complete.

Travelling further north to Scandinavia, Thomas Grane will talk to us about another area that was traditionally considered far enough away from Rome to escape threat.  And yet here too, we have evidence for cultural influences.  Back to Scotland then, with Bill Hanson at the helm, where we will look at what the incomplete conquest of that region might have meant for Roman intentions with regard to the Irish.  This fourth session will be introduced by Ingelise Stuijts of the Discovery Programme, who also contributes to the LIARI project through paleoenvironmental analysis.

The final Saturday session is dedicated to doctoral research papers and it will be introduced by Ger Dowling, the Research Archaeologist on the LIARI project.  Fiona Gavin will start with her research into silver pins from Late Iron Age Ireland, the earliest known assemblage of Irish silver.  Research into Roman finds from the southeast and the potential information they hold when viewed in their Irish contexts will be discussed by Sean Daffy.  Finally, Patrick Gleeson will present a paper on the development of royal landscapes in Late Iron Age Munster, examining regional identities and sacral kingships.

The second day of the conference will be opened by Jacqueline Cahill Wilson. She will introduce Dr Jane Bunting, from the Hull Geography department, who will speak on whether it is possible to translate pollen diagrams into vegetation maps, in particular in our period of interest in county Meath.  Dr Bunting will be followed by Dr Elizabeth O’Brien who is the Principal Researcher for the INSTAR Mapping Death Project but also Chair of the LIARI Project committee.  Dr O’Brien will present her research on how the burial record provides interesting evidence of population mobility and societal change such as the introduction of inhumation burial in the Late Iron Age, key components of which are the results of the collaboration with LIARI using isotope analysis.  Alistair Pike and Chris Standish will then speak together about their research employing isotope geochemistry and the on-going collaboration between them and the LIARI project recently featured on the University of Bristol research website.

In the final session, introduced by Gabriel Cooney, the penultimate paper by Peter Wells, from the University of Minnesota, will look at material culture as communication.  In particular, he will consider objects bearing Roman writing.  This again relates to LIARI’s interest in artefacts inscribed with both Old Irish and Latin, such as the ogham stones of Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  Finally Richard Hingley will show us how the ruins of the Roman Empire were appropriated for later political gain in Victorian and later Britain and how this enabled the characterisation of people of the north and west of Britain as ‘Barbaric’ or ‘Celtic’ while those south of Hadrian’s wall could use their ‘ancestral civility’ (through their supposed wholesale Romanisation) to justify territorial domination over their northern neighbours.

Following our last question and comments session, the conference will be closed by Tomás Ó Carragáin, who will also provide an overview of the weekend.

So why should you come to the conference?  We have invited some of the most distinguished scholars across a wide range of subjects, periods and disciplines to come together and offer their input to our research.  This is a unique opportunity for archaeologists in Ireland and further afield – it will not happen again!  If the Iron Age, the Romans, the Celts, or the Classics are part of your research interests, then you should be here to listen to these papers and to put your questions to our speakers.

While running such a conference is expensive, and that has had to be reflected in the ticket price, we want to include as many voices as possible.  If you can’t make it, we intend on having a Twitter question session on Sunday, and we will tweet throughout the conference.  You can start sending your questions to the project team and our speakers now via #liaricon2012 .  We also hope to release podcasts of the individual sessions in the near future.  Get involved by following us on Twitter and Facebook!



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