Thursday, April 24, 2014

Archaeology of Gatherings Conference | Institute of Technology, Sligo, Ireland | October 2013 | Part I

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The weekend of the 25th to 27th October 2013 saw an influx of visitors to Sligo town. Some were there for the Sligo Live Music Festival; some had travelled long distances to be part of the Bram Stoker Weekend. However, a select band had come for the Archaeology of Gatherings Conference. The year 2013 had been designated the year of ‘The Gathering’ – an initiative to draw tourists to the country. Thus, the organisers had conceived of this conference to draw archaeologists, historians, sociologists, and allied disciplines together. This diverse group, representing an incredibly broad spectrum of specialities, had been assembled to discuss the very topic of Gathering: What is it? How do you define it? How do you record it? Even from the bare list of speakers and topics, I was convinced that this was going to be an intellectually packed weekend. I wasn’t wrong! The speakers were truly enthralling, with everyone bringing different facets to what felt like a peculiarly communal experience.

It was a brilliant conference that was pretty well attended and the folks at Institute of Technology, Sligo did an amazing job on all fronts: getting the speakers, organising the venues – all the usual stuff – but more than that, they really tried to make all participants, both speakers and delegates, feel genuinely welcome and part of something special. I’ve learned in the last while that they are hopeful that they’ll be able to put together a peer-reviewed volume of the collected conference papers. As an interim measure, before the publication of the book, I would like to post a series of review pieces, summarising the papers. I hope that this will give readers who couldn’t make it a feeling for the conference and, perhaps, spur them on to consider attending next year’s one! Also, I’m hoping that it piques the interest of many, who will go and buy the book when it is published.

I’m going to add in just one brief warning/apology (warology?): there was an immense amount of data presented over these two days and I’ve done my honest best to record it accurately and fairly. However, I’m currently looking at over 50 pages of hastily scribbled notes that I’ve not looked at in over two months, so I’m not entirely sure how successful I’m going to be in translating my rough demotic into readable English. If I’ve missed out on anything, or incorrectly understood any point that an author was trying to get across, I sincerely apologise. I would invite any of the presenters so ill-served to contact me and I will make any appropriate additions or changes to the text. I just hope that the authors can recognise their work in my rendition of it!

As I’ve noted elsewhere, there was an informal drinks reception at the Glasshouse Hotel on Friday evening. On Saturday morning we made our way to the IT, Sligo campus, though I did manage to get lost on the way, and my passenger witnessed the rare occurrence of a straight white guy stopping to ask directions! Once registration was complete, we all took our places in the lecture theatre. Sam Moore, chairing the first session, welcomed us on behalf of the organising committee, and briefly introduced the idea that sparked this conference: the perceived difficulty in identifying large-scale religious and social gatherings. The hope of the conference was to create a gathering of our own, bringing people from different academic backgrounds and specialisms together with the hope of mutual enlightenment and cross-fertilisation of ideas

Çatalhöyük under excavation (Source)
The first speaker to the podium was Dr Jonathan Lanman (Institute of Cognition and Culture, QUB) to speak on Ritual and Divergent Modes of Cohesion. Lanman began with the deceptively simple idea that gatherings ‘do things’ to people and that one of these things is that they provide social cohesion. There have been many theories as to what they do and how they do it, but there have been few systematic investigations. True, there is a wealth of ethnographic material examining gatherings, but there has been less emphasis on the systematic analysis and testing of these ideas. Beyond this there has been almost no attempt at understanding the mechanics of social cohesion. One of the biggest problems is that we have yet to ask basic questions like: what is ‘ritual’? What do we mean by ‘cohesion’? It is this lack of a precise terminology that, Lanman argues, has hampered research up until now. However, there are a number of new efforts and there is some cause for optimism. Lanman is part of the ‘Ritual, Community, and Conflict’ project, based at the University of Oxford. One of the things that the project has done is divide the idea of ritual into separate parts: Dysphoria, Synchrony, and Signalling. Signalling is the showing allegiance to the group; Synchrony is defined as a unity of movement and engagement; while Dysphoria is the experience of pain, fear and anxiety. Cohesion, on the other hand, is broken down into ‘Group Identification’ and ‘Identity Fusion’. ‘Identity Fusion’ is a visceral sense of oneness, where the participant feels that ‘I am the group’. Alternatively, ‘Group Identification’ is built on Social Identity Theory and sees the individual comparing themselves to a prototypical group member. The project is on-going and has, so far, drawn evidence from six countries. They have shown a strong correlation between the feeling of fusion with a group identity and the willingness to fight and die for that group. For example, this correlation of fusion levels correctly predicted the individuals who either physically assisted or donated money and goods in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. One of the aims of the Oxford project is to devise (and answer) new, more precise questions. They see that is it less fruitful to ask if ‘ritual’ gatherings make people feel ‘cohesive’. Instead the questions they are attempting to formulate include: Does synchronous movement increase group identification? Does shared dysphoria produce fusion?

Beyond this there is a matrix of types of cohesion. For example, there are high frequency events that produce low arousal levels, such as attending church. This form of gathering is capable of producing large-scale, diffuse cohesion. On the other end of the spectrum are low-frequency events (on a generational scale) that produce high levels of cohesion. The important thing to remember is that it is not a case of one-or-the other, but that there are lots of in between places. Other research questions that the project is attempting to address are related to the ideas that there are certain packages of shared beliefs that allow groups to succeed. For example, rebel groups in Sierra Leone use horrific initiation rituals to bind members of the group together. Other work includes a re-examination of the archaeological remains at Çatalhöyük in terms of ritual and group cohesion. The project is also beginning the task of putting together a database of rebel groups that they intend to expand into a world-wide resource and reference over the coming decades.

Allianz Arena (Source)
Dr Hans K. Hognestad (Centre for Cultural and Sports Studies, Telemark University, Norway) spoke on Identity, power and the sociality of football. I’m going to be quite honest here and say that I met Hans the previous evening at the drinks reception and found him a very interesting and engaging individual. Then he told me that his paper was to be on soccer and my heart fell. I’m among the world’s least sporty people – of all the sports that don’t interest me, football is up there at the top. I had little doubt from our conversation that his paper would be a good piece of research, but I wondered if I’d really be able to engage with it, given my joint lack of interest and knowledge in the game. That feeling persisted right up until he explained that he would be examining football as a social drama. I’d never before thought of the game in this context. When my fears that I’d be treated to yet another explanation of the off-side rule (that I have repeatedly failed to understand) did not materialise, I relaxed into a remarkably engaging, insightful paper that was one of my personal highlights of the conference.

Hognestad began by acknowledging the privileged position that football has held among other sports for the last two or three decades. Within the sport there are numerous contested identities and moralities that demarcate notions of what constitutes ‘good’ support. This quest for authenticity is set against a background of globalisation and ‘Casino Capitalism’. Complicating the situation further are numerous ethno-political dimensions. For example these may be religious/sectarian rivalries of the Rangers/Celtic Old Firm, or FC Barcelona which has become a symbol of Catalan opposition. Other teams that embody this form of division include FC St Pauli, SS Lazio, and Athletic Bilbao. He argued that gatherings for football matches include (quasi) religious dimensions mixed with carnivalesque laughter (following the work of Mikhail Bakhtin). These gatherings are defined by their intensity (feeding on elements of patriotism and rivalry) along with distance (incorporating laughter and inclusion). In a section on Sociality in a Neoliberal Age, Hognestad argued that football has undergone a number of structural changes in the last two decades. These include responses to stadium tragedies such as Heysel, Hillsborough, and Bradford City, along with bending to the twin forces of modernisation and commercialism. Taken together, these represent a challenge for some supporters who seek local authenticity and a sense of ownership and belonging. Going against this form of modern football has been a rise in activism among fans, resulting in a number of fan-owned clubs.

In contemplating the Stadium as Modern Sanctuary?, Hognestad turned to John Bale’s (1993) idea of the stadium producing a topophilic feeling, where the ground becomes a sacred space to the fans. Parallel to this are feelings of topophobia, especially in cases where the stadium was the scene of violence and disaster. Post-1990 there has seen the emergence of a dystopic vision (following Ritzer 2009) of the stadium as the site of disenchantment and social control. In this light the stadium becomes a prison, a cathedral, or even Disneyland. In the latter sense it is the site of mere entertainment, but not one of social connection. Looking at Football as Opera Hognestad examined the prestige buildings and major sponsors of the elite clubs, including Bayern Munich and their sponsorship relationship with Allianz at the Allianz Arena. At the other end of the scale, he noted that even Sligo Rovers still needed and sought sponsorship. Following Richard Giulianotti’s paper ‘Supporters, Followers, Fans, and Flâneurs: A Taxonomy of Spectator Identities in Football’ (2002) he presented a breakdown of the four types of ‘ideal’ fan. The ‘supporter’ is topophilic, with a grounded identity, while the ‘fan’ is influenced by the team’s market identity and is prone to buying the latest shirt, etc. The ‘follower’ is described as having a nested identity, and is often considered to be a 90 minute patriot’. All of these stand in contrast to the ‘flâneur’ who is the product of the hyper commodification of the sport. They have no sense of personal or social commitment to any individual team and are most likely to change allegiance to the latest or biggest clubs.

The West Clare Railway (Source)
Edel Barry (Built Heritage Collective Ireland) spoke on Gatherings: The Archaeology of Railways in Ireland. This paper is based on her MPhil thesis on the narrow gauge railways of Munster. She began by attempting to overturn the traditional notion that when we think of railways as a means of communication, we tend to think of the dispersal of people, rather than gatherings. While such forms of dispersal did occur (including assisting in large-scale immigration from the 19th to the 21st centuries), they also facilitated gatherings. She traced the development of the railway system from the efforts of Charles Bianconi, who made travel relatively inexpensive in Ireland during the early 19th century, though it was still beyond the reach of most people. Despite early developments in the 1830s, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that there were significant improvements in the rail infrastructure. By the 1870s there was investment in the construction of ‘feeder’ lines, which were often narrow gauge, to reduce cost. One significant development was the passing of The Railway Regulation Act 1844, which introduced compulsory third class services, priced at a maximum of 1d per mile travelled. Railways also allowed unprecedented independence to many women through the provision of ladies-only carriages and waiting rooms that allowed movement without having to be escorted by male relations or chaperones.

Politicians were not slow to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the railways. For example the ‘whistle stop’ tour was begun in the UK by William Ewart Gladstone, effectively turning railway stations into political platforms and sites of gatherings. Another growth area associated with the railways was in their potential for leisure uses, and numerous ‘Excursion Specials’ became commonplace. This was part of a burgeoning awareness of health and recreation needs within the general population. For example, this was the prime reason for the development of the Lahinch Hotel with its own rail links to the West Clare Railway. While such recreational activities were initially confined to the upper and moneyed classes, they eventually became affordable to the working classes, too. Barry argued that the role of railways in facilitating gatherings is manifest in facilitating the attendance at sporting events. This included various GAA fixtures, but also extended to football, cricket, rugby, boating and horse racing. The close relationship between the railways and their dependence on providing transport to sporting fixtures can be seen in their sponsorship of the Interprovincial Championship (better known by the name of its prize: The Railway Cup) for both Gaelic Football and Hurling. In examining the physical station as a focal point within local society, Barry gave the example from Lahinch where the women of the community would come, sit, and knit under the shady awnings.

Newgrange in the 19th century (Source)
The last speaker in this session was Dr Robert Hensey speaking on Crowd-sourcing in the Boyne Valley. Linking to the previous speaker, he noted that the modern fame of Newgrange was inextricably linked to the rise of the railways in the nineteenth century, making access to the site easier and more affordable. The paper proper began with a brief introduction to the modern (typically online) phenomena of ‘crowd sourcing’ which Hensey defined as the practice of obtaining needed services by soliciting work or contributions from a wide population base. The motives behind this may be manifold and include philanthropy, political activism, product design etc. The hallmarks of the process are that it is not coercive – there is an open call to participate; it relies on an undefined group for support; and that it usually involves reward or recognition for the donor.

Turning to Newgrange and the passage tombs of the Boyne valley, Hensey noted that the traditional narratives for site construction involved elite control or elite authority. He asked the apparently simple question: ‘is this really a balanced view of what was happening?’ From here he gave an overview of passage tomb development in Ireland. This was partially founded on his recent Radiocarbon dating project at Carrowmore (Bergh & Hensey 2013). He outlined three primary phases of passage tomb development in Ireland each represented by distinct patterns of change in the design and role of the monuments as they ultimately progressed towards ‘temple-like’ centres.

As passage tombs increased in scale, increased levels of community involvement were required too. Returning to the idea of the elite control of Neolithic society, Hensey argued that such gatherings could have served wider social purposes, including bringing together rival groups to promote peace or stave off warfare. He noted that if work transforms ‘things’ into ‘property’, the Boyne valley community may have had a considerable sense of ownership of these sites. When viewed from this perspective, the wider collective may have had a much greater sense of ownership of the monuments than previously thought. Hensey argued that a strong centralised authority was still necessary to instigate and manage these great projects, but that the willingness of the community was also required, and that this latter narrative has for too long been under-theorised and examined.

With the time just gone 11:00, we broke for refreshment

Friday, April 11, 2014

Update on Drumclay Crannog Report | response from Minister Mark H. Durkan

I recently published the response I had from Prof.Gabriel Cooney (March 13th 2014) to my enquiries as to the status of the report ‘Review of the context of the excavation of a crannog in Drumclay townland, Co. Fermanagh on the route of the Cherrymount Link Road’. Although we got the apparent title of the report, there was no information other than it would be ‘released shortly’.  Following form that, I wrote to the current Minister for the Environment, Mark H. Durkan (March 22nd 2014) asking the same question. On March 25th 2014 I received notification that ‘The content of your correspondence has been noted and a response will issue in due course’. Today (April 11th 2014) I have received the following response from Brian McKervey, on behalf of the Minister:

Drumclay crannog during excavation
“Mr Chapple
 Thank you for your email of 22 March to Minister Durkan, who has asked me to respond on his behalf, about the publication of the Review of the context of the excavation of a crannóg in Drumclay townland County Fermanagh, on the route of the Cherrymount Link Road.
 Please note that the Minister has considered the contents of this report, and is in the process of sharing its content with Executive colleagues and the Chairs of the Environment and the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committees.  Following on from this, he hopes to make the contents of the Review more widely available and is happy to provide you with a copy directly.
 Brian McKervey
 Acting Director of Built Heritage

Artefacts on display on an excavation open day

We’re not any further on, but there is at least the tantalising promise that he ‘hopes to make the contents of the Review more widely available’ … we’ll just have to wait and see. Any further updates will be posted here!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Heaven lies under the baulk | Excavating Rinnaraw, Co. Donegal in 1989

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Some time ago, Stuart Rathbone (he of Campaign for Sensible Archaeology fame) posed the question of ‘what was it like on archaeological excavations in pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland?’ I’d meant to reply at the time, but – as these things do – it slipped my mind. Before I forget again, I thought I’d set down a few notes about way back then as a record of that time.

Excavation in full swing at Rinnaraw 1989
I began my study of archaeology in UCG in September 1988. The way that the 1st Arts course was set up then (and I believe it still is) was that you had to pick four subjects for first year, reducing that to two in your second year for your degree. Rightly or wrongly, archaeology was seen as something of a ‘soft option’ to fill the requirement of what to take as a fourth subject. That was the primary reason that the first year class habitually had about 200 students – enough to fill the Cairns lecture theatre (named for the economist, John Elliot Cairns) – and, in my time at least, this evaporated down to about 20 for 2nd and 3rd year. Back then the entirety of the required coursework for the year were four essays. I remember one being on the Neanderthals and another on Early Christian monasteries. Based on one’s scores on these essays the Department made the selection as to who was invited to go on the university training excavation. At any rate, that was the official story. I have a feeling that this was relatively loosely interpreted, relying as much on a student's enthusiasm for the subject as anything else. It was coming close to the end of term when I was approached by Tom Fanning and invited to join him on the excavation of Rinnaraw, Co. Donegal. I use the word ‘invited’, but the real dynamic of the situation could be better summed up in words like ‘told’, ‘informed’, or ‘ordered’. I was given the strong impression that this would be ‘a good thing’ to do, it ‘would look good on the CV’ … and that refusal was not an option. That said, it had been all I’d wanted all year, so there was no way I was going to refuse.

Overview of Rinnaraw excavation in 1989
So, one fine morning in July 1989 Tom loaded up myself and two other students into his car and we began a sedate drive to Donegal. On campus, we always addressed him as ‘Mr. Fanning’ – he’d not gotten his PhD at that stage. Now he instructed us to call him ‘Tom’, though it felt as much of a formal salutation as before. Even when we got back to college, and long after, I always called him Tom. Usually he didn’t seem to mind, but every so often I received a slight glare of rebuke for my ‘field informality’. Tom had a number of reputations at UCG. One was that he had no sense of humour. Time after time he’d wander along the blackboards, furtively looking for chalk only to come away empty-handed. Invariably, he’d mutter ‘chalk appears to be at a premium’ and chuckle to himself. He appeared to be largely alone in seeing the humour in such situations. However, once away from the university and installed in a pub with a whiskey he was witty, humorous, the life and soul of the party, and told amazing stories. However, his other reputation was harder to shake. He was widely known as … somewhat sparing of his financial assets … to the point of parsimoniousness. I just have to say it plainly: he was mean! The best description of him – though I won’t name the source – explained: ‘he has a paralysis of the elbow that prevents him from dipping too far into his own pocket’. That said, we were a bunch of students on a training dig and were getting paid £30 a week, with accommodation included. As we were resident in Rinnaraw and had no means of transport, this effectively amounted to a somewhat less than princely £4.30 a day. I know it was a long time ago, but not so far back that you would have thought yourself rich with a fiver in your pocket! A further downside to the situation was when lunchtime came around Tom would make his way across the road with us to our accommodation (he had a house to himself slightly further away) and expect to be provided for. He sometimes even complained if the offered viands were not to his liking, instructing us to purchase better quality or different brands in future. I’m reliably informed that on one excavation of his, long before my time, the crew got so fed up of this mooching off their limited assets that they resolved to eat lunch only when he wasn’t around. We never took it that far, but were sorely tempted.

Saddle quern as discovered, face down, in Quadrant C
Tom had dispatched one further graduate student to Donegal a few days ahead of us to begin desodding of the area for the new season. After we finally arrived at the site – Tom never broke the speed limit on any occasion I ever travelled with him – we walked up to the newly uncovered area to inspect the progress. I still remember standing there in the dimming light, the warm breeze rustling the grass, and just feeling so incredibly excited that tomorrow I was going to start my first ever archaeological excavation! Tom and the post-graduate were in deep conversation about the desodding and the potential for discovering features by the time my mind wandered off. Something on the ground had caught my attention and I reached down and picked it up. It was a small piece of what I now know to be metallic slag. However, as I was in the process of examining it, the post-graduate was saying ‘… possible metallic object … have left it in situ for the moment … where did it go? …’ It was at this point Tom caught my eye and angrily spat ‘Chapple! Put that down!’ Perhaps not the most auspicious of starts.

Saddle quern after being turned over.
The following morning we gathered on site and I had resolved not to touch anything I was not specifically instructed to. From memory, the newly opened portions of the site (quadrants C & D), to the north of the house, were nominally (but not actually) gridded out in 2m blocks. Some of the others were tasked with investigating these new areas, myself and another student were instructed to clean down part of the house wall (on the southern end), partially excavated during the previous season. Tom set about erecting the plane table and orienting last year’s site plan. My companion, working diligently with trowel and brush, uncovered a furnace bottom within the first twenty minutes. For those not familiar with the term, a furnace bottom is just that – the material left in the bottom of the furnace after the good iron has been drawn off. It is composed of all the impurities along with quite a bit of the remaining iron. It retains the shape of the rounded base of the bowl furnace and part of the tuyère, used to blow air up through the furnace. On the other hand, if you’ve never seen one before (and are possessed of a peculiarly juvenile sense of humour) it looks like a giant metal breast replete with nipple. So, more a furnace boob than a furnace bottom. But I digress. My friend excitedly called Tom over, explaining that he’d found something metallic, but didn’t know what it was. Tom then spent some time instructing us on the origin and formation of furnace bottoms – he may have been mean in other ways, but sharing knowledge was not one of them! My friend was then instructed to approach the plane table and retrieve the brass-ringed end of the site measuring tape. This was gently reeled out to the artefact and held in position while Tom calculated the angle and scaled the length onto the site plan. It was only half an hour later, when I found an artefact of my own, that I realised that there was a delicate etiquette at work here of which I had not been fully. I uncovered an interesting looking stone, gave it a bit of a brush down and realised that it was a shattered portion of a rotary disc quern. I may not have had much experience in archaeology, but I could recognise this! It had a smoothed underside where the grain had been ground against the base stone. It had a coarser, curving surface, and at its thickest edge, I could just make out the curvature of the central perforation where the grain was fed in. I was well chuffed with my discovery. I got up from my kneeling position and walked over to Tom, standing sentinel-like at the plane table. ‘I need the measuring tape!’ I said ‘I’ve just found a piece of a quern stone’. Tom – physically and metaphorically – looked down on me (he was very tall … and I remain quite Hobbit-like) and, with a brief sigh, replied ‘Let me see’. I took him over and showed him the fragment. He looked down at me some more and said ‘No’. I couldn’t believe it! How could he not recognise this for what it was? Admittedly, it had broken in a slightly unusual way, so that it resembled a slightly squashed ‘Z’ that has been left out in the sun. Astonished at his lack of perspicacity, I began to enlighten him, but I was silenced with another swift ‘No’. He sighed and explained ‘Until I confirm your suspicion, you’ve not found anything. It is only for the site archaeologist to say what has been discovered’. Well, that was me told! After that, I couched my descriptions of what I’d found in appropriately vague language and only approached the plane table to retrieve the end of the tape measure when beckoned.

Saddle quern being taken off site
In terms of the general work on the site, we were instructed to only excavate in our designated 2m square. I found this particularly problematic, as Tom required that we all work at the same pace, with the entire surface being brought down at exactly the same rate. Thus, there could not be any steps or steep inclines between your square and your neighbour’s area. Any enthusiastic trowelling that lowered your area more quickly than those around you brought Tom’s wrath and the accusation that you were ‘creating features’. The site was on the edge of a slight drop, and we were instructed to dump our spoil over the edge to the west. Tom wanted us to carefully hand sift our spoil to ensure that no artefacts were inadvertently overlooked. However, the wind always seemed to conspire to turn any attempt at careful examination of the spoil into a swirling, choking dust cloud. It was for this reason that we frequently attempted to wait until Tom was otherwise engaged, and then just fling the spoil over the edge and run for it. Thinking back on that excavation, I remember that I had the same ‘charcoal addiction’ that many newly minted excavators suffer from. Simply put: it’s a near-unshakable belief that a) anything even remotely black is charcoal; b) all charcoal is of the highest importance and must be bagged and retained. Thankfully, Tom was remarkably patient on this point and gave careful tuition on what should (and should not) be saved. I clearly remember my first encounter on this topic, when I’d called him over to suggest that we bag some wonderful, important charcoal … charcoal that was actually a piece of a rotted briar and of no particularly great vintage.

The delicate art of 'back spading'
In many respects, the work of excavation hasn't changed much in the last quarter century. We were usually on our knees with some large trowel that owed more to the broadsword tradition than the elegant and sophisticated 4-inch WHS pointing trowel I later came to know and love. Coal-shovels, plastic buckets, and fire-side brushes were all de rigueur, same as today. In more recent times, I've seen ferocious brick-hammers and mini-mattocks used, but here we had delicate hand-picks that, in retrospect at least, seemed laughably effete. I don't remember there being any long-tail shovels, nor were there any mattocks. For that matter there was no requirement for hard hats, steel-toed safety boots, high-viz vests, sun block, or gloves. I was about to write that I have no memory of there having been kneelers in use, but a quick survey of the photos shows that to be a lie. As a research dig, there was no sign of what was to become the most ubiquitous of all excavation tools: the mechanical excavator. The one tool that was there in spades was ... well ... spades. Any large-scale work that couldn't be carried out with a trowel was done by spade. The postgraduate student shipped off ahead of us had desodded Quadrants C and D by spade (and left the sods neatly piled up on the windward side to protect us from the worst of the spoilheap dust. When these quadrants were taken down it was by 'backspading' where the ground is broken up in thin spits over a large area. I've never seen this done on any other site, thought this mat be because on most sites the mechanical excavator removed everything down to the natural, leaving only enough for the 'shovel scraping'. I've also never been on a site since where the plane table dominated. My memory is that Tom explained that he'd learned the methodology at Knowth, Co. Meath (where he was only the second person in modern times to enter the second passage, after George Eogan). Looking back now, I see that some of the biggest changes have been in terms of the measuring devices. Back then it was quite usual to have fabric tapes with brass-bound tips and winding handles, in sewn leather cases. While these have been replaced with near identical plastic versions, the folding wooden ruler has, to the best of my knowledge, all but disappeared from the excavators repertoire.

Tom unfolding his measuring stick
Tom had designed the site so that a central baulk remained running roughly north-west to south-east through the site. Among other things, his was intended to allow a site-wide vertical stratigraphic record to be maintained. However, it never ceased to be a source of aggravation to him from students tripping over it (largely me, I’m afraid) to it always appearing to be directly in the path of the best and most promising archaeology. Invariably, Tom would sigh and then chuckle to himself – In whatever passed for a sense of humour – and say: ‘heaven lies under the baulk’. In this instance it turns out he was largely correct. I was told that in his last year on the site, when they finally removed the baulk, that some of the best finds were recovered from it. It wasn’t funny – but it was right.

Excavation in Quadrant B
Drain inside house (I think)
Fragment of trough quern with stylistic links to Scotland
In reviewing the photographs that I have from this time, I’m struck by a number of things. First is that they’re in black & white. Following from this is that I didn’t take another archaeology-related photograph for several years – the next photos in my collection date from 1991! I’ve always been interested in photography. I’ve never had much skill, but I’ve always had an interest. When I was a child, I wanted a camera like the one my dad had: an SLR with focusable lens, aperture and shutter speed settings. That was a ‘proper’ camera! What I got for my birthday one year (my 14th or 15th birthday, I think) was definitely not that! It was a ‘snappy’ camera with a fixed lens and nothing else. I was less than enthused, though I do believe that my parents may have had deeper insight into my photographic abilities that I realised! However, this was what I had to work with and I was certainly going to bring it with me to Donegal! My choice of going monochrome was, I think, purely influenced by my university reading. Simply put, all these excavation reports I’d been reading in the James Hardiman Library had black and white photos in them, so it must have translated in my little mind that, if I’m going on an excavation, I’d better be taking the same kind of stuff. That little camera went everywhere with me while we were in Donegal and I tried to photograph everything with it. I took quite a few shots of us working on the site, though I also took lots of the various artefacts as they were discovered. Unfortunately, my combined lack of photographic knowledge and general sense meant that all the artefacts are out of focus and off-centre. It was all off-centre because what I could see through the viewfinder wasn’t what was taken by the lens, and as a cheap ‘snappy’ camera it didn’t have the ability to focus on anything closer than c.0.5m, so everything was blurry. Tom was unaware of my lack of technical prowess and repeatedly requested that I promise not to publish any of these. Unless there comes a time when such egregiously out of focus images can be restored to sharpness and clarity, I’m afraid that I will have to stick by that agreement.

Shell midden during excavation
One of the shell middens
Shell midden during excavation
The second thing is the lack of archaeological photos for several years after this point. This is, in part, related to my lack of familiarity with black and white photography. Specifically, my lack of experience with getting the stuff printed. If memory serves, it used to cost IR£5-7 to get a 24-exposure roll of colour printed. I hadn’t realised that B&W didn’t work the same way. I dropped the film in and said ‘get me a set of prints, please’. To make matters worse, my girlfriend at the time had asked for a set of prints of her own … so I must have said ‘get me two sets of prints, please’. I nearly keeled over when I went to collect the prints a couple of weeks later, only to find that my bill was in the region of £20 … each. No wonder I didn’t take a photo for several years and only then when it was on a work account! Looking back, I'm also struck by my early interest in doing panoramic shots. Anyone that reads this blog of knows me through Facebook or Twitter will be aware of my predilection for these 'stitched together' images. They're pretty easy to do and there are quire a few free applications that can crate them automatically. Back then it was a case of taking two photographic prints and a stick of glue and attempting to carefully match them together. For the purposes of this piece, I've redone the panoramas in digital format ... I think they came out pretty alright!

Excavation of one of the internal corners of the house
Looking over these photographs reminds me that this was the last time I saw Edward. Edward was from Raphoe in Donegal, about 30 miles away from Rinnaraw. I’d met him during my time in the Boy Scouts in our early teens and, along with one or two others, had a number of adventures (and misadventures) across various Irish hillsides and mountains. These generally included getting lost and/or drenched. On one occasion, it even involved a six-pack of beer (illegally sold to three underage Scouts) which exploded inside a small tent somewhere near the Barnesmore Gap – but that’s another story! Somewhere along the way, Edward’s name got mentioned to Tom, together with the fact that he was ‘interested in history’. My memory was more that Edward’s interests lay in 20th century Russian history, but Tom still suggested that I give him a call and see if he was interested in coming along. The telephone call was made, Edward was interested, and was duly deposited in Rinnaraw a couple of days later by his mother. I took him up onto site, introduced him to Tom who provided some basic instruction and gave him a square to trowel. Tom then turned to me and said ‘and, of course, you’ll be taking care of his food out of your own allowance’ and then walked away. Such were the times and such were the trials of working with Tom!

Excavation along south-western wall, near entrance
While Tom completed the excavation, he didn’t survive long enough to write it up for publication. That task was eventually taken on by my old friend, and very talented archaeologist, Michelle Comber. She noted that “Upon removal from storage, the excavation archive was found to contain small finds, some of the quern fragments, iron slag and samples of soil, charcoal, bone and shell. Site records included a number of plans and excavation diaries, in addition to miscellaneous items of paperwork relating to funding, dating and licensing. Several of the small finds were deteriorating and all required cleaning and re-bagging, as did the bone and shell.” (2006, 68). So, not the pristine, well-organised, and complete archive that might have been hoped for!

The 'anvil stone' during de-sodding
Overview of Quadrant C, with the 'anvil stone' in the background
In discussing some of these photographs a few years ago with Brian Dolan, then a PhD candidate at UCD, he noted that the this final publication makes no mention of the anvil stone. I was pretty surprised, as it had been quite an important aspect of the 1989 excavation. It’s location can be clearly seen in the ‘tang’ where we extended Quadrant C to the south-west, just to include it (Comber 2006, 78, fig. 7). The very same stone was used as the site datum for the re-survey of the site carried out by Liam Hickey (another old friend and companion on assorted misadventures/misdemeanors)(Comber 2006, 86, fig. 11). On site, Tom had expressed an opinion that this particular stone – flat-topped and standing about 0.5m above the field surface – may have been used as an anvil stone. It seemed like a pretty reasonable suggestion. To test the hypothesis, we extended the grid area of the site and de-sodded around it. We recovered a pretty substantial quantity of rusted metalwork that seemed to be mostly nails and similar corroded pieces. The published report doesn’t list where all the iron pieces came from (unlike the slag and furnace bottoms), but there is certainly no explicit connection made to this stone. Looking at our haul of rusty iron bits and pieces, Tom decided that they did not constitute evidence that it had been used as an anvil – or anything for that matter. Reinforcing his dictum that it wasn’t a find until he said it was, he closed the matter and would allow no further discussion. I take his point that the evidence was not sufficiently robust to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this stone was used in this matter at the time the house was occupied, though I think it deserved more notice than it got in his notes and in his thinking – which is why I mention it here. Another find that did not make it into the publication was found – I think – by myself. It was an old-fashioned brass stud with a swivel head, for a detachable collar. It was recovered from the northern portion of the site, between the cashel wall and the house. It was found almost directly below a set of initials carved into one of the earth-fast boulders of the cashel wall. I can’t remember the initials, but my memory is that the second initial was the same as that of the surname of the current landowners. Tom seemed to extract considerable delight from the notion that the stud was lost there as part of what may be euphemistically described as ‘courting’. I can clearly see why this didn’t make it into the site notebooks, or the final publication. Comber (2006, 68) notes that “Some of the larger quern fragments are missing from the archive and are, therefore, represented by earlier photographs.” It’s merely a suggestion, but I wonder if they’re not still stored in the shed we used as a site hut. Google Street View shows a long, low set of white-painted buildings with black doors [here]. I can’t remember which one we used to store the finds and equipment, but there’s a chance that this is where the larger stone items remain.

Napoleonic-period watchtower, Horn Head
Napoleonic-period watchtower, Horn Head
Our evenings were our own and Tom usually retreated to his own accommodation. On a couple of evenings we walked the five miles out to Horn Head to enjoy the views and the remains of the Napoleonic-period watchtower, but that soon lost its lustre. On other occasions, Tom would take us on educational jaunts, including one trip to Doe Castle in the fading light. On some evenings we’d retire to a local pub, but without sufficient funds to buy more than one drink it was a pretty poor affair. On the weekend we were there, we managed to hitch a ride on a trawler that was bringing concrete blocks out to Tory Island. Despite having a long maritime tradition in part of my family (My father was the first male in 250 years not to enter the Royal Navy), I was hideously, violently, and repeatedly ill over the side of the boat on our way out to Tory … with a repeat performance on the way back. If you can stand the sea conditions, it’s a remarkably worthwhile trip for the archaeology, the local artistic community (fostered by the late Derek Hill), but mostly for the friendly, welcoming people you’ll meet. When we got back to the boat to take us back to Portnablagh, we found that the guys on board had off-loaded their cargo and spent the afternoon fishing. When we stepped ashore, we were each presented with an armful of fresh-caught herring (though considering how poorly I felt at the time, I can’t imagine I gave the thanks they deserved). As there here was more than sufficient to share, we brought a couple of specimens up to Tom’s house for him. It didn’t go as well as we had anticipated. Tom looked horrified, and instructed us to take them away and gut them for him, and take the heads and tails off while we were at it. He did promise that he’d be down at some stage to collect the finished product. That never materialised, and the fish was still sitting in the freezer by the time we packed up and left. I remember this distinctly as I was pretty annoyed about it. The fish we’d kept for ourselves had all been baked in butter and herbs and had been delicious beyond compare. And yet, we still had more that were going to waste, but felt we couldn’t touch them in case Tom did turn up to take them. More fool us. To this day, whenever I get the smell of cooking fish I am instantly transported back to that little house and that summer spent digging. Other culinary adventures were less successful. Having spent so many years in the Boy Scouts, I had been successfully indoctrinated with the firm and sure belief that boiling was the answer to any food that you couldn’t easily fry. On my first attempt, the pasta had to be rescued from my clutches after a mere hour merrily bubbling away. I got shouted at and the term al dente was used in anger … possibly more than once. Thankfully, I now have a marginally more sophisticated palate, though I’m not much improved as a cook.

The young, bemulleted, Chapple in ripped jeans and Bob Dylan T-shirt at Doe Castle
I don’t think I dreamt it, but I can find no trace of a pub or clubhouse of some sort near the pier at Portnablagh on Google Street View. The area appears to have been extensively redeveloped in the last quarter century, so it may have disappeared in a wave of modernisation. I know that I was never inside the building, but I remember being able to see it from the site and from the front of our house. They had an outdoor speaker system and, when they got set up for the evening, they played Bryan AdamsSummer of '69 on full volume. In the quiet evening stillness, you could hear it clearly belting out across the bay. I’m sure they must have played other songs, but this is the one I remember. Whatever about the smell of cooking fish, hearing this track brings me back to that time and place (cf. Weddle 2012).

12th century Tau Cross, Tory Island
Round Tower, Tory Island
Collection of carved stones, Tory Island
Portion of a cross slab, Tory Island
Possible bullaun stone and gravestone fragment, Tory Island
Cross slab with cursing stones, Tory Island

When I left home to come to Donegal, my Dad had seen me off and slipped me some cash with the strict instruction that it was ‘for emergencies only’. In my two weeks on the site, I’d been remarkably well behaved and not dipped into it. However, on our last day we had been invited up to the Portnablagh Hotel for dinner. The hotelier was also the landowner of the site, co-funder of the excavation, and had a strong interest in archaeology generally. He had also been involved in setting up the Donegal Survey, which preceded the OPW-funded county survey. The fruits of this labour, Brian Lacey’s Archaeological Survey of County Donegal was on sale in the foyer. I decided that this was just the sort of emergency my father had wanted me to be prepared for and bought it at once. I never once regretted the decision, though I did regret having to explain to my Dad that he wasn’t getting his money back!

Tom discussing the excavation in Quadrant A, near the internal drain
We had an equally calm and sedate drive back to Galway, never once troubling the speed limit. While I have berated Tom for his meanness, he could occasionally be generous too. He suggested that we stop in Donegal town for ice cream. I was entrusted with a five-pound note and delegated to purchase the four cones – and instructed not to forget to bring back change! In my eagerness to get the task accomplished, I realised only too late, that I’d not really paid attention to Tom when he said where he’d be parked waiting. That’s why one of our number had to be dispatched to find me, wandering lost in Donegal, with melting ice cream starting to run down my fingers.

Troweling in Quadrant C. The 'anvil stone' is just out of shot to the right 
Somewhere along the way home, I fell asleep, only regaining consciousness as we pulled up on campus, in front of ‘the quad’. I remember becoming aware of the grey limestone buttresses contrasted against the gently swaying leaves and branches of the trees in the avenue. Even then I felt that I was waking from a weird dream, as if two weeks sweating in the dust of Rinnaraw had been an elaborate, but short-lived, hallucination. I spent most of the remainder of the summer in purgatory, in a ‘real’ job, serving up fast food to Galway’s summer hoards. I hated every minute of it and longed to get back to an archaeological excavation.

Central hearth during excavation
In writing this piece, I firstly wanted to set down an account of a type of archaeological excavation that, even then, was an anachronism. The next excavation I was on (Athenry Castle for two weeks between August-September 1989) was much closer to what most current archaeologists would recognise, with individuals being responsible for producing plan and section drawings, along with filling in pro forma context sheets. Beyond that, it has stirred up old memories not visited for many years. I’ve been vastly conflicted about how much I could or should say about Tom’s personality – most especially his extreme parsimony. Eventually, I’ve gone with the fact that it’s an honest account and that to leave this aspect out would have created a portrait, though more flattering, that would have rendered the subject unrecognisable to those who actually knew and worked with him. For all that, I still miss him. After all the other excavations I’ve been involved in, I still hold this one as separate and special, and I’m still grateful for the experience.

Tom Fanning, Lord of all he surveys
I’m finding it hard to reconcile that enthusiastic, but socially inept, kid with this overweight, middle aged, still socially inept, veteran of too many years spent digging in cold fields for bad pay. That summer will be 24 years ago this coming July (2014). Tom was diagnosed with cancer and died 21 years ago (1993). After initial treatment in Dublin he had been moved back to Galway to be near his family when the end came. I went to the hospital to see him, but was turned away because he was too weak to receive visitors. I had simply wanted to say ‘thanks’. Thanks for the experience of digging a fantastic site in beautiful weather in an incredibly scenic part of the world. Thanks for taking the time to teach me how to hold a trowel so I didn’t remove my knuckles (at least not twice in a row). Thanks for explaining the functions and origins of the artefacts we found – such a generosity of knowledge and experience that should be as well acknowledged and celebrated as any other aspect of his character. Thanks for the company, the trust, and the friendship. Thanks for being allowed the mark of distinction of being able to say ‘I dug with Tom Fanning’.

Just ‘Thanks’.

A break from back spading and troweling  in Quadrant C
Comber, M. 2006 ‘Tom Fanning’s excavations at Rinnaraw Cashel, Portnablagh, Co. DonegalProceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 106C, 67–124.

Weddle, C. 2012 'The Sensory Experience of Blood Sacrifice in the Roman Imperial Cult' in Day, J. (ed.) Making Senses of the Past: Toward a Sensory Archaeology. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper No. 40. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. 137-159.