Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Audleystown neolithic bowl

Audleystown megalithic tomb lies on the south shore of Strangford Lough, near the back entrance to Castle Ward. It is a ‘dual court tomb’ in that it is essentially two court tombs, placed back to back. It was excavated by A.E.P. (Pat) Collins in 1952 and the disarticulated remains of at least 34 individuals were recovered. The burials were of both males and females of various ages, indicating that formal burial here was not restricted by sex or age.  I know I do bang on about this, but when we see reconstruction drawings of Neolithic life we almost exclusively see images of males - the fact that women and children were afforded high status burial should alert us to the understanding that they would have occupied similarly high social positions in life too. Of the 15 pottery vessels recovered from the site, most were plain Western Neolithic carinated (shouldered) and uncarinated (unchouldered) bowls.



The pot in today’s image is one of these plain, uncarinated bowls. It caught my attention precisely because it’s not one of the most interesting looking pieces and, consequently, is not one that would be regularly chosen for display. The second reason I find it charming is that the object on display is largely modern, with only a relatively small portion being original, Neolithic ceramic. To me, at least, it is testament to the conservator’s art in demonstrating how fragmentary excavated remains can be accurately extrapolated to give a clear understanding of what the vessel would have looked like when new and whole.

The Audleystown vessel is on display at the Ulster Museum, Belfast.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Malone Hoard - Neolithic Axe Heads in Belfast and Car Crime in Carolina

The Malone Hoard is a collection of 19 polished axe heads. They were found on the grounds of Danesfort House on the Malone Road, Belfast. The present house was built for Samuel Barbour to the designs of William J Barre in 1864 and takes its name from an earlier rath or earthwork on the site. Although nothing survives of the archaeological site today, it is likely that it post-dated the deposition of the axe heads and was not directly connected to them. It was during the digging of the foundations that the axe heads, along with a number of urns, were found. When discovered, some of the axe heads were reported to have been found placed vertically in the earth. Once the house was completed, they were displayed in cabinets in the library. When Samuel died in 1879 his widow married Charles Duffin and the house remained in the family until the 1940s. After passing through a number of corporate owners, the house was refurbished in the late 1980s and is the current home of the United States consul-general in Belfast.


Coming back to the hoard itself, the axe heads are made of porcellanite, a stone with two main sources – Tievebulliagh, near Cushendall and Brockley, on Rathlin Island. It is generally thought that the axes are too large to have been used for any practical purpose and, instead, may have had ritualistic or ceremonial uses. The apparent lack of edge damage would seem to support this thesis, but I’m of a mind to question the ascription of everything we can’t fit in to being entirely functional and pedestrian as ‘ritual’. Like the peacock’s display of tail feathers, I can easily visualise a determined swain producing the largest, finest axe heads that he could possibly manage, to turn the head of his desired. Kind of a ‘you know what they say about chaps with giant porcellanite axe heads *wink wink nudge nudge etc*’.

Alternately it could have been a case of ‘What do you mean ‘centimeters’? … the design drawings clearly said ‘inches’! … Oh, I may as well just dump them in a hole in the ground!’



The axes are today on display in the Ulster Museum, on the Stranmillis Rd., Belfast – just a mile away from where they were found.

Crime & Punishment
In doing what may be laughingly called ‘research’ for this micro post, I googled ‘Malone Hoard’ and found a 2012 news report from Charlestown County, South Carolina, that mentioned a teenager arrested for breaking in to cars. This magnificently monikered young man is none other than Mr Travis Malone Hoard - a name that many an archaeologist would love to sport. After a little further research, it would appear that the young Mr Malone Hoard was sent to jail in 2014 for possession of Cocaine and Unlawful carrying of a firearm. Things haven't improved for him as he was charged in April 2016 for robbery, a weapons offence, two counts of kidnapping, and assaulting/resisting arrest. At one level, I do hope this guy gets his act together & gives up on a life of crime … but the other side is that I wonder how many times he googled himself, only to be presented with a collection of rather magnificent stone axes …

Note:
My knowledge of the history of Danesfort House is largely based on the Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland blog, for which I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Irish Elk at the Ulster Museum


The entrance to the archaeological section (i.e. the best bit) of the Ulster Museum is guarded by two Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus). One is a skeleton of that iconic beast and the other is a reconstruction of what the animal most probably looked like in life. I love both of these … not just because they mark where my main interests in the museum begins … but because together they literally put flesh on the bones of an extinct animal. And, whether animal or human, isn’t that exactly what a museum should do?



Go check out their web page for opening times and all related information [here] … it’s well worth the time and the trip!


As you stop and admire the conserved skeleton and the reconstructed one (seemingly caught mid yawp) reflect on these magnificent animals that once roamed across Ireland and as far east as Siberia and China. Reflect too on the fact that my instinct led me to imagine them as producing a ‘yawp’ when, if they were anything like their modern relatives, they would have produced a rather disconcerting bugling sound.


In doing a (very) little reading for this post, I discovered that the Irish Elk is part of the Coat of Arms of Northern Ireland ... which is pretty cool! Read more about this magnificent animal here