Friday, November 30, 2012

Drumclay Crannog

Crannogs were man-made islands that the ancient Irish built in lakes and bogs, presumably for safety. They were built from Neolithic times into the Middle Ages, and some were inhabited into the 17th century. Some were small things that held only a single structure, while others were much larger and held whole compounds. (More here.)

Excavations at Drumclay Crannog in Fermanagh, near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland made the news this week because of some remarkable discoveries. Crannogs had a tendency to slowly sink into the pond muck, so new material in the form of wood or earth was always being added. This pushed the older surface down under the water, where, especially in bogs, objects of wood, bone, and leather can be preserved. In the two pictures above you can see the structure of logs that formed the crannog's core; immediately above is the round pattern of one of the houses. All of this sank into the mud, taking much evidence of daily life with them:
Iron, bronze and bone ornaments have been discovered at the crannog, along with the chess-like pieces believed to have been part of the game. Parts of log boats, leather shoes, knives, decorated dress pins, wooden vessels and a bowl with a cross carved on its base have also been unearthed during the six-month dig. 
The Drumclay Crannog was occupied from around 600 CE to 1600. There were four or five houses on the platform, likely the home of an extended family or clan.

The walls were wattle and daub (branches covered with mud); above is a section of wattle wall. The roofs were thatched.

The only stone in this crannog was in the hearths of the houses.

The houses were small, but the residents were not poor, and since the finds included iron weapons their leader may even have considered himself a nobleman. One of the archaeologists describes the finds:
It shows people lived in houses that would have been little bigger than a large modern living room, cooking and sleeping in the same space. The walls were insulated with heather and other plants. The objects found indicate that people were very sophisticated in their tastes, living as farming families, butchering their own animals and ploughing the land for crops. They were very skilled at metalworking and woodworking, excelling at carpentry to construct the houses and crafting and decorating wooden containers of all sizes. They played board games probably around the fire on cold evenings. They wove their own cloth, having spun the wool from their own sheep.
Below, a sample of finds; bone comb, bronze pin, wooden gaming piece:

To understand the society of northern Europe in this period, you have to get your mind around the concept of wealthy, cultured aristocrats who lived in what look like huts to us, or else in unbearably cold and dank stone fortresses. Their wealth was shown in the gold ornaments on their homespun clothing, their power in the number of men they could call to battle, their refinement in their knowledge of poetry, music and the law. Their homes were crude, their food boring, most of their clothes nothing special, but they knew their ancestry going back many generations and considered themselves fully the equal of  villa-dwelling Romans.

The reconstructed crannog at at Craggaunowen, Co. Clare.


Jean O'Dowd said...

Hi John,
thanks for picking up on this amazing site! Can I ask those who view it to repost, it is vital that the site gets as much coverage as possible to ensure it gets all the necessary requirements it deserves!For updates and more info here is a link:!/groups/254450291340252/
Thanks again!

Bernie Byron said...

Dear John
I refer to your image of the reconstructed crannog which you indicate is located at the National Museum of Ireland. This crannog is in fact located at Craggaunowen, Co. Clare. I would be very grateful if you could change the caption to include the correct address.
With many thanks and festive greetings,
Bernie Byron, National Museum of Ireland (