Wetland archaeology and movement

Wetland archaeology and movement

I am co-organising two sessions - one was not enough - that will be held at the forthcoming sixth World Archaeological Congress, WAC-6 Congress. They are organised together with Ingelise Stuijts, Nora Bermingham and Claire Anderson; I will be the main organiser of the second one.

Both sessions are registered under the theme "Wetland Archaeology Across the World".

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Wetland archaeology and movement I: travel, trackways and platforms in bogs, mires and marshes

Organisers: Ingelise Stuijts; Andrea Vianello; and Nora Bermingham

Rivers, lakes, bogs, mires, estuaries and flooded areas all offered opportunities for people in the past to move, explore, exchange, and to exploit. Wetlands were geographical and mental spaces that offered many opportunities for the use of natural resources (marine saltworks, peatlands, river estuaries etc.) the social and economic advantages (trade and transport benefits offered by areas where water and land meet) and the political and mental boundaries/barriers that wetlands can become. People often constructed wooden and stone trackways and platforms to enable activities at the edge of wetlands; to cross these watery obstacles and barriers in space and to enter into the wetlands themselves, to inhabit, use and dwell amidst them or even to deposit things and objects in liminal spaces. The archaeological investigation of wetlands across the world has led to the discovery of well-preserved trackways and platforms that were both practical constructions, monuments to communal endeavour and a means of enculturing wet and wild spaces. Many wetland archaeological projects around the world have used a range of archaeological and scientific methods and approaches to tap the widest range of evidence for the chronology, function, role and influence of movement in people's lives.

The chronological boundaries for this session include all ancient and pre-industrial societies from around the world. Contributors should focus on the communication networks structured around marshlands, rivers and bogs and demonstrate how multidisciplinary projects can tackle how people interacted with these wet environments.

Mesolithic movements exposed: a scenario from central Ireland
Ingelise Stuijts, Nicki Whitehouse, Meriel McClatchie

Derragh Island is a waterlogged late Mesolithic site located in Lough Kinale, Ireland. The excavations yielded no spectacular objects but included many environmental remains, such as bones, wood, charcoal, seeds and fossil insects. These remains can now, thanks to detailed analysis of lake sediments, bog, soil and stratigraphic work, help in reconstructing the movements of Mesolithic people through the area. This paper will highlight some of the plant and other organic resources that Mesolithic people tapped into, while roaming on and around the lake, as well as information on the wider local landscape associated with this important Mesolithic site. There is no doubt that Mesolithic people were versatile and well-adapted to the area, and moved around freely, making good use of the landscape resources. Understanding of the local landscape is shown as vital to interpreting an archaeological site and placing it within its wider context.


Prehistoric trackways and bridges of England and Wales
Richard Brunning

A total of 174 prehistoric trackways and 19 possible bridges or jetties are known from England and Wales. Many of these are poorly reported, but an increasingly number have robust scientific dating and analytical information. The dating information suggests periods of more and less intense trackway building activity, which can be compared to varying sources of climate information that suggest explanations for some of the pattern. The trackways were created in very different wetland ecosystems, influencing their construction, longevity and extent. Many trackways, sometimes linked to platforms, are associated with probable ritual deposition of objects such as stone axes, wooden figurines, bronze metalwork, pottery and animal and human bone (especially skulls). These trackways all share similarities in their environmental setting. The known bridges and jetties may also have provided multiple functions of aiding communication, as foci for ritual deposits, as fish weirs and barriers to river transport.


Roads, routes, and ceremonies: a Fenland Superhighway
Tim Malim

Prehistoric trackways and corduroy roads are well known from the Somerset Levels, Irish peat bogs, and continental Europe, but in spite of extensive survey and investigation of the East Anglian fens there is now little surviving evidence for such features. Some timber structures have been discovered, sometimes interpreted as platforms for ceremonies associated with deposition of metalwork, or as jetties into rivers, but most were probably routes engineered across wetland. This paper will examine the evidence for prehistoric routes within the fenland region and will present a case for those that were constructed and used during the Bronze Age. The second part of the paper will tackle the more intangible issues such as origins and destinations, engineering, project management and control of resources, concepts and users of the trackways.


Interpreting the Wooden Structures from Newrath, Co. Kilkenny
Susan Lyons

Archaeological excavations at Newrath, Co. Kilkenny in the SE of Ireland revealed a former wetland site, which was found to contain a number of well-preserved wooden structures, including trackways and brushwood scatters. Subsequent radiocarbon dating of timbers has revealed the site is multi-period, with structures dating from the early Bronze Age to medieval period. Timbers were selected for analysis to provide information on wood species and tool technology. Results have shown that the arboreal taxa used for the construction of these structures are representative of the marginal woodland expected given the sites position on the wetland. The species identification ties in well with pollen and plant macrofossil studies from the site. Species identification and wood working analyses has shown that selection of timbers was based upon availability rather than structural viability. The wooden elements recorded were in varying sizes and generally displayed minimal preparation or engineering technique.


Monumentality, Movement and Wetlands
Henry Chapman, Benjamin Gearey

Wetlands commonly provide denser bodies of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data when compared with dryland sites and landscapes. This contrast is arguably reflected within their interpretation whereby wetland sites often lack the high level of 'social' interpretation applied to some dryland sites. This paper explores the interpretation of two linear, wet-preserved sites which appear to have been associated with movement through the landscape; one dating to the later Neolithic (in South Yorkshire, UK), the other to the later Iron Age (in Suffolk, UK). It is argued that the enriched dataset generated through multi-proxy analyses facilitates their 'social' interpretation. This raises fundamental questions regarding shared ideals in 'cognitive architecture' which may have been apparent in both wetland and dryland contexts, but which were manifest in dramatically different ways.


The Lisheen Archaeological Project, Excavation in Derryville Bog 1996-1998: 10 years on
Paul Stevens, John O'Neill, Cara Murrary, Sarah May

The Lisheen Archaeological Project was a large scale, inter-disciplinary, wetland research project carried out from 1996-1998, as part of the mitigation of the Lisheen (Lead-Zinc) Mine development, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Excavation of 98 sites, (including over 66 wetland sites) took place across the 2.5km development area and notably within 1 square km of Derryville Bog (former raised bog). This produced sites and paleo-environmental data dating from the Neolithic to the post-medieval period on dry land and peat bog, and revealed an archaeological landscape rich in settlement activity, diverse resource management practice and environmental impact, not previously recorded on such a large scale. Among the structures investigated in the bog, significant chronological and morphological variation was identified. A considered analysis of the walking surfaces and platforms and their environmental contexts, suggests that people used the peat bogs and their margins for complex activities. Environmental evidence also showed a correlation between reduced water levels and the absence of artifical walking surfaces. On a broader scale, the project investigated considerable areas of 'dryland' as well as peat bogs and provided further insights into the broader patterns of movements which must have characterised daily life.


Edercloon, Co. Longford trackways or boundaries?
Caitriona Moore

In 2006 a remarkable complex of trackways and platforms was excavated at Edercloon, Co. Longford. Previously unknown, the structures date from the Neolithic to the Early Medieval period with the peak of construction occurring in the Bronze and Iron Ages. During this time several large trackways were constructed in close proximity. These trackways frequently criss-crossed and merged together allowing not only access into the bog, but movement within it. All of them were of a construction unsuited to wheeled transport. However, the remains of three wheels and over 40 other objects were found buried within them, making this one of the largest collections of artefacts from an Irish bog. The continual construction and deposition at Edercloon indicates a community highly involved with this wet landscape. This paper will outline the results of the excavation and explore the subject of movement in Edercloon as highlighted by the trackways and wheels.


Joining the dots: a case study in assessing the potential of Irish peatland survey results
Michael Stanley, Conor McDermott

The industrial peatlands of east County Offaly and adjacent counties in the Irish midlands have been the focus of numerous archaeological surveys and rescue excavations since 2000. More than 1,000 previously undocumented archaeological sites have been identified to date. This paper focuses on the prehistoric communication networks structured around a geographically discrete area of peatland and dryland in this region, dealing primarily with data gathered by the Irish Archaeological Wetland Unit (IAWU). In particular, the paper will address the efficacy of building relative chronologies on the basis of site clustering within dense site distributions in which limited scientific dating has been conducted. These chronologies will be used to reconstruct the development of communication networks throughout the prehistory of the study area. Through the integration of survey and excavation datasets the paper will also seek to test the usefulness of the empirical and environmental data gathered as part of peatland surveys.


Lisa Doyle

Excavations at Ballycahill, Co. Tipperary, undertaken by Headland Archaeology in advance of the N7 Nenagh to Limerick road scheme, uncovered part of a substantial stone platform, some 167m E-W and 27m N-S, constructed over freshwater lake marl and sealed by peat. The artificial nature of the construction was confirmed by two leading consultant geologists. The deliberate selection of massive flat topped boulders demonstrates a phenomenal force of effort behind this monumental construction. The platforms situation could have been strategic and in favourable conditions, it would have been ideally placed for extensive communication via the Shannon river system. Evidence for formal sculpting of the Tullahedy Neolithic ritual mound profile, situated 250 m to the west, showed that monumental landscape manipulation was being carried out in the vicinity of platform. Dating the platform is crucial to interpretation as it appears to be without any direct parallels in the Irish archaeological record.


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Wetland archaeology and movement II: travel and communications along waterways

Organisers: Andrea Vianello; Ingelise Stuijts; and Claire Anderson

Water continuously moves. And so do humans, often seeking water or travelling on it. This session aims at exploring the intriguing relationship between water and the movement of people in antiquity. Specifically, we are curious about the movements of people along waterways within wider landscapes. Barry Cunliffe in his book 'Facing the Ocean' (2001, Oxford University Press) has clearly demonstrated that the combination of coastal and fluvial networks had comparable effects in both Western Europe and Mediterranean. Archaeologists have demonstrated interest in European wetlands, Mediterranean seascapes and other major waterways around the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, but there is the need to look at how water systems were integrated, or why they were not integrated, within patterns of movement and travel.

The chronological boundaries for this session include all ancient and pre-industrial societies around the world.

The connections between the Gulf of Mexico and the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, México, from the early XVI century to the beginning of the independent period: the fluvial networks of the Papaloapan River
Edith Ortiz-Díaz

Social disciplines have long recognized the important role played by external contacts and trade on the developmental trajectories of societies. The existence of contacts throughout the central valley of Oaxaca and the Gulf Coast of México has been amply documented from 1500 BC. Examination of the distribution of Oaxaca materials along Gulf Coast sites (e.g. hematite mirrors) and Gulf Coast materials at Oaxacan sites (e.g. seashells) as well as the presence of similar styles prove such contacts. This paper focuses on how the proto-historic Zapotecs and Chinantecs of the early 16th century used the fluvial network to connect the Gulf of Mexico and the Sierra; and also how the colonial and independent Mexican people used these fluvial networks to engage the alluvial coast plain with the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca and other areas based on the available archaeological evidence and historical documents.


Dugouts from the center-south of Chile: sailing on trees
Nicolás Lira

This research is presented as a first approach to the study of indigenous navigation and their boats for the South Central region of Chile, and as an effort to systematize the findings on this subject that are spread and out of context in this area, with the aim of contributing to an understanding of the practices and technologies of indigenous sailing tradition and origin. In recent years a number of factors led to the discovery and extraction of dugouts in this area. This has not been done in most cases by specialists which has resulted in the lost of context of the pieces and the lack of systematic in the investigation. This paper tries to reverse this situation in part by developing an appropriate methodology for recording and analysis of indigenous traditional boats, and from this information develop a preliminary typological and chronological sequence for dugouts in south central Chile.


Low lands in South America
José López

For South American archaeology lowlands were always a marginal area for economic and cultural development. Nevertheless, the flood plains of Amazonas, Orinoco, Paraná, Matto Grosso and Merín Lagoon were the setting of an early complex culture. In recent years, intense research has revealed the historic process leading to the emergence of complex societies in the region. The environmental management resources were one of the keys of this original experience. Social and environmental co-evolution was one of the central points to explain the changes in social mobility, settlement patterns, economic innovation and new political systems. This paper presents a comparative approach of South American low lands culture development with special attention to the Laguna Merín area in the southern American Atlantic coast.


Rise amidst the waves
Christina Fredengren

This paper will present the results of the excavations at Derragh townland, Co. Longford, Ireland. The Lake Settlement Project within the Discovery Programme has excavated a Mesolithic man-made platform that has been in use during a period of over 1500 years. The evidence shows that fires were lit on regular occasions, structures were built, abandoned, and remodelled. This paper discusses the significance of this place in its own right as a Mesolithic phenomenon where people have made a distinct mark and built a monument in a landscape of waterways. It has implications also for our understanding of place-memory. The site furthermore has bearing on discussions on the transition to the Neolithic in Ireland where people have made connections with earlier traditions to argue the news.


Reaching out across the water - travelling by dugout canoe in Mesolithic Ireland
Claire Anderson

The Discovery Programme's Lake Settlement Project, under the direction of Dr. Christina Fredengren, excavated a late Mesolithic site at Derragh, Co. Longford. The site provided the first securely dated evidence for dugout canoe construction in Ireland. This was a highly skilled and specialised craft, suggesting a wealth of knowledge on the part of the Mesolithic people who lived here. Such vessels are well-documented in the Danish Ertebølle culture, and at experimental centres such as Lejre in Denmark. Possession of a dugout canoe implies a relationship with water which may have led people to seek it out, rather than merely exploit it occasionally. Large distances could have been covered quite easily, with all the additional social interaction, communication and economic possibilities which that implies. Clearly, water had immense importance in the social, cultural, economic and possibly even spiritual lives of Mesolithic populations in Ireland.


The archaeological potential of ponds - a case study from Cashel, County Tipperary
Joanne Hughes

Archaeological excavations in 2003 for the N8 Cashel Bypass have revealed for the first time the local importance of ponds as foci in the prehistoric period. Ponds occur widely across the limestone geology of the Cashel area, and previously unrecorded sites were discovered wherever a pond or its' environs was excavated. Remarkably, the archaeology was found to be multi-phased, with three sites alone having early / later Mesolithic, early Neolithic and early Bronze Age activity - the first definitive Mesolithic evidence in County Tipperary. This intensive and prolonged prehistoric activity within a radius of 3km around Cashel was the result of people specifically targeting and utilising the ponds as a constant, secure water source. The implication of these new discoveries for the known archaeological record will be discussed, and a number of areas around Cashel such as Lough Nahinch and Loughnafina will be proposed for future research.


Interchanges between fluvial and marine communication networks in Bronze and Iron Ages Veneto, Italy
Andrea Vianello

This paper focuses on the movement of commodities and peoples in the region of Veneto. The Veneto was a key area between the Emilian Terremare and the lake-dwellings of Trentino, at the heart of a large communication and exchange system centred on lakes, rivers, lagoons, river mouths and sea. Movement on land before the construction of Roman roads appears of secondary importance. The Veneto was inserted in long-distance exchange networks at least since the Bronze Age. Such networks have brought in the region Aegean-type pottery during the Late Bronze Age, but more importantly exotic raw materials were imported, worked and exchanged at Frattesina. The ability of the ancient Veneti to move on waters was one of the principal reasons for their success, and their familiarity with water was then inherited by the Venetians and continued to be a key reason for the success of the region.


A river runs through it: understanding the role of waterways in Bronze Age Britain
Ben Roberts

Whilst research examining the movement of people bringing new ideas, foods, technologies and objects to Britain from overseas during later third - early first millennium BC has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, the role of rivers in this process has lagged behind. This paper reviews the evidence for riverine communities, explores the inter-connections that shaped their existence and analyses their influence on communities further inland.


The oldest examples of clinker build vessels in Scandinavia - the Nydam Ships revisited
Flemming Rieck

During the years 1989-99, the National Museum of Denmark carried out intensive excavations on the classical site of Nydam in Southern Jylland. Here the Nydam Boat was found in 1863 together with remains of two more ships and masses of weapons, personal equipment, tools, horses etc. The new excavations revealed approx. 15000 artefacts. Substantial new parts for the Iron Age vessels (190-320 AD) have been identified and analysed. This paper presents the results of this research.