Glossary of Terms
An archaeologist is a person who studies the past by analysing the material remains left behind by human activity.
An archaeological excavation involves the systematic removal of archaeological remains for analysis and interpretation by a suitably qualified archaeologist or team of archaeologists. This type of archaeological investigation is called preservation by record.
An artefact is an object from the past which has been made or worked on by humans.
The earliest phase of archaeology, which chronologically includes the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, or that period of archaeology in Ireland, prior to the advent of Christianity.
Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age):
This is the earliest phase of the Stone Age when Ireland was still covered by retreating ice sheets. There is no evidence for human activity in Ireland at this time.
Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age):
People in the Mesolithic were nomadic hunter gatherers. They made weapons and tools from stone such as flint or chert. Some artefacts are distinctive of this period, such as microliths from the early part of the Mesolithic to the larger Bann Flakes in the later Mesolithic. The Mesolithic ranged from c.7000-4000BC.
Neolithic (New Stone Age):
This period of time saw the first farming communities in Ireland. Weapons and tools were made from stone such as flint or chert. The Neolithic ranged from c.4000-2400BC. This period of archaeology is well represented in County Mayo by the Neolithic field systems of the Céide Fields.
The period of time when metal working was first introduced to Ireland. People began to use bronze to make weapons and tools. Gold working also appeared during this time, with objects such as gold torcs being produced. The Bronze Age ranged from c.2400-500BC.
It is the period in which iron is first produced and used to make tools and weapons. The Iron Age ranged in date from c.400BC-400AD.
Early Christian or Early Medieval:
This period of change saw the coming of St. Patrick and the introduction of Christianity into Ireland. Literacy was also introduced and some of our greatest works of art were produced, such as The Book of Kells and The Book of Durrow. It is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age and ranged from between c.5th and the 10th centuries AD.
The Vikings first arrived in Ireland in 841AD. They began by raiding coastal areas and wealthy monasteries, but gradually they began to settle and move inland. The Vikings founded the first towns such as Dublin and Waterford, and used them as trading posts. Gradually the Vikings became integrated into Irish society, and many artefacts from this period have Scandinavian influences, as well as many Irish objects of this period being discovered in Scandinavian countries.
Medieval and Late Medieval:
The Medieval period includes the arrival of the Anglo Normans in the 12th century.
The Late Medieval Period may be seen as running up to the 17th century.
These monuments are built of large stones used for ceremony and burials purposes. They are named from the Greek mega big and lithic stone. Megalithic tombs are subdivided based on date and morphology and include passage tombs, court tombs, wedge tombs and portal dolmens.
A term now in common use, but originally defined by the Register of Monuments and Places to include circular and sub-circular earthen monuments relating to various chronological periods of archaeology. It is often used to denote the presence of a ringfort.
A circular space defined by a bank and often with an outer ditch with an entrance sometimes in the east. Within the interior, Early Medieval and Medieval farming communities lived and carried out their daily socio-economic activities. Ringforts are described as enclosed farmsteads and can be uni-vallate (one ditch and bank), bi-vallate (two ditches and banks), tri-vallate (three ditches and banks) or, multi-vallate (multiple ditches and banks).
Souterrains are underground passages or chambers, usually lined with dry-stone walls. They can be found connected to ringforts and ecclesiastical sites, or, they can be isolated from any other monument types. They may have been used as storage areas to keep food cool or as hiding places for people and valuables during raids.
Fulachta Fiadh are prehistoric cooking sites, usually located near to a natural water source. They consist of a horse shoe shaped mound of burnt stone, formed around a dug out trough or pit. They generally date from the Bronze Age.
Standing stones were generally erected in prehistoric times and would seem to have had various functions, such as ritual, burial markers and boundary markers. Some standing stones can be found with Ogham writing, which is an early form of writing using lines etched on the side of the stone.
Stone rows consist of two or more standing stones set together in a row. They may have been used for ceremonial purposes and date to the prehistoric period.
Stone circles consist of uneven numbers (5 or more) of upright stones arranged in a circle. They may have been used for ritual or burial purposes and date to the prehistoric period.