Friday, 12 June 2015

Introducing the Irish Archaeobotany Discussion Group

Who are we? 

The Irish Archaeobotany Discussion Group (IADG) was established in 2007 to bring together archaeobotanists working in Ireland. The Group was envisaged as a forum where we could build professional relationships, discuss recent discoveries, seek solutions for problems that we were encountering, and establish strategies for development of the profession.

Charred hazelnut shell fragments (Image courtesy Meriel McClatchie)

Archaeobotany is the study of past societies and environments through the analysis of preserved plant remains from archaeological excavations. Our focus in the IADG is non-wood plant macro-remains; typical material that we examine includes ancient seeds, grains, nutshell and other vegetative remains.

Ten archaeobotanists were invited to the first meeting, most of whom were working in the private sector (sole traders and in companies), with a small number of colleagues based in universities at Cork and Belfast. The nature of work in archaeobotany – often working alone at a microscope or computer in the lab – means that individual workers can become quite isolated. The first meeting was held in University College Cork, and it was an excellent opportunity for us to get to know each other better and find out what each of us was doing. Over the years, we began to invite colleagues from related disciplines, such as pollen, wood and insect remains. We’re still quite a small group (around 15), but we have an ever-increasing impact on professional practice within archaeobotany and the wider discipline of archaeology, and we hope to have a long future!

What do we do? 

One of the main functions of the IADG is the organisation of discussion meetings. We hold several meetings each year, usually in Cork or Dublin. Our meetings are often chaired by Mick Monk, who is a founding member of the IADG. Over the years, our meetings have included discussion of identification and recording techniques, long-term storage of material, dissemination of results, and we sometimes include lab sessions to show interesting discoveries and seek opinion on tricky finds! We have also organised GIS training for our members, as well as field trips to meet with farmers and food producers. 

IADG field trip to an oat field in Co. Waterford, with farmer Harry Gray showing us around (Image courtesy Meriel McClatchie)

Individual members publish their own research in journals and monographs, but we do sometimes come together to write short pieces based upon our considerable combined expertise. For example, in 2007 we responded to an interesting article on brewing that was published in Archaeology Ireland, and our letter outlining our findings from the perspective of archaeobotany was published soon after. This blog, Environmental Archaeology in Ireland, is a further initiative established by members of the IADG to showcase the work of our members and colleagues in related areas.

The IADG is committed to promoting high standards in archaeobotany, and we put this into practice by providing training sessions for professionals in archaeology and related disciplines. For example, in 2010 we organised CPD (Continual Professional Development) training for members of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (IAI). This event was co-organised with colleagues in the Irish Wood Anatomists Association (IWAA).The training consisted of a day of short talks supported by laboratory sessions and interactive discussions, and it provided archaeology professionals with an opportunity to learn about how, where, what and when to sample for plant macro-remains and wood on archaeological excavations. The event was successful, and due to demand, we ran the course again in 2011, this time including pollen and insect remains. 

Sharing our expertise at an IAI CPD event (Image courtesy IAI)

An ongoing initiative also relating to best practice is our collaboration with the National Museum of Ireland to develop a strategy for dealing with long-term storage of archaeobotanical remains.

How can you find out more about our work? 

Keep checking this blog! IADG members will be blogging here, so you will hear about our latest results and new discoveries.  You will be welcome to ask questions via the comments section.

About the author

This article was written by Dr Meriel McClatchie, an archaeobotanist and founding member of the IADG. Meriel recently completed an NUI-funded post-doctoral fellowship on early medieval agriculture at the School of Archaeology, University College Dublin. She is about to start work on an INSTAR-funded project on late prehistoric landscapes based at the Department of Archaeology, University College Cork. Meriel also has her own blog: Ancient Food and Farming.


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