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The heritage trail

IRELAND: Working practice

Among the giant muckshifters ambling up and down the gentle inclines through the Cork countryside, small clusters of archaeologists beaver away with trowels on tiny excavations in taped-off areas. Discovering what archaeological lessons can be learned from ground undisturbed for thousands of years is considered an important exercise before the civil engineering starts.

A 6m wide run of topsoil is stripped through the route corridor purely for archaeological reasons to identify potential sites of interest. 'This gives us a keyhole view of what's to be found before the work starts.

On a long site like this you get a wide range of material, ' says site archaeological director Rory Sherlock. Aerial photos and field walking also help identify relevant sites.

Once something is identified through, for example, changes in soil colour, a site is marked.

But under strict Irish laws, permission to dig further has to be obtained from the statutory body Duchas which grants licences.

One interesting group of finds on the site so far has dated back to 2000BC.

'We have found what are known as fulacht fiadh or burnt mounds, which are Bronze Age cooking places. Fulacht fiadh are evidence of an unusual way of cooking and are always in areas of marshy ground or near streams with water, ' says Sherlock. Rocks were heated to high temperature, before being rolled into water until it boiled, with a rate of around 400 litres being boiled in half an hour.

Meat joints wrapped in straw were then cooked in the boiling water.

Evidence of these mounds can be seen today by the burned soil colour.

A team of around 20 archaeologists will trowel their way through the sites of interest before roadworks close the land off for good.

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