The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland [Hardback]

Marion Dowd (Author)

ISBN: 9781782978138 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Year of Publication: 2015 | Language: English 340p, H242 x W170 (mm) b/w and colour illustrations

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The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland


The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland is a ground-breaking and unique study of the enigmatic, unseen and dark silent world of caves. People have engaged with caves for the duration of human occupation of the island, spanning 10,000 years. In prehistory, subterranean landscapes were associated with the dead and the spirit world, with evidence for burials, funerary rituals and votive deposition. The advent of Christianity saw the adaptation of caves as homes and places of storage, yet they also continued to feature in religious practice. Medieval mythology and modern folklore indicate that caves were considered places of the supernatural, being particularly associated with otherworldly women. Through a combination of archaeology, mythology and popular religion, this book takes the reader on a fascinating journey that sheds new light on a hitherto neglected area of research. It encourages us to consider what underground activities might reveal about the lives lived aboveground, and leaves us in no doubt as to the cultural significance of caves in the past.

Winner of the Current Archaeology Book of the Year 2016 award.

Winner of the Tratman 2015 Award.

Table of Contents

List of figures
List of tables
List of abbreviations

Chapter 1: People in caves, caves in people
Theatres of intent
In the deep dark silence
Feeling through the dark
Sensuous spaces
The otherworld, restricted access and liminality
Ancient symbols in a modern world
Metaphors in the past
Diverse biographies
Named places
Cave activities in the 21st century
The archaeology of caves in Ireland in context
Book structure and general notes

Chapter 2: Excursions into places of fearful darkness – 300 years investigating caves
Subterranean ventures
The great age of travel writing
Early antiquarian investigations
The search for bone caves
Digging in the back garden
Forced underground
The quest for a Palaeolithic
Speleology: the science of caves
Fortuitous discoveries: the contribution of the caving community
The legacy of 300 years of explorations

Chapter 3: Caves and cave archaeology in Ireland
Cave formation
Anatomy of a cave
Counting caves
When is a cave not a cave?
When is a cave an archaeological site?
Problems with the record
Forgotten places: caves through the archaeologist’s lens
Scratching the surface: recent developments
Why do archaeologists not do caves?
Cave archaeology: Ireland in context

Chapter 4: Gathering the dead - the Mesolithic (8000–3800 BC)
Journeying with the dead
Elevating the ancestors
Lithics from caves
Connecting with farmers
Moving on

Chapter 5: Thresholds to transformation - the Neolithic (3800–2400 BC)
Neolithic human remains
Burials in caves
Links with the Linkardstown tradition
The face of violence
Possible cave burials
Transformation underground: excarnation
Powerful encounters with the dead
Artificial caves and natural tombs
Offerings underground
The relationship between caves and Neolithic settlements: two case studies
Places of wilderness
Neither domesticated nor domestic spaces
Regional patterns in Neolithic cave use
Long held traditions

Chapter 6: Journeying deeper into darkness - the Bronze Age (2400–600 BC)
Continuing ritual usage of Neolithic sites
Persistent places: case study of Kilgreany Cave
Deposition of pottery sherds
No ordinary burial place
Surrounded by the ancestors
Travelling deeper into darkness
Disappearing underground
Altering the subterranean realm
Intimate familiarity and ritual retreat
Swallowing up the dead: the evidence from swallowholes
Living in caves: evidence from the coast
The end of a golden age

Chapter 7: Eyes full of darkness - the Iron Age (600 BC–AD 400)
No one home
A skull and a tooth: human remains of Iron Age date
Special animal deposits in caves
Horse bits and bones
Resonances of red deer
The Cave of Crúachain: the focus of an Iron Age ritual landscape?
Departing prehistory

Chapter 8: Out of the darkness, into the light - the Early Medieval period (AD 400–1169)
The light of Christ illuminating the darkness of humankind
Home is where the hearth is
Duration of occupation
Glencurran Cave: case study of an Early Medieval habitation site
Lighting the dark
Who lived in caves?
Bandit’s lairs
Caves, souterrains and storage solutions
Human bones of Early Medieval date
Caves: places of Viking burial?
The end of an era

Chapter 9: Silence spaces or speaking volumes? - the Medieval period (1169 - 1550 AD)
From cave to castle
Human bones of Medieval date
How many pots make a home?
Retreats of holy men
The Medieval rumour that haunted Europe
Caves in Medieval mythology
Out of the cave … her fit abode
A cave fit for a king
Lovers in caves
Red birds, druidic cats and werewolves
Finding a home for Medieval mythology in archaeological discourse
A return to the religious

Chapter 10: Diverse biographies - post-Medieval period to 21st century (1550-present)
Fleeing to woods and caves
Caves in Penal times
Despite the best exertions of a watchful band
Convenient cavities
Cave folklore
Naming the underground
Realm of the supernatural
A woman’s place
The case of the disappearing piper
Popular religious practices
Celebrating the harvest festival
Caves and Catholicism in the 21st century: Lough Derg and Lourdes
Enduring places

End note: The future of Irish cave archaeology
Appendix: Caves of archaeological significance in Ireland

Reviews & Quotes

"This book is excellently written, both informative and interesting. It is illustrated throughout with photographs, drawings of artefacts and plans of the caves. It is an important addition to a library of Irish archaeology and truly deserving of the accolade of CA’s ‘Book of the Year’."
Duncan Berryman
Ulster Journal of Archaeology

"Handsomely produced and well-illustrated...a benchmark for future studies in Ireland and a model for researchers elsewhere."
Ian Armit
British Archaeology (11/08/2015)

"The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland does indeed set a new agenda for Irish cave archaeology but serves as a sound foundation (and sets a formidable challenge) for similar studies elsewhere."
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society

"'The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland' is an impressive and much-needed contribution to both Irish archaeology and speleoarchaeology in general. I expect to see it become the cornerstone of a developing Irish cave focus… Unless I am badly mistaken, this book will initiate a dramatic increase in cave investigations in the immediate future."
James E. Brady
Journal of Irish Archaeology (24/03/2017)

"The first and sure-to-be definitive baseline statement on the study of cave archaeology in Ireland…"
Niall Brady
Medieval Archaeology

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