Living from the mountains to the sea: understanding Neolithic settlement and society in Dublin/Wicklow uplands and Lowlands.

PhD Candidate: Kim Rice
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Warren
Funded By: IRCHSS Post-graduate Scholarship

Abstract

The project will provide an in-depth analysis of early prehistoric settlement, funerary and ritual activity within the South Dublin/North Wicklow region by using an integrative landscape approach. Through the examination of sites in relation to each other and their physical and cultural landscape, this study will move beyond traditional narratives of the area and provide insight into people’s relationships to place and the varying temporal scales of human occupation during the Neolithic.

Previous studies, while dependent on the now outdated corpus of published data, have indicated very significant activity and suggested a focus in the uplands (e.g. Stout and Stout 1992; Cooney 2000). Recent large-scale development-led archaeological projects have resulted in numerous important subsurface discoveries within more low-lying terrain, which now form the main component of the archaeological record. This diverse evidence indicates a much greater distribution and range of activities across the landscape than hitherto suspected. However, there has been no synthesis of this new material, nor discussion of the solid basis it provides for a better understanding of settlement activity and patterning.

The data will be compiled from a range of sources - mainly unpublished excavation reports and published data - and will be analysed within the context of the study’s different landscape zones to provide a new interpretation of the Neolithic in this region. The project will use differing scales of analysis ranging from large-scale regional overviews to specific case-studies, including fieldwork targeted on particular archaeological complexes and landscapes. By moving beyond the site–specific and situating past activity within the broader context of the cultural landscape, it is hoped that a better understanding of early prehistoric occupation and the construction of social identities will be achieved. The results will be placed within their wider national and international context through comparative analysis with early prehistoric landscape studies in Europe,

The availability of such a rich dataset offers great potential to document early prehistoric communities and the landscapes they inhabited and formed. The research will also tackle broad issues such as the dating and character of the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic and its manifestation in this area, the establishment of agriculture, the development of monumentality and the social changes associated with the emergence of new ideologies at the end of the Neolithic. It is clear that prehistoric people modified their surroundings to support subsistence strategies and in doing so imbued them with meaning and significance. Concepts of local and regional identity, ritual and domesticity, trade and exchange with other regions and cultural and social change and its expression through material culture will be examined.