Agriculture, food production and consumption in early medieval Ireland, AD 400-1200
PhD Candidate: Nikolah Gilligan
Supervisor: Professor Aidan O'Sullivan (UCD), Dr Lance O'Brien (Teagasc)
Funded By: Teagasc Walsh Fellowships Programme
This project will investigate how the people of early medieval Ireland, AD 400-1200 developed innovative agricultural practices and technologies, to feed a booming population and to transform early Irish economy and society to create the essential features of modern Irish farming. The project will investigate four key aspects of early medieval food production – livestock management, cereal processing, the scale and intensity of farming, and the experimental replication of early medieval foodstuffs - to investigate how early Irish farming was organized to produce and process food for direct consumption, trade and export.
It will adopt a range of multidisciplinary scientific approaches, experimental archaeological methodologies and dissemination strategies, to investigate how food was produced, processed and consumed at a time of great social and economic change. The project will examine four key aspects of early medieval food production, to investigate how early Irish farming was organized to produce and process food for direct consumption, trade and export. These will include analyses of how livestock management and slaughter practices were employed to prepare meats for consumption and redistribution and how cereals were cultivated and processed through various stages to prepare flour for various foodstuffs. The project will use a range of documentary, archaeological and environmental scientific evidence to ascertain the scale, intensity and scope of early Irish agriculture to assess how it worked for a domestic market and assess if it was capable of producing surpluses for international export markets. Experimental replication of early medieval foodstuffs (such as porridges, breads, biscuits, milk, butters, curds, whey, cheeses and other dairy products, as well as other foods) will be carried out to understand the nutritional values of different early medieval foods, and their potential for storage and long-distance transport.
The project will also investigate the relationships between early Irish farming practices and the climatic and environmental change in the 6th/7th centuries. The onset of wetter, stormier conditions may have impacted upon grass growth and the capacity of the agricultural system to maintain cattle herding as a primary activity, with a shift towards cereal cultivation. The project will therefore provide some insights into farming practices under changing environmental constraints, informing us on the potential impacts of climate and environmental change on agricultural production systems commonly practiced today.