Researchers at UCD


Lorna O'Donnell

School of Archaeology



I am an environmental archaeologist specialising in wood and charcoal analysis. I graduated from Queens University Belfast with joint science degree in Archaeology and Palaeoecology in 2001. After gaining some excavation experience, I  worked in the commercial and research environmental archaeological sector for eleven years. I have analysed charcoal and wood from over 400 sites, primarily while working for Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd from 2002 to 2008.  During this time, I co-edited The Bronze Age Landscapes of the Pipeline to the West: An integrated archaeological and environmental assessment, with Dr. Eoin Grogan and Penny Johnston.  This published the archaeological and environmental results from the 335km long pipeline route, which was unprecedented in Ireland in terms of scale and geographical spread.

Working as a freelance environmental archaeologist from 2008, I have been involved in a number of research projects.

From 2008 to 2010 I worked part time as a research assistant on the Irish National Strategic Research Archaeological Research (INSTAR) funded WODAN project in the Discovery Programme. The principal investigator was Dr. Ingelise Stuits. This project developed an online wood and charcoal database for both archaeological and biological material. The online nature of the database, along with flexible query builders means that it is a powerful tool for future research into past environments, climate change and cultural selection of wood.

During 2010 and 2011 I was employed as a charcoal specialist on the INSTAR funded Neolithic and Bronze Age Landscapes of North Mayo project, which was managed by Dr Graeme Warren (UCD) and Prof. Seamus Caulfield. This project aims to bring to full publication critically important excavations and survey from the Céide fields region.  

The project entitled, From landscape to streetscape, what insects tell us about urban life in Viking Age Dublin, was funded by the Environment Fund in 2011, with Dr. Eileen Reilly and Dr. Patrick Wallace as principal investigators. This concentrated on environmental analysis from the world renowned Fishamble Street excavations, Dublin. I was employed on the project as a research assistant in 2011, which involved a critical assessment of over 1000 samples from the site. This will be published by Dr Reilly as part of the Medieval Dublin Excavations 1962-1981, Monograph Series C.

My doctoral research was completed in 2011 in the School of Archaeology in UCD, supervised by Dr. Rob Sands and Dr. Aidan O Sullivan. Utilising the vast quantity of environmental data that only became available during the boom period in Ireland, I examined the nature of woodland use in Ireland during the Bronze Age. A particular focus was also placed on the interpretation of environmental remains in the ritual of cremation. 



Honours and Awards

Year: 2006.
Title: Pollen analysis of samples related to a fulacht fiadh at Jigginstown, Co. Kildare


Association: Association of Environmental Archaeology , Function/Role: Member
Association: International Association of Wood Anatomists, Function/Role: Member
Association: Irish Palaeoecology and Environmental Archaeology Network , Function/Role: Member
Association: Irish Wood Anatomists Association, Function/Role: Founding member
Association: Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland , Function/Role: Graduate member


Employer: Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd
Position: Environmental Services Manager


Year 2001 Institution: The Queens University of Belfast
Qualification: BSc Subject: Archaeology and Palaeoecology
Year 2011 Institution: University College Dublin
Qualification: PhD Subject:



Book Chapters

Reilly, E., Lyons, S., OCarroll, E., O'Donnell, L., Stuijts, I., Corless, A. (2014) ''Building the towns: the interrelationship between woodland history and urban life in Viking Age Ireland'' In: Broderick, L., Grau, I., Jervis, B (eds). Urban Life in Medieval Europe: Environmental and Artefact-based Approaches. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. [Details]
Davis, S.R., Lewis, H., Turner, J., Foster, G., O'Donnell, L., Collins, B., McClatchie, M., Allen, M.J. and McCormick, F. (2015) 'Environmental evidence from Knowth and its landscape setting' In: Eogan, G. and Cleary, K (eds). Excavations at Knowth Volume 6. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. [Details]
O'Donnell, L. (2014) ''Chapter 8.4, Charcoal and wood analysis from Knowth'' In: Eogan, G. and Cleary, K (eds). Excavations at Knowth 6: The Neolithic archaeology of the large passage tomb at Knowth, Co. Meath. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. [Details]
Allen, R., O'Donnell, L., Reilly, E., Overland, A., O'Connell, M. (2012) ''Palaeoenvironmental analyses'' In: Bourke, E., Hayden, A., Lynch, A (eds). Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry: The monastery and the South Peak. Dublin: , pp.291-413 [Details]
Lyons, S. and O'Donnell, L. (2011) ''Appendix 8 Vol. 2. Integrated wood report for Site 34, Newrath Townland, Co. Kilkenny. Licence no. 04E0319'' In: Eogan, J. and Shee Twohig, E (eds). Cois tSiúire- nine thousand years of human activity in the Lower Suir Valley. Archaeological excavations on the N25 Waterford City Bypass. Volume 1. NRA Scheme Monographs 8. Dublin: National Roads Authority. [Details]
O'Donnell, L., Halwas, S. and Geber, J. (2009) ''The environmental and faunal evidence'' In: Mc Quade, M, B. Molloy, B. and Moriarty, C (eds). In the shadow of the Galtees. Archaeological excavations along the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown. Dublin: National Roads Authority. , pp.241-286 [Details]
O'Donnell, L. (2009) ''Charcoal analysis'' In: Baker. C (eds). The Archaeology of Killeen Castle, Co. Meath. Dublin: Wordwell. , pp.113-124 [Details]
Mc Quade, M. and O'Donnell, L. (2009) ''Late Mesolithic fish traps from the Liffey estuary, Dublin, Ireland'' In: S. McCartan, R. Schulting, G. Warren and P.Woodman (eds). Mesolithic Horizons: Papers presented at the Seventh International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Belfast 2005. Oxford: Oxbow Press. , pp.889-894 [Details]
Johnston, P. and O'Donnell, L. (2008) ''Appendix V. Analysis of the charred plant remains and charcoal'' In: Stout, G. and Stout, M (eds). Excavation of an Early Medieval Secular Cemetery at Knowth Site M, County Meath. Dublin: Wordwell. , pp.128-148 [Details]
O'Donnell, L. (2008) ''Analysis of the charcoal' in C. Baker, 'Excavations within the manor of Merrion Castle, Co. Dublin'' In: S. Duffy (eds). Medieval Dublin VII. Dublin: Four Courts Press. , pp.272-274 [Details]
O'Donnell, L. (2008) ''Appendix I. Charcoal analysis'' In: Grogan, E (eds). The Rath of the Synods, Tara, Co. Meath: excavations by Seán P. Ó Ríordáin. Dublin: Wordwell. , pp.133-140 [Details]
Lynch, L. and O'Donnell, L. (2007) ''Cremation in the Bronze Age: Practice, process and belief'' In: Grogan, E., O'Donnell, L. and Johnston, P (eds). The Bronze Age Landscapes of the Pipeline to the West: An integrated archaeological and environmental assessment. Dublin: Wordwell. , pp.105-114 [Details]

Edited Books

Grogan, E., O'Donnell, L. and Johnston, P (Ed.). (2007) The Bronze Age Landscapes of the Pipeline to the West: An integrated archaeological and environmental assessment. Dublin: Wordwell. [Details]

Peer Reviewed Journals

Reilly, F., Brown, A.G., Davis, S.R., O'Brien, C.E. and O'Donnell, L. (2013) ''Possible evidence of textile processing at a burnt stone mound at Coonagh West, Co. Limerick''. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, 58 :57-84. [Details]
Warren, G., McDermott, C., O'Donnell, L. & Sands, R. (2013) ''Recent Excavations of Charcoal Production Platforms in the Glendalough Valley, Co. Wicklow''. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, 21 :85-112. [Details]
Mc Quade, M. and O'Donnell, L. (2007) ''Late Mesolithic Fishtraps from the Liffey Estuary, Dublin, Ireland''. Antiquity, 81 :569-584. [Details]
Baker, C., Powers, N., Pipe, A., Lynch, L., Johnston, P.,O'Donnell, L., Moriarty, C., Milken, S. and Brindley, A. (2007) ''Appendix V Analysis of the charcoal' in Baker, C. Excavations at Cloncowan II, Co. Meath'. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, XVI :125-126. [Details]
Hull, G, Johnston, P. and O'Donnell, L. (2006) ''Charcoal.' In Hull,G. Excavation of a Bronze Age round-house at Knockdomny, Co. Westmeath'. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, XV :11-12. [Details]

Other Journals

Stuijts, I., O'Donnell, L., Corns, A., Mc Auley, J., Shaw, R., Bunce, A. and O'Sullivan, K (2010) ''WODAN, a database for wood and charcoal identifications'' Archaeology Ireland 24 (4) :40-42. [Details]
Stuijts, I., O'Donnell, L. and Lyons, S (2008) ''WODAN, an archaeological wood and charcoal database'' TEA 30 :4-6. [Details]
Mc Quade, M. and O'Donnell, L. (2006) ''Summary report on charcoal analysis from Knockhouse Lower (03E1879)'. In Mc Quade, M. Archaeological Excavations of Pre-historic Settlement Sites at Knockhouse Lower and Carrickphierish Co. Waterford' Decies. Journal of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society 62 :43-46. [Details]

Conference Publications

O'Donnell, L. (2011) 'People and woodlands- an investigation of charcoal remains as indicators of cultural selection and local environment in Bronze Age Ireland' Sagvntvm. Papeles del laboratorio de arqueología de Valencia Extra- 11. 5th International meeting of charcoal analysis the charcoal as cultural and biological heritage Valencia, Spain, , pp.97-98 [Details]
Veal, R., O'Donnell, L. and Mc Parland, L. (2011) 'Measuring burn temperatures from charcoal using the reflectance method, first results from an Irish Bronze Age cremation site' Sagvntvm. Papeles del laboratorio de arqueología de Valencia Extra- 11. 5th International meeting of charcoal analysis the charcoal as cultural and biological heritage Valencia, Spain, [Details]
Stuijts, I. and O'Donnell, L. (2011) 'Working with WODAN- an online charcoal database' Sagvntvm. Papeles del laboratorio de arqueología de Valencia Extra- 11. 5th International meeting of charcoal analysis the charcoal as cultural and biological heritage Valencia, Spain, , pp.17-18 [Details]


Research Interests

People and woodlands: an investigation of charcoal remains as indicators of cultural selection and local environment in Bronze Age Ireland.

I am currently a Government of Ireland post doctoral research fellow at the School of Archaeology in UCD, funded by the Irish Research Council. This project aims to publish my doctoral research from 2011. Charcoal data has been consistently underutilised, both for environmental reconstruction and archaeological interpretation in Britain and Ireland. My research addresses this by providing an entirely new environmental dataset for the Bronze Age in Munster, along with in depth archaeological interpretation. Emphasis is placed on standardising the analytical procedures used for this scale of charcoal assemblage, while also enhancing our understanding of prehistoric woodlands and how people used them.

 Specifically, the research will draw out four main interrelated areas for further investigation:

1. New guidelines and procedures for the interpretation of charcoal data, especially from

large infrastructural developments in temperate environments.

2. A critical review of the integration of charcoal analysis with other environmental data for

effectively reconstructing woodland dynamics and its implications for understanding wider

themes such as Bronze Age climate change.

3. The use of charcoal data as a source of information about wood and woodland use in the

Irish Bronze Age.

4. Understanding cremation as a burial practice during the Irish Bronze Age.

Crucially, this work utilises not just the charcoal data but combines it with other environmental datasets to create multi-proxy indicators of past conditions. It demonstrates the value of continuing to examine environmental evidence generated during the boom period in Ireland. Dissemination is at the very heart of this project. The four research themes, outlined above, provide a clear basis for five peer reviewed publications that will be developed throughout this fellowship.  



Internal Collaborators

Dr. Rob Sands who co-supervised my PhD is my project mentor. Dr. Sands undertook his PhD research on Bronze and Iron Age woodworking, based on waterlogged wood from Oakbank Crannog, Scotland. He was recently principal investigator for a Marie Curie funded Inter European research fellowship focusing on wood and woodlands in the medieval period, through tree-ring analysis of short lived wood samples. These are derived from mainly medieval fishtraps located along the Fergus Estuary, part of a larger study entitled: Fergus estuary and islands: discovering a maritime historic landscape in Co. Clare, headed by Dr. Aidan O Sullivan from UCD. My post doctoral fellowship is linked to the research theme, Landscape and Environment, within the UCD School of Archaeology.