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Duffy, Martin

Mapping Social, Ideological and Economic Transformations: Settlement and Landscape in the Early Medieval Kingdom Of Brega, AD 400-1100

PhD Candidate: Martin Duffy
Supervisor: Professor Aidan O’Sullivan, Dr Rob Sands
Funded By: Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship


The people of early medieval Ireland witnessed a range of social, economic and political revolutions. Some of this upheaval was immense and would change the political and social landscape of Irish society forever. They included ideological changes such as conversion from Paganism to Christianity, high status areas such as the inauguration of kings and also changes in more mundane daily life. There were also technological, economic and agricultural changes for example the introduction of dairying, extensive crop cultivation and new agricultural technologies, and the emergence of powerful political kingdoms. Transformations as dynamic as these are mirrored in settlement and landscape change, and this thesis proposes to study these settlement practices through the platform of a geographic information system and using the early medieval kingdom of Brega as a case study.

Roughly relating to modern day Meath and parts of South Louth and North Dublin, Brega’s topography ensured it was an economic, political and ecclesiastical powerhouse of its time and arguably the powerhouse. While the area has been extensively studied from a historical viewpoint and individual archaeological excavations, there is far less in the way of archaeological synthesis and this study will attempt to correct this.

The project will ask these key questions:

  1. How did people in early medieval Ireland organise their dwellings, settlements, landscapes and political territories?
  2. How did this change in response to transformations in early Irish society, economy, and political organisation between the fifth and the eleventh century AD?

This thesis will use a comprehensive suite of GIS procedures and techniques to analyse the settlements and landscapes created by early medieval Irish people. How people viewed, thought of and moved through their landscapes all contain spatial characteristics, and these characteristics can be analysed in many ways in a GIS, often using techniques that would be difficult if not impossible to conduct manually. This suite of processes allied with new technologies and advanced theories in landscape archaeology gives this study a scope that would have been impossible heretofore. The GIS provides a “toolbox” of spatially enabled processes that can be used to “provide new ways of addressing the questions of landscape archaeology, testing old hypothesis and generating new ones”. (Chapman 2009, 9) and will be used to as full an extent as possible within this thesis.


Chapman, H. (2006) Landscape archaeology and GIS. Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing.

Contact UCD School of Archaeology

Newman Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: +353 1 716 8312 | E: archaeology@ucd.ie