Life, Death, and the Afterlife: understanding wood and woodcraft in early medieval Ireland, A.D. 400-1100

PhD Candidate: Kevin Tillison
Supervisor: Dr Rob Sands

Funding: Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar


Early medieval Ireland (A.D. 400-1100) was an intensely organic world, with restricted pottery production, making wood the main material used for vessel manufacture. The significance of wooden vessels is exemplified in the Early Irish Laws, which suggested woodworking and woodworkers had distinct categories with variations of social status based on specialisation; from the lowly bowl turner to the high status yew-worker. Unfortunately, when evidence for woodworking has been recovered its analysis and interpretation has often been lacking, limited to finds lists, hidden in grey literature or larger appendices. Therefore, resolving this issue requires the collation of materials and an updated investigation of wooden vessels and related objects.

This project brings together evidence for woodworking and wooden artefacts using both existing and new assemblages, to address the life history of wooden vessels from supply, through the crafting process, to the use, maintenance, repair, reuse, recycling, deposition, and ultimate archaeological recovery. Part of this project explores people-object interactions and how the interrelationships between the wooden object, its treatment and its status can be observed. In particular, exploring how the processes of repairing and recycling communicate a unique treatment of objects less frequently discussed. In addition, this project investigates the concept of craft through the use of contemporary early medieval contexts, historical literature, and modern sources (experimental archaeology and ethnoarchaeology) and its relation to wood and woodcraft, and their role within societies and cultures.