Early evidence for coastal exploitation in Ireland

  • Emily Murray

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Our knowledge of coastal resource exploitation for the early Christian period in Ireland is limited. The aim of this study is to address this by collating all the available evidence from both archaeological and literary sources. The archaeological evidence presented here concentrates on fauna] and molluscan material examined as part of this study from excavations at Dun Eoghanachta, Illaunloughan, DoonJoughan and Rathgurreen while also reviewing extant published evidence for comparable sites. Wild species (seal, fish, bird and shellfish) and sheep were observed to have played a relatively more important role at these sites than on inland sites, while it is suggested that the notable presence of young calf bones from the island assemblages is a reflection of their environmental marginality. The contemporary literature makes little acknowledgement of shellfish or marine fish exploitation, yet the procurement of both is affirmed by extensive archaeological remains. The theory proffered by antiquarians around the tum of the century that dogwhelks were exploited in early Christian times for the purple dye that the species secretes, is examined here in detail. Some interesting findings on the subject emerged but none, apart from the occurrence of broken dogwhelk shells (radiocarbon dated to between 360-803 Cal. AD), that supports this proposition. To assess the possibility of seasonal exploitation, and indeed seasonality in coastal settlements, oxygen-isotope analysis of modem limpets was undertaken. Unfortunately, the results were negative proving that such analysis is not viable for the west of Ireland. Finally, references to coastal resource exploitation were garnered from the post-medieval literary record and are presented here as a body of evidence in its own right, and as a comparative case study for the early Christian period.
Date of AwardJul 2000
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorFinbar McCormick (Supervisor) & Gerry McCormac (Supervisor)

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