In the first post of this series, I examined the benefits of 3D recording in the context of cultural heritage and briefly discussed photogrammetry as a feasible option to produce 3D models of cultural artefacts. This post will focus on an introduction to the first case study for the NUIM-AFF621: Remaking the Physical – 3D recording assignment. The module lecturer, Dr. Costas Papadopoulos, kindly organised for the MA students to attend the National Museum of Ireland (Archaeology) on 24 February 2015 for the purpose of fulfilling the first case study, the capturing of a prehistoric vessel in a museum.
On the morning of the visit to the National Museum of Ireland, I traveled from Drogheda to Dublin via public transport and underestimated the travelling time, and so, I arrived at the museum almost forty minutes late. Unprofessional on my part, and I missed the introductory presentation from the museum curator on the background of the prehistoric vessels that we were going to photograph for the digital recording exercise. The photography was being conducted in a large room in the museum that also appeared to be a classroom for visiting students. The vessels were placed with care on white fabric on a table, and I felt rude walking into the scene – being late. Thankfully, the museum technician, who was responsible for handling the vessels, was very obliging and explained to me that the vessels were funerary bowls from the Early Bronze Age, and were approximately 4,000 years old. I knew very little about the Early Bronze Age in Ireland, so the museum technician was kind enough to escort me to the area in the museum where the vessels would normally be displayed.
For my digital recording, I chose to photograph a bipartite bowl that was documented by the museum as file no. 1A/48/04 and registered as 2004E505:5. It was found in a cist grave in Liscooly, Co. Donegal in 2004. In observing the museum displays for the Early Bronze Age, and the types of utensils, tools and weaponry used in that era, I began to feel under-equipped to do a project on an artefact I knew so little about. Indeed, Campana observes that “a good interpretation relies on a clear understanding of the object itself, and of its essential characteristics” (7). Accordingly, I felt obliged to deepen my learning about cist graves and funerary bowls, and I will discuss this further in the next part of this post.
Cist Graves and Bipartite Bowls
The earlier megalithic communal tombs, known as wedge tombs, ceased to be practised around 2200BC in Ireland, and were replaced by separate burials in the form of simple pits or pits lined with stones known as cists (O’Donnell, Section 6). Usually one individual was buried there, but cists have also been found with the remains of a few individuals (National Museum of Ireland, Information Display). Unburnt bodies were placed in a crouched position as shown in the image below; however, there are cases were cists were found with cremated remains (O’Donnell, Section 6). The remains were usually accompanied with pottery food vessels, as a trait of this type of burial, and sometimes other grave goods such as weaponry, jewellery or semi-precious stones (Ibid.).
Irish bowls from the Early Bronze Age tend to be recorded as found in a funerary context, with a majority having been found in relation to pit or cist graves (Ó Ríordáin and Waddel 67; Cooney 185). These bowls are assigned to various categories such as simple and bipartite bowls, necked bipartite bowls, and tripartite bowls (Ó Ríordáin and Waddel 7; Flanagan, Chapter 7). A simple bowl tends to be “a small well-made bowl with a smooth, curving profile and a flat or slightly concave base” (Flanagan, Chapter 7), while tripartite bowls reveal three zones (Flanagan, Chapter 7). Irish funerary bowls and vases vary in surface colour from dark grey and chocolate brown to orange and bright red, however a large majority of those found tend to have a darker grey core, as the vessels may have been “incompletely oxidised during firing” (Sheridan 47-48). Sheridan adds that this is consistent with the vessel being fired in “an open bonfire [or a] hearth or firing pit” (47-48). Finally, no evidence has been found to suggest that a manufacturing facility or kilns were involved in the production of funerary vessels in Ireland (Sheridan 50).
Typically, bipartite bowls have an apparent constriction at around the half way point on the bowl (Ó Ríordáin and Waddel 7; Flanagan, Chapter 7). Cooney suggests this type of bowl may have originated in Normandy, and was adopted in the southwest of Scotland, and thereafter adopted in Ireland (186). Bipartite bowls were made using a ring method – “by adding successive horizontal rings of clay and smoothing over the joins” (Sheridan 45). They rarely exceed 10cm in height and their rims are always less than the widest point of their diameter (Ó Ríordáin and Waddel 7). The rims tend to have a smooth bevelling, though rounded rims occur, and the majority of bowls that were found in Ireland are decorated (Ó Ríordáin and Waddel 7). Necked bipartite bowls also have a similar midway constriction but have an “outward curving neck” (Flanagan, Chapter 7). According to Cooney, decorated bipartite bowls dominated “mortuary contexts” on settlement sites (185; also Ó Ríordáin and Waddel 6); and have been found in burial pits with both burnt and unburnt remains (Ó Ríordáin and Waddel 9). However, their exact use within the funerary context is still debated, as they have rarely contained bones when found, and few have been tested to clearly support a conjecture that they contained food or drink, however, there is some evidence to show that funerary bowls were not used for cooking prior to a burial (Sheridan 69).
Cist Graves found in Liscooly, Co. Donegal
In 2004, three ceramic funerary bowls were found in cist graves on a farm in Liscooly, Co. Donegal in 2004. A senior archaeologist investigating the site, Mr. Victor Buckley, claimed that the vessels were made from local clay, and the finding of the vessels intact and in such good condition was quite rare (Archaeo News). Cahill and Sikora also note the “exceptional quality” of the funerary bowls found at this site, in terms of both production and design (145). Indeed, the finding of the Liscooly funerary bowls in such good condition is significant as these types of bowls often become disjointed at the joint lines (Sheridan 45). Additionally, on examining bipartite bowl 2004E505:5, the core is not dull or grey – showing it was well fired.
Three cist graves were found at this location with a possibility of one more, though this was too badly disturbed to clarify certainty (Cahill and Sikora 145; 152). The first cist grave was disturbed by heavy machinery, and only noticed by the farmer with the discovery of bones; the farmer then removed the bones and a bowl to his house before archaeological excavators arrived (Cahill and Sikora 145). Moreover, due to the disturbance of the area, archaeologists were unable to clarify a link between the burials (Ibid.). A radiocarbon analysis of a bone sample from the first grave places the burial from 2290-2030 BC (Ibid.). Cahill and Sikora provide a description of the ceramic vessel – bipartite bowl (2004E0505:5) that I chose to photograph in the museum, as follows:
They also present a hand drawn illustration and a photograph of the Liscooly bipartite bowl (2004E0505:5). Thus, as Cahill and Sikora present their information via 2D images and a written description, it will be interesting to see if I can create a 3D model that will add to this record.
- National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology, Information Display Stands, Early Bronze Age
- Cahill, Mary and Maeve Sikora. Breaking ground, finding graves— reports on the excavations of burials by the National Museum of Ireland, 1927–2006. Wordwell, 2012. Print.
- Campana, Stefano. Archeological Needs.”3D Recording and Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Theory and best practices. Remondino, Fabio and Stefano Campana eds. Web. 04 March 2015. Academia
- Cooney, Gabriel. Landscapes of Neolithic Ireland. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. Oxon: Routedge, 2000. Google Books
- Flanagan, Laurence. Ancient Ireland: Life Before the Celts. Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 1998. Google eBook.
- Mac Connell, Sean. “Intact Bronze Age burial bowls found in Donegal.” Friends of the Irish Environment, 18 June 2004. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.<http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/papers-today/12-archaeology/4279>
- O’Donnell, Mary G. “Significant Unpublished Irish Archaeological Excavations, 1930-1997.” The Heritage Council: Archaeology. Web. 04 Mar. 2015. <http://heritagecouncil.ie/unpublishedexcavations/section1.html>
- Sheridan, Alison. “The Manufacture, Production and Use of Irish Bowls and Vases.” The Funerary Bowls and Vases of the Irish Bronze Age. Eds. B Ó Ríordáin and J. Waddel Galway: Galway University Press, 1993. Web. 02 March 2015. <http://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/xmlui/handle/10379/1626>