From the very beginning, I fell in love with Achill Island. One of my first days at the Achill Field School, we took a hike through the bog to Slievemore, where we visited the Deserted Village and two of the Middle Bronze Age roundhouses. A mixture of sea-air, burning peat, and wet grass hung in the air, a scent that would become familiar over the coming weeks. By mid-week, we started excavating on the southern slopes of Slievemore, a mountain with some of the most exciting and interesting archaeology on Achill.
Our excavation this season was at a site was labeled ‘Chromlech Tumulus’ on the nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey. Through previous seasons excavation by Achill Field School, it was discovered that it was a multi-period site with its largest feature being a Middle-Bronze Age roundhouse. This was the site’s final season of excavation and we began with just four people strong, three students and our site director. We started out with the grueling task of removing sod, backfill, and topsoil from the initial section of our trench. Pulling out buckets and buckets of boggy soil, is not the easiest thing to do, but as the days went on, we got into a rhythm of cleaning the site for the more meticulous job of investigating the previous unexcavated areas.
The four of us had just begun to expose new archaeology when we were joined by a fifth person who rounded out an amazing team. There are no other four people I would rather spend weeks digging in the dirt with, we laughed and joked around, as well as getting an incredible amount of work done. By the time the students in the two-week program arrived, we had brought the entire middle region of the trench down to the bottom of the round house wall, and then some. We had expanded our original trench size and found evidence for Neolithic use of the site. I was excavating an area that was covered in stone slabs. It ended up being a fulacht fiadh or a Bronze Age cooking pit. The Bronze-Age people who used it filled in with stones and covered in stone slabs when it was put out of use, which resulted in a beautifully preserved example of a fulacht.
From our perch on Slievemore, the view was breathtaking. All you had to do was lift your head up from digging and you could see the expanse of bog that is interrupted by mountains on almost every side. The rocky peak of Slievmore towered overhead and Croaghaun sits to the west. When weather came in, the clouds would always roll down the slopes of that mountain. To the south sat Keel Lough and Keel Bay which shimmered on sunny days and all but disappeared when it rained. With the combination of the view and the protection the mountain gave the site, it is little wonder that this same site was reutilized by different peoples for thousands of years.
In addition to excavating, I got to explore and learn about Achill and the surrounding area, construct a 3-D model of Kildavnet Castle using photogrammetry software, listen to amazing lectures by Irish archaeologists, record, and process soil samples. I learned so much during my time on Achill Island and got to know some really amazing people. Summer programs can be hard to work into a busy schedule, but my time with Achill Field School was worth the time and energy it took to make it happen. I’m sure this won’t be my last time on this beautiful island.