Foundation Myths: The beginning of Irish Archaeology

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Author: John Waddell

Publisher: Wordwell

ISBN Number: 1869857984

Publication Date: 2005

Reviewed by: Astrocelt


A journey covering four and a half centuries during a gradual transitional period, culminating with new methodologies of approaching the past. The combination of biblical history wrapped with indigenous literature held sway.  This viewpoint held precedence up to recent times moulding and shaping a strand and a particular view point. Such concepts continued up to a point, the thirst of knowledge relating to the newly discovered “Druids” from classical sources influenced Ireland from within via the works of Keating, but also Toland and Stukley connections relating to Druidical Stone circles and burial mounds. The cover aptly displays an image of an imagined Druid accompanied with artifacts from various chronologies.  Indeed Antiquarian mindscapes are explored leading towards the change in thought and the discipline of archaeology is all discussed in lively detail.

What is refreshing about John Waddel published work is not all antiquarians agreed with each other in the early period of this book, as alternative views are also given precedence. Even though Edward Llyud and Paul Yves Pezon contributed in setting an early bench mark for Celtic linguistic studies, a small number of opposing views refuted the antiquarian viewpoint with the monument being a connection to the Druids. Although it was a general practice to relate urns, pottery fragments, associated metal work to them with the biblical view of the world. It too was coupled with the Danes and the Norse being the originators of such monuments. Thomas Peunall and Edward Ledwich stretched the past moving it to the Phoenician via the Milesian connections, to one more in line with Northern Europe  Celts and Teutons.  It’s very similar today where two view points exist side by side, for and against the Celtic concept and there associated Druid society members.

It’s not just about the Antiquarians but covers the establishment of the early regional societies. Some which had a short life span including the early ordnance mapping contribution; likewise to establish ones which can be found today such as the Royal Irish Academy. All have a story to tell as through it earliest efforts the slow struggle of new ways of deducing and perceiving the past. Indeed the debates with antiquarian continued. Inclusive of the three age classification system of stone, bronze and iron introduced by scholars from Denmark, this was not altogether embraced. Indeed George Petrie analytical perspective utilising archaeology evidence with history contributed to challenge some of the biblical connections, proposing waves of people taking up residence in Ireland. Other early supportive research came via craniologist studying the shape of recovered skulls, argued to belong to the Fir blog and Milesian people. Even though it brings the myth to some form of historical and to some extent into an archaeological reality, It was not enough at this time,  to quote the author, “the Lebor Gabala Erenn still cast its long shadow” within poplar imagination as the 20th century loomed on the horizon.

The collection of artifacts from sites by antiquarian and private collectors eventually became collated with the founding of new museums to house them. This in itself suggests being the birthing place of Irish archaeology enabling the custodians’, catalogued and commenced studying the collections. It is from these beginnings of comparisons between materials, object styles, and there art styles, with their published findings, started to recreate the past together with raising awareness. As in the case of George Coffey in the early days of the Irish Academy Collection, yet it was not long before scholars from various universities establishments, such as  R.S.A Macalister,  was later studying and excavating sites along with publishing. Gradually and depending on the research questions applied the past began to take on a recognised form. Yet the literature of Ireland was not far away as it might still be today.

The main impetus and drive started 80 years ago in the 1930’s which is considered a turning point where archaeology began to blossom. Achieved and undertaken through the efforts of a wide collection of scholars, as it continues today with a growing body of evidence which might be familiar.

This book is an overview of the development and transition from a gentleman’s pursuit, to a scholar’s perspective.  It is generously referenced if one wishes to explore deeper into any themes covered within its confines. Subsequently highly recommended.

Antiquarians, Archaeology, Druids, Celts, Ireland.
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Re: Foundation Myths: The beginning of Irish Archaeology

It looks like something I'm interested in...thanks for posting this.