Archaeology in Ireland. (Special Section)

Article excerpt

ANTIQUITY has always been an journal that has embraced `World' archaeology with enthusiasm, and over the years has presented much new and novel material from places distant to its own stable in the British Isles. But in our 75th year of publishing and presenting the new, the exotic and the familiar, it is time to turn again to home, and examine trends within the isles of Britain and Ireland. There is good reason for this, since as we have discussed in recent issues regionalization and regional identities have become a political and cultural reality, both here, and in much of Europe. Regional political voices are now heard in the regional assemblies of Scotland and Wales, and in the distinctive politics of Ireland, which has a varied and rapidly changing political scene, with improving relations between the North and the Republic of Ireland. Whilst most archaeologists would not favour deeply nationalistic identities to emerge as a result of their work, it is nevertheless true that voices are now being raised regarding local restitution matters and regional decision-making in the pasts of Wales, Scotland, Ireland or, indeed, Cornwall or Lincolnshire. The smaller countries have developed distinctive local archaeological traditions and academic specialisms, well suited to the particular riches in their archaeological heritage. This wealth of archaeology has long been known, as the work of 20th-century scholars such as Cyril Fox, Gordon Childe and R.A.S. Macalister (to name just three prehistorians) has shown, but not broadcast as widely as it deserves. Regionalization and devolution bring various things, but from an archaeological point of view, they generally encourage greater investment in heritage matters and cultural research, and an increased local awareness of, and pride in, the depth of the region's history.

In this and the September issue we are pleased to present two special sections on the distinctive archaeologies of Ireland and Scotland. We have invited colleagues who work in these countries to review their various archaeologies, together with the trends and developments that have affected them over recent years. So much archaeology has been identified in recent decades because of urban and industrial expansion, European Union grants for roads, wetland drainage, forestry and other destructive developments. These in turn have stimulated new approaches that have had a major impact on the understanding of the environment and human landscapes of the past. In particular, the remarkable preservation in the wetlands of Scotland and Ireland has been important for enabling the development of world-class dendrochronological and environmental studies. The preservation of parts of these less exploited northern and western lands includes some extraordinary opportunities to examine prehistoric and historic remains, unparalleled in England or in much of western Europe. Settlement remains, industrial landscapes, funerary sites and so on, are preserved than further south and east, and offer rare insights into the past. Scholars and fieldworkers in these rich places have developed research agendas specially suited to explores this wealth, and are now leaders in their fields. These special sections thus celebrate distinctive archaeologies, and highlight some of the special features of archaeological developments in Scotland and Ireland.

Ireland

Although the monuments and archaeology of Ireland, the second largest island in Europe, emerged within a distinctive Irish world, the development of its archaeologies, following the division of Ireland three-quarters of a century ago, is quite distinct in the North and the Republic of Ireland. Political change is in part responsible, with the north and south of Ireland pursuing very different policies, legislation, economies and historical agendas. Deep-seated religious divisions, for which Ireland is all too famous, also underlie the differences. However, as the discipline of archaeology and its scholarly communities have shown, a new and far more international identity has emerged over recent decades. …