Stephanie Benzur: Doing Archaeology in Ireland

(Originally dated June 24, 2017): The first session of the field school is all wrapped up. What an amazing month! Archaeology is my passion, but until now I’ve never had the chance to participate in an actual excavation. This year, the field school is excavating the Parknabinnia Wedge Tomb on the Burren in County Clare. The tomb is from the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Period and dates back to about 5000 years ago. This is exactly the kind of site I want to study.

The Tomb

The first few days consisted of removing sod and grass. One of the volunteers found a Neolithic thumb scraper used for scraping flesh off of animal skin. This was really interesting because it predated the site. Other than that, the finds mostly consisted of large amounts of bone, mostly animal. Later that week we finally began troweling. I thought it would be a bit boring but it definitely wasn’t. When excavating a site, you remove different layers of soil that are referred to as contexts. We removed the first two or three contexts in the first week or so. After a few days of no major finds, I uncovered what the director later said was the most important find of the entire dig: a Neolithic arrowhead! It was made out of a stone called chert and absolutely beautiful. Definitely one of the best moments of my life. That same day, one of the site directors uncovered what turned out to be what is referred to as crouched inhumation: an articulated skeleton that had been buried in the fetal position. He and another student in the field school spent the next two days uncovering and then lifting it. Later examination revealed something incredible: he had been stabbed in the ribs! This was his likely cause of death. These were the two largest finds of the first half of the dig. The finds from the rest of the session consisted of human and animal bone fragments and stone flakes from tools. After four wonderful weeks, the first half wrapped up. But, I decided to stay on for the second half! I was asked to stay on and continue, and I just couldn’t say no. So, after a two-week break, I’ll be back on site to continue digging!

Neolithic arrowhead!

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