30 Years of The Discovery Programme at Tara: May 12th 2024: MAHS event

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“Reflections on 30 Years of The Discovery Programme at Tara”

Sunday, May 12th, 2024
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
(from 3-5pm)

Speakers: Edel Bhreathnach, Conor Newman, Joe Fenwick and Roseanne Schot

Dr Edel Bhreathnach is a medieval historian with a particular interest in  interdisciplinary studies that connect archaeology, history and literature. She was CEO of The Discovery Programme: Centre for Archaeology and Innovation Ireland  (2013-2019), a Visiting Fellow to All Souls College Oxford (2016) and Adjunct Professor, UCC School of History (2016-2023). Her publications include Ireland in the medieval world 400-1000AD: landscape, kingship and religion (FCP, 2014). Her volume Monasticism in Ireland AD 900-1250 is currently in press (FCP, Summer 2024). Edel is a Patron of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society.

  • Reading Tara: a theater of religion, ceremony and performance Many cultures are studied from an anthropological and ethnographic perspective, an approach that yields a considerable understanding of their religious beliefs and how these beliefs are manifested in their art, archaeology, material culture and texts. This approach is not particularly well developed in Ireland and indeed is at times criticized. This short paper addresses this problem in the context of our understanding of Tara, with a particular emphasis on a number of early texts.

Conor Newman is a lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Galway. He directed the Discovery Programme’s archaeological survey of Tara from 1992 to 2006. He was chairman of the Heritage Council from 2008 to 2016, and co-founder of the Columbanus: Life and Legacy Project, which is still running following the recent discovery of an Insular reliquary at a church near Bobbio. He is vice-president of UNISCAPE, and an expert advisor to the Charter Alliance Project examining
heritage education and training for the 21st century.

  • Conor’s talk will reflect on the evolution of the emphasis of the ‘Tara Project’, from an
    initial survey of monuments to today’s focus on understanding how Tara operated as a royal theatre and how the various aspects of the institution of kingship are symbolised in architecture, artifact and word.

Joe Fenwick is Archaeological Field Officer in the School of Archaeology, Geography and Irish Studies, University of Galway. He has a long-standing and active research interest in the Later Prehistoric ‘royal sites’ of Ireland, most particularly Rathcroghan and Tara, in addition to the archaeological landscape of Brú na Bóinne, on which he has published widely. He is currently undertaking research on ‘Crafting the Knowth macehead: an experimental exploration of a unique Neolithic artifact’. A paper addressing passage tomb alignment, related megalithic art and cycles of
megalithic construction at Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth is also pending.

  • As part of the Discovery Programme’s Tara Project the Hill of Tara and its surrounding ritual landscape was subject to extensive explorative mapping. At the time, this was a unique undertaking, involving the application of novel field-survey techniques and innovative technologies, including 3D topographical mapping, geophysical survey instrumentation and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). In hindsight, The Tara Survey served as a flagship project that set the standard for other landscape projects to follow. This short talk will outline some of the impacts that The Tara Project had on the subsequent archaeological research of the other later prehistoric ‘royal’ sites of Ireland, and some of the individuals who contributed to this research and who continue to advance our understanding of these remarkable places.

Dr Roseanne Schot is a graduate of the University of Galway, where she taught part-time and worked on a variety of collaborative research projects in Ireland and Europe after completing her PhD in archaeology. She joined the Discovery Programme in 2016 to head-up the latest phase of the Tara Research Project and is currently bringing the results to publication. Roseanne has also worked on the ‘royal sites’ of Tara, Uisneach, Dún Ailinne and Rathcroghan and is co-editor of the book Landscapes of Cult and Kingship (Four Courts Press, 2011).

  • Since its inception in 1992, the Discovery Programme’s Tara Research Project has
    embraced a wide range of disciplines and technologies to advance our understanding of the history and landscape of Tara. The current phase of the project is now being brought to publication and focuses on two key strands of research: the large-scale geophysical and topographical surveys conducted at Tara since the early 2000s; and the remarkable discoveries resulting from survey and excavation in the wider landscape. This short presentation will give an overview of the key findings, from the multitude of newly recorded burial monuments and enclosures at Tara to the Late Bronze Age hill fort at Faughan Hill and expansive medieval settlement remains on the Hill of Skryne.

MAHS Inquiries: Tom French, Hon. Sec. (087 4119633)

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