The Search for Romans in Ireland

Interesting item from the Irish Times:

FIRST CENTURY AD. The Roman General Agricola reportedly says he can take and hold Ireland with a single legion. Some archaeologists have claimed the Romans did campaign in Ireland, but most see no evidence for an invasion. Imperial Rome and this island on its far western perimeter did share interesting links, however.

The Discovery Programme, a Dublin-based public institution for advanced research in archaeology, is to investigate Ireland’s interactions with the empire and with Roman Britain, aiming to fill gaps in the story of the Irish iron age, the first 500 years after the birth of Christ.

The project, Late Iron Age and Roman Ireland (Liari) could uncover a surprising role for Roman culture, predicts Dr Jacqueline Cahill Wilson, project leader. It offers “a new narrative for this formative period of early Irish history”.

Science is going to drive the project, and the interpretation presented by the researchers will be based on science as much as the archaeology, Cahill Wilson explains.

Roman artifacts including coins, glass beads and brooches turn up in many Irish counties, especially in the east.

Cahill Wilson investigated human remains from iron age burial sites in Meath for her doctoral research at the University of Bristol. She learned much about these people by using strontium and isotope analysis and carbon dating.

Remarkably, this allowed her say where they most likely spent their childhood. One burial site on a low ridge overlooking the sea in Bettystown, Co Meath, was dated to the 5th/6th century AD using radiocarbon dating. Most of the people were newcomers to the area, Cahill Wilson concluded.

The clue was in their teeth. Enamel, one of the toughest substances in our body, completely mineralises around the age of 12 and its composition remains unaltered to the grave and beyond. It is “a snapshot of where you lived up to the age of 12”, Wilson explains.

The element strontium (Sr), which is in everything we eat and drink, exists in a number of chemical forms, or isotopes. The ratio of two of these isotopes (87Sr and 86Sr) varies, shifting with the underlying geology, and this too can indicate where the owner of the tooth grew up.

Similarly, the ratio of oxygen isotopes varies with factors such as latitude, topography and hydrological conditions.

“Enough comparative data is available now that we can start to plot and map the ratios to see where people are likely to be from,” Cahill Wilson explains. Paired analysis of strontium and oxygen in tooth enamel from a burial in Bettystown revealed that one interred individual grew up in North Africa.

Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, distinctly remembers the Bettystown excavation, which he directed in the 1970s. “One particular burial stood out as being very unusual,” he says. The body lay in a crouched position and seemed to have been treated in a different manner to the rest of the burials. This male could have been a slave, but Kelly thinks he was most likely a trader, possibly from the Roman world.

Roman material has been found at Tara and Newgrange, and Roman pottery has been dredged from the River Boyne. A large coastal promontory fort in north Dublin also turned up Roman objects, and Kilkenny hosts a Roman burial site.

Kelly believes the Romans never invaded because the countryside was unsuited to their villa system: the economic cost-benefits failed to stack up, he says. “These guys could get what they wanted without being physically present. I think what they were interested in from Ireland was agricultural produce, probably butter, cattle and cattle hide, as well as slaves and mercenaries.”

The Liari project will deploy advanced survey techniques in Dublin, Westmeath and Kilkenny to seek evidence for Roman sites. Robert Shaw, senior surveyor for the programme, describes aerial laser scanning, or Lidar, as one of the most important developments in archaeology over the last 10 years.

This models the landscape surface in exquisite detail. The ground-based techniques rely on measurements of magnetic and electrical resistance anomalies of the earth, so no destructive digging is required.

Surveys are not expected to uncover the Roman’s distinctive linear roads or their large rectangular forts, but what did it mean to be “Roman” in Ireland?

The warring centurians and toga-wearing politicians made popular in film comprised less than two per cent of Roman Britain.

“The rest of the people engaged with the new Roman administration in a variety of ways,” says Cahill Wilson, and “there were different ways to be a Roman within the provinces”.

The project will use the latest scientific methods, such as geochemistry, to explore population migration, X-ray fluorescence and isotope analysis to trace the origin of metals and minerals, and pollen analysis to resurrect past environments.

“We need to be a bit more systematic and scientific in terms of what we are doing,” says Cahill Wilson, but these tools are additions to traditional archaeology’s kit.

Kelly says it is not surprising Roman material turns up, especially on the coast facing Roman Britain. We know Niall of the Nine Hostages had a British mother, he says. “These guys were marrying women from the other side of the Irish Sea. There would have been dynastical alliances across the sea.

“Ireland was in immediate proximity to the world superpower,” he adds. “Ireland was becoming heavily influenced from the 1st century AD by Rome. The introduction of Christianity in the 5th century is just part of that process.

“We took on a great swathe of Roman cultural influence, including the Roman religion, and all without a Roman legion landing and telling us how to do our business.”

The whole Romans-in-Ireland thing seems to be one of those controversies that keeps popping up. There was an article on a purported discovery related to same in Archaeology Magazine years ago (see: Romans in Ireland?) and British Archaeology had a couple of items on the same claim as well (see: Yes, the Romans did invade Ireland)

Mind the GAP? Not at all …

Interesting news out of Southampton:

A University of Southampton led project, exploring how people of antiquity viewed the geography of the ancient world, has been backed by $50,000 of funding from Google, Inc. via its Digital Humanities Awards Program.

Google Ancient Places (GAP) is developing a Web application which allows users to choose a classical text or book (500BC – 500AD) and then search for references to ancient places within it, presenting the results in a user-friendly interface.

GAP uses specialist software to identify where and how often places are mentioned within a text, displaying references to the locations and plotting results on a map using an independent digital gazetteer (Pleiades).

Project leader, and Southampton Digital Humanities specialist, Dr Leif Isaksen explains, “A GAP user can not only see how an author’s narrative moves from place-to-place, but also how a town or city’s relative importance varies throughout a historical text.

“We hope it will interest scholars and users with a general interest in antiquity alike.”

GAP is an international collaborative research project between the University of Southampton (Dr Leif Isaksen), The Open University (Dr Elton Barker), the University of Edinburgh (Dr Kate Byrne), University of California, Berkeley (Dr Eric Kansa) and independent developer Nick Rabinowitz. This Digital Humanities Research Grant is the second round of funding GAP has received from the Google Research Awards Program, and will allow the team to expand their project to a wider variety of books and texts.

Dr Isaksen comments, “We intend to expand the scope of the material we are working with, increasing the volume of and variety of the texts, so not just factual texts but also poetry and fiction.”

In addition, GAP is part of a larger network of open data on antiquity called Pelagios, which is made up of several similar online projects. By integrating GAP with this network, the researchers hope to give users access to more varied types of data, such as archaeological artefacts or historical documents.

Open University classicist, Dr Elton Barker says, “Previous projects have tended to be closed silos of information and that has reinforced barriers between disciplines. By linking our data to other archaeological and classical resources it becomes possible to navigate directly between them, making it easier to look at ancient texts and artefacts in their spatial, cultural and literary context.”

To explore Google Ancient Places, please visit: version of your browser.

Catching Up With Didaskalia

I continue to be confused about how Didaskalia is published, but I’m beginning to suspect it’s now an annual thing with pieces posted from time to time. So … first we’ll catch up with volume 8:

Interview: Satyrs in L.A. [PDF]
Mary Hart

KOSKY – The Women of Troy: Barrie Kosky, The Sydney Theatre Company, and Classical Theatre in Australia [PDF]
Elizabeth Hale, guest editor

KOSKY – Delivering the Message in Kosky’s The Women of Troy [PDF]
Helen Slaney

KOSKY – The Women of Troy: Barrie Kosky’s “operatic” version of Euripides [PDF]
Michael Halliwell

KOSKY – The Women of Troy—New and Old [PDF]
Michael Ewans

KOSKY – “Toothless intellectuals,” “the misery of the poor,” “poetry after Auschwitz,” and the White, Middle-class Audience: the Moral Perils of Kosky and Wright’s The Women of Troy (or, how do we regard the pain of others?) [PDF]
Marguerite Johnson

Masks in the Oxford Greek Play 2008: Theory and Practice [PDF]
Claire Catenaccio

The Masked Chorus in Action—Staging Euripides’ Bacchae [PDF]
Chris Vervain

Review: Orestes Terrorist at the University of California, Santa Cruz [PDF]
Fiona Macintosh

Review: 47th Season of Classical Plays at the Greek Theatre in Syracuse [PDF]
Caterina Barone

Review: Medea at the Long Beach Opera [PDF]
Yoko Kurahashi

Interview: Theater of War [PDF]
Amy R. Cohen and Brett M. Rogers

Storm in a Teacup: an Exercise in Performance Reception in Twenty-First-Century Israel [PDF]
Lisa Maurice

Review: Seneca’s Oedipus at the Stanford Summer Theater [PDF]
David J. Jacobson

Review: Sophocles: Seven Sicknesses at the Chopin Theater [PDF]
Teresa M. Danze Lemieux

ADIP I – Ancient Drama in Performance: Theory and Practice [PDF]
Amy R. Cohen

ADIP I – Play in the Sunshine [PDF]
Jennifer S. Starkey

ADIP I – Adapting Hecuba: Where Do Problems Begin? [PDF]
Nancy Nanney

ADIP I – The Twice Born and One More: Portraying Dionysus in the Bacchae [PDF]
Jaclyn Dudek

ADIP I – A Gestural Phallacy [PDF]
David J. Jacobson

ADIP I – Double the Message [PDF]
Diane J. Rayor

ADIP I – Performing the “Unperformable” Extispicy Scene in Seneca’s Oedipus Rex [PDF]
Eric Dodson-Robinson

ADIP I – Compassion in Chorus and Audience [PDF]
Paul Woodruff

ADIP I – Staging the Reconciliation Scene of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata [PDF]
John Given

ADIP I – The Delayed Feast: the Festival Context of Plautus’ Pseudolus [PDF]
Laura Banducci

ADIP I – Euripides’ Hecuba: the Text and the Event [PDF]
Kenneth Reckford

ADIP I – Hecuba in a New Translation [PDF]
Jay Kardan and Laura-Gray Street

ADIP I – Talkback: Hecuba [PDF]
Mary-Kay Gamel

… and from Volume 9:

9.02Review: Lysistrata Jones
John Given

Risk-taking and Transgression: Aristophanes’ Lysistrata Today
Michael Ewans and Robert Phiddian

d.m. Brian Shefton

From the Guardian:

My friend and colleague Brian Shefton, who has died aged 92, was a distinguished scholar of Greek and Etruscan archaeology. One of his most significant achievements was a collection of Greek and Etruscan artefacts which he established in 1956 when he was given a grant of £25 to purchase three Greek pots. The collection expanded to include nearly 1,000 objects, many of which can now be seen at the Great North Museum: Hancock, in Newcastle upon Tyne. Brian also built up an important collection of books on Greek and Etruscan archaeology, which make up the Shefton collection in the library at Newcastle University.

Brian was born in Cologne, the son of Isidor Scheftelowitz, professor of Sanskrit at Cologne University, and his wife, Frieda. In 1933 the family moved to Britain to escape Nazi oppression. Brian thrived in Britain and, after military service during which he changed his name to Shefton, he graduated from Oriel College, Oxford, in 1947. He then spent three years travelling in Greece before taking up a lectureship at Exeter University.

In 1955 he arrived at King’s College in Durham (now Newcastle University) as a lecturer in Greek archaeology and ancient history. He remained there for the rest of his career, becoming professor of Greek art and archaeology in 1979. To Brian, the archaeology collection and library holdings at Newcastle were his greatest achievements.

His scholarship was truly international. He was an enthusiastic traveller with an extensive network of colleagues and friends. He attended international conferences frequently, and also received prestigious fellowships and honours, including an honorary doctorate from Cologne University and the British Academy’s Kenyon medal.

His enthusiasm for his discipline stayed with him until the end. He spoke at a conference in Basle, Switzerland, on Etruscan archaeology in October 2011 and continued to work on research projects. He was an incredibly generous scholar who always had time for others. His irrepressible energy and curiosity were an inspiration to all those who knew him.

Brian is survived by his wife, Jutta, whom he married in 1960, and his daughter, Penny.