Blog

NAZI WAR DIGGERS

AND A FINAL UPDATE 2nd April: National Geographic Channel Pulls ‘Nazi War Diggers’ Series.

UPDATE 31st March: Over the weekend both the New York Times and the Daily Mail have published pieces about this issue.

National Geographic Channel have outdone themselves with this clip from what looks to be an appalling ‘Archaeology’ of WW2 show called ‘Nazi War Diggers’ (Update – Clip seems to have been removed, No.. Back again, slightly edited…). The name alone raises alarm bells. The ‘talent’ who are charged to race ‘against time to save this history from being looted or lost’ are listed on the website as a metal detectorist, a World War 2 enthusiast and a ‘leading militaria and antique dealer’.

It’s caused quite a bit of concern in the archaeological community on Twitter and Facebook. The clip shows a femur roughly tugged from the ground and mistaken for a humerus. But it’s Okay – these tough digger guys shed some tears and get a little emotional about the War Dead.

Paul Barford has more on the Stars here.

Here’s Deathsplainings response..

Conflict Antiquities poses a number of questions to the producers here (and has received some sort of response) – update – National Geographic Channel are preparing a Q & A.

The initial defence of the programme has come on twitter from one of the presenters – Kris Rodgers who says (Update: Kris says he’s received threats, hatred and spite – Paul Barford elaborates.. Criticism of the clip is perfectly reasonable but threats, not nice – As Paul says ‘If people, archaeologists in particular, really have been doing this, then let’s name and shame them together’...) :

So that s alright then.. It’s TV right? There’s a comment facility on the clip page and Colleen Morgan has posted some contact details for anyone who wants to express their concern. There are some more twitter responses embedded below..

MOORE GROUP ON FACEBOOK

There we are then – Late adopters of Facebook. You’ll find us here:

https://www.facebook.com/mooregroupgalway

There’ll be the usual updates, stories, news items and links to our blog posts.

 

 

OMiG AWARDS

OMiG Awards Nominee BadgeWe’ve been nominated (self nominated to be honest, although maybe someone else suggested us too) in the Galway City and County’s First Ever Online Marketing Awards. There are almost 200 nominees, and we’ve been nominated for the Online Marketing Leadership Award, Best Website, Best Blog and the Peoples Choice Award.Feel free (please) to vote for us in the Peoples Choice Award by clicking here and ticking us….

DUNMORE REMAINS – OSTEOLOGY INTRO, SEX AND AGE

The Osteoarchaeological report on the remains at Dunmore was completed by Camilla Lofqvist. What follows is an abridged version of the introduction section of her report, the sex of the remains and their age profile. In the next post we’ll look at their stature and general health. References will follow in a later post. The summary of the excavation can be found here.

It is not often the opportunity arises to analyse a substantial human bone material and in this sense the Dunmore bone sample is exceptional. Ideally, all individuals would need to be recovered from a graveyard to enable a greater estimation of the population statistics but the sizeable sample from Dunmore presents a rare chance to examine the general demography of a community (Arcini, 1999:47).

Image44

The osteological examination of the bones revealed that the human remains were from 340 individuals comprising 159 adults, 31 juveniles and 150 children. The information retrieved from each burial i.e. age at death, gender, stature, physique, cause of death, quality of diet, any long term illness or condition, manner of lifestyle (e.g. physical work), has helped to build a profile of life and death in Dunmore and has provided us with an interesting, fascinating and rare opportunity to study the everyday life of the population of this north Galway community in the 15th to 18th century.

The common medieval graveyards in Europe were often surrounded by walls, hedges or banks and the parish church was often located within their boundaries. However, occasionally the parish graveyard was associated with, for example, centres of education or religious institutions. An expansion of religious orders such as the Franciscans and the Jesuits during the Counter-Reformation resulted in the option of being buried within the monastic graveyards. The location of a burial in the graveyard was considered to be of importance and a burial inside or around the porch of the church was reserved for the most important and most well situated individuals of the society. The less well off were interred outside the church where the preferred location was just to the south of the church wall, although a location to the east and west were accepted. The north of the church was considered the Devil’s side of the church and was mostly avoided. In Dunmore the remains were generally orientated east-west in the Christian tradition (fortuitously running in line with the trench for the surface water sewer). This coincidence in alignment allowed, for the most part, the full recovery of the individual skeletons. In most cases, the remains were uniformly aligned in the extended supine position with the head at the western terminal facing east, the arms and hands were generally crossed over the pelvis/chest or simply extended by the side. The feet were in the majority of cases placed side by side.

In the medieval period it was common to cut through previous burials. The larger skeletal fragments of the disturbed remains were stacked in one corner of the new grave or, if the fragments were small, were just left in the soil used to backfill the gravecut. It was also common to place disturbed human remains in a communal ossuary. This tradition tends to live on in Ireland and England up to present day (Mytum, 2004:160). The numerous stray human bones and the high degree of intercutting of the burials at Dunmore suggests there was a high demand on space in the graveyard. It is possible the pressure to inter the inhabitants within its grounds, resulting in frequent intercutting, could have been due to the lack of space but it could also be that certain areas in the graveyard were favoured, such as a location close to the church. Many of the burials did respect previous ones indicating that there may have been external markers on the surface demarcating individual plots. In a number of cases there was evidence of burials interred in very close proximity suggesting the possibility of family plots that were re-used over generations. The location of the burials in Dunmore suggests these individuals were not from the highest stratum of the society. It is likely the graves of the more well off in Dunmore were located within or just outside the church.

The most common method of interment during this period was a simple earth grave, often with a rectangular shape. At times the gravecuts in Dunmore were clearly visible but often the shape of the cut was unclear due to intercutting or other factors. However, the shape of the cuts seemed to vary, occasionally the cut was so narrow that the skeleton seemed to have been squeezed into it resulting in a raising of the shoulders. The depths of the burials also varied. It was notable that the earlier, deeper inhumations appeared to have had wider cuts and the remains were less constricted. Later burials were interred in narrower cuts and the limbs seemed more confined. This lack of available plot space may indicate a degree of congestion within the graveyard in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century.

The lack of any associated coffins suggests that the inhumations in Dunmore were interred in simple grave cuts, probably wrapped in a shroud fixed with a pin or nail. In England regulations were brought in between 1660 – 1678 stating that these shrouds had to be of wool. This was done to increase and support the English wool industry. Any headstones that may have originally been erected were likely removed off site in the mid eighteenth century under the direction of Lord Ross to clear a path for the avenue leading to his demesne. Amongst the corpus of skeletons there was no obvious distinction between gender or age. Males and females were found buried alongside infant, juvenile and adult remains confirming the community nature of the graveyard as distinct from a burial ground solely servicing a monastic order.

The Dunmore sample suggests that a slightly higher degree of males (46.5%) were present in the skeletal assemblage compared to females (41.5%). However, it should be remembered that c. 12% of the individuals in Dunmore could not be ascribed to either sex due to the deteriorated and fragmented state of the bone.

The 340 individuals recovered in Dunmore, of varying ages and conditions of preservation, represented the remains of 150 children (age-at-death ≤ 12 years), 31 juveniles (age-at-death between c. 12-20 years) and 159 adult individuals (age-at-death >20 years). In general, children tend to be most frequently represented in the archaeological record, followed by young adults and a more limited number of older adult individuals.

The high frequency of children and young adults in the Dunmore material and the less frequent retrieval of older adults conforms to the common findings of other graveyard material. However, the possibility of older individuals being buried in a different location in the graveyard and therefore not recovered must be considered.

Next time – the stature and general health of the Dunmore remains.

DUNMORE EXCAVATION 2006

Back in our pre-blog days in 2006 and into the beginning of 2007 (perhaps the boomiest of the boom years), we completed our biggest excavation to date at Dunmore, Co. Galway. We haven’t blogged the results until now and we’ll be posting the results over the coming days. First off – an introduction.

The excavation was carried out in the townland of Abbeyland South, Dunmore, Co. Galway between June and October of 2006 and January 2007 on behalf of H.G.L. O’Connor and Co., Consulting Engineers, acting for Galway County Council. The proposed construction works involved the excavation of a linear trench running E/W along the northern carriageway of Barrack Street to accommodate the installation of a surface water sewer. Archaeological monitoring of groundworks in May 2006 identified the remains of two articulated skeletons confirming the anecdotal reports of the possibility of a graveyard in the area of Barrack Street (according to local sources groundworks for a water service carried out by the council in the late 1980’s had disturbed human remains; reports at the time suggested that workmen reburied the exposed bone with the backfill). Following this discovery the remains were covered with terram and all works in the immediate area were suspended. As it was not possible to re-route the proposed surface water sewer on Barrack Street, it was decided following consultations with the relevant stakeholders to excavate the human remains in the vicinity of the Friary.  The nearby Augustinian friary in Abbeyland South is part of the historic town (GA017-002) of Dunmore, County Galway and is a national monument in state ownership.

DSC04284

Excavation was carried out along the length of the road working generally from west to east and directed by Billy Quinn. In total 288 individual remains were recovered. These remains represent a community graveyard located to the south of the Augustinian friary that runs the length of extant church and continues under the road comprising an area at least 53m E-W by 17m N-S incorporating an 884 sq. m. In terms of external monuments there was no evidence for marker stones or grave slabs associated with any of the burials. Presumably any headstones that may have originally been erected were completely removed off site in the mid eighteenth century under the direction of Lord Ross to clear a path for the avenue leading to his demesne.

It would also appear from the lack of any associated coffins that the inhumations were interred in simple grave cuts, probably wrapped in a shroud affixed with a pin or nail. The only other burial elements of particular note were two instances where ear-muff stones were placed to protect the head.

The phasing of the burials was quite difficult to determine due to the narrow strip excavated but it would seem that the older burials were interred at a greater depth and that later grave-cuts routinely impacted on earlier remains. Notwithstanding this most burials did respect previous ones indicating that there may have been external markers on the surface demarcating individual plots. In a number of cases there was evidence of burials interred in very close proximity suggesting the possibility of family plots that were re-used over generations.

Amongst the corpus of skeletons there was no obvious distinction between gender or age. Males and females were found buried alongside infant, juvenile and adult remains confirming the community nature of the graveyard as distinct from a burial ground solely servicing a monastic order.

In most cases, the remains were uniformly aligned in the extended supine position with the head at the western terminal facing east, the arms and hands were generally crossed over the pelvis/chest or simply extended by the side. The feet were in the majority of cases placed side by side. It was notable that the earlier, deeper inhumations appeared to have had wider cuts and the remains were less constricted. Later burials were interred in narrower cuts and the limbs seemed more confined. This lack of available plot space may indicate a degree of congestion within the graveyard in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century.

A number of exceptional remains not conforming to the standard burial rite are worth commenting on. These involve crouched burials, burials placed on their side and in two cases burials interred front down or in the prone position.

Of the 5 crouched burials excavated, 4 look to have been deliberately placed in this position legs drawn upwards, head to the side and arms bent at the elbow. One burial appears more haphazard, its position suggesting a lack of formality or hastiness in its interment.

Five burials were positioned on their sides. These may have been deliberately placed so or may have simply slumped to the side of a narrow cut. Two burials were buried front down.

Fifty one artefacts were recovered, including corroded nails, a number of pins, assorted sherds of pottery and some tile fragments. The best evidence for dating came from 2 coins. One coin is a James II gunmoney small shilling dated to 1690. The ’gunmoney’ coinage was struck from brass obtained from old cannon, bells and other sources of scrap metal. It was issued by James II as an emergency token currency, which would be exchanged for good silver once he had won the war against his Protestant foe, William III. In the event, James was defeated and after circulating briefly at their intrinsic value, the coins were demonetized in 1691.

Find 6 obverse

Obverse showing profile of James II with legend ‘Jacobus II Gratia’.

 _DSC0008 ‘MAG BR FR ET HIBERNIA’ – image of crown and sceptres flanked by letters J and R and numeral XII.

The second coin is an example of an Irish Halfpenny of Charles II struck in 1681. The legends on both sides are unclear however it is possible to discern (reverse) MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX which translates as Majesty of the Britons, King of France and Ireland. The fact that both coins come from a period within a ten year range of each other broadly dates the skeletons at this remove from the Friary building to the second half of the seventeenth century. The logic of this interpretation is based on the assumption that the earliest burials were interred nearest the church and that over time the burials radiated outwards.

Next: More detail on the osteology from Camilla Lofqvist’s report.