Archaeofest and Environmental Archaeology

In August 2013 the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (IAI), in association with Dublin City Council, the Heritage Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, hosted the first Archaeofest in Merrion Square as part of the Heritage Council’s annual Heritage Week. The idea was to bring together archaeologists from many different walks of life for a public showcase of the varied aspects of the profession in a fun engaging way!

A ‘specialist tent’ was included from the outset, a place where environmental archaeologists and osteoarchaeologists could demonstrate to people what they do, how they do it and what we can tell about past environments and past lives from this often lab-based side of archaeology. It was enthusiastically supported by many colleagues who gave freely of their time on that first occasion and have continued to support and participate in Archaeofest in 2014 and 2015.

People are genuinely fascinated by the scientific side of archaeology, by what we can see ‘down the microscope’ – seeds, beetles, pollen, tree-rings, cut marks or signs of disease on bones and teeth. The ‘specialist tent’ has proved to be extremely popular each year with adults and kids alike, curious about how we extract these tiny things, how we identify them, how much they can tell us about what people ate in the past, how they lived, what diseases they suffered from, how alike or unlike they were to us. Some have expressed surprise at how much we can learn about the past from soil or from bogs, emphasising how important it is for us to use every opportunity to disseminate the fascinating results of our research.

Any of us who have participated have enjoyed the experience immensely; our hoarse throats at the end of the day a testament to the popularity of this part of Archaeofest! Long may this event continue and our association with it.

We would particularly like to thank the IAI conference organisers past and present, Ros Ó Maoldúin and Christina O’Regan, for their help in making the ‘specialist tent’ such a successful part of Archaeofest. 

About the Author

Dr Eileen Reilly is an environmental archaeologist specialising in the study of insect remains from archaeological sites. Most recently she was an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at UCD School of Archaeology looking at the topic of dirt and cleanliness in early medieval Europe. She served on the board of IAI as vice-chairperson/acting chairperson from 2013 to 2015.