Archaeological watermarks: Settlement, landscape and seasonal flooding in historical Ireland
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Turloughs are karst wetland ecosystems that are virtually unique to Ireland. They are intermittently inundated on an annual basis, mainly from groundwater. This thesis concerns the interaction of past communities with the dynamic nature of these seasonal lakes from the early medieval to the early modern period in Ireland (c.400AD-1850AD). The primary aim is to investigate human interaction with the dynamic flooding regimes of turloughs through archaeological, historical, toponymic and folklore sources, and to identify evidence for their management and manipulation by communities in Ireland. Among the aims and objectives of this research is to determine the importance of these environments as valued and significant resources over time, and their role in the cognitive landscape of past communities. Traditional archaeological methodologies are combined with the information gained from recorded contemporary human narratives. Three main theoretical models were used in the analysis of these landscapes. These included archaeological landscape theory which views cultural landscape is a product of the interaction of humans with the physical landscape, and historical archaeology which seeks to combine traditional archaeological methodologies with the information gained from recorded contemporary historical records. Concepts of ‘Space and Place’ and lost cognitive associations are drawn from the theoretical models associated with human geography where ‘space’ refers to the abstract physical environment without a particular substantial meaning, and place refers to how human populations are aware of and interact with a defined space. This thesis demonstrates that turloughs, and their unique physiographic features, have been used as a significant natural resource through the historical period in Ireland and have frequently served as a focal point for human activity. A key finding of this thesis is that in the case of human settlement on turlough floodplains, symbiotic settlement which accommodated the natural, already productive flooding regime was preferred, and that the natural resources available in these environments, which included fisheries and seasonal grazing pastures, were strategically exploited by communities who settled in turlough landscapes in a manner that did not disturb the natural hydrological regime. This contrasts with comparable contemporary settlement in fluctuating wetlands in Britain which engaged in large scale reclamation works, often to improve the productivity of holdings there. Other evidence shows that turlough floodplains were also exploited as suitable venues for a variety of ritual and social practices, through multiple cultural layers and contexts. The recognition of turlough floodplains as important venues for seasonal, communal, and symbolic assembly of population groups through time has been a particularly important finding of this research and identifies these landscapes as places for ritual activity as well as a resourceful and valued natural habitat.
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