Material culture of high-status drinking ritual in medieval and early modern Gaelic Ireland
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This thesis is the first comprehensive study of ritual drinking vessels of horn and wood from later medieval and early modern Gaelic Ireland. The research provides an analysis of the drinking vessels and offers an interpretation of the roles of methers, goblets and horns in drinking rituals of Gaelic elites, during the period 1200 – 1600 AD. The archaeological record indicates that horn and wood were the preferred materials for the manufacture of high-status drinking vessels, with the quadrangular wooden mether or meadar predominant in Irish museum collections. The aims of the thesis are to determine how methers, goblets and horns functioned in Gaelic drinking rituals and why organic material was the preferred choice for drinking vessels. Some of the reasons why drinking horns were gradually replaced by methers, from c. 1300 onwards are also explored. The methodology adopted for this thesis involved detailed recording and analysis of the extant corpus of drinking vessels housed in Irish repositories. In tandem with this, the research engaged with an examination of historical and literary sources relating to medieval drinking ritual. AMS C14 dates were obtained for a small sample of Gaelic wooden drinking vessels, in order to inform a timeframe for their manufacture and use. Experimental archaeology was undertaken to seek clarification on the performance and protocol of Gaelic drinking ritual and to determine how the unique form of Gaelic drinking methers performed in a ritual context. The theoretical framework applied to the thesis examines archaeological and anthropological approaches to ritual and, in particular, to ritual drinking and the long established relationship between ritual, alcohol and the establishment of power, status and social boundaries. It also includes commentary on the gendered aspects of drinking ritual. Among the principal findings of the research are that there was an affinity with organic material for ritual drinking vessels; that methers may have been used as early as c. 1300 and that the emergence of the mether form may be associated with the transition from kingship to lordship in Gaelic polities. It is also proposed that the revival in use of some horns c. 1400 may be related to attempts by ruling families to assert their ancestral identities as over-kings.
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