The ‘Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland’ (LIARI) Project was established in 2011 to investigate the nature and impact of interactions between Ireland and the Roman world, particularly Roman Britain. It examined evidence for the first five centuries AD (up to 500AD).The project used both traditional archaeological methods of analysing artefacts and the results of recent archaeological excavations as well as the latest scientific methodologies.
Did Romans come to Ireland?
This has long been a question of great debate in Irish archaeology and the LIARI project used a new scientific technique known as isotope analysis to try to answer this question.
Isotope analysis was used to investigate whether the human remains dated to the first five centuries AD were those of people born in Ireland or the remains of migrants. The chemical composition of tooth enamel, which doesn’t change after childhood and is influenced by the geology of the region, can be used to estimate where these individuals spent their childhoods. Analysis of the teeth of a seventh century AD male burial from Ninch, Co. Meath revealed that his childhood was spent in central or Eastern Europe. The tooth enamel from other burials suggests that these individual had migrated to Ireland from Roman Britain.
What effect did migrants and new technologies from the Roman world have on the Irish landscape?
The Hill of Uisneach, Co. Westmeath was famed in early literature as the sacred centre of Ireland and the meeting place of the ancient provinces. Excavations of the hill in the 1920s revealed a ditched enclosure dating to the third to fifth centuries AD under a later conjoined ringfort. This Iron Age activity at the site led to the selection nearby Lough Lugh as the location of an environmental study. Pollen and chironamids (non biting midges) extracted from the bed of Lough Lugh allowed scientists to reconstruct the Iron Age landscape.
What was built in the Iron Age?
The team used geophysical survey (LINK TO SURVEY SECTION) to look beneath the surface of a number of monuments that research suggested could be date to the Iron Age. One of these was at Faughan Hill, reputed to have been the burial place of Niall of the nine hostages. Survey here revealed an extraordinary array of buried archaeological remains that includes at least two massive hilltop enclosures (the largest measuring about 450m in diameter), as well as many smaller enclosures and burial monuments. Taken together, the survey results indicate that Faughan was centre of regional importance in late prehistory, when it used by local communities as a place of assembly, ceremony and burial. The research at Faughan Hill which was begun at Faughan Hill has continued as part of the third phase of fieldwork for the Tara Research Project.
Other sites targeted for geophysical survey included the large coastal promontory fort at Drumanagh and the island of Lambay, as well as series of prominent hilltop sites (e.g. Knockbrack, Co. Dublin, and Faughan Hill and the Hill of Lloyd, Co. Meath) suspected on the basis of archaeological, topographical and early documentary evidence to have been important focal centres in late prehistory.
A major report on the project, entitled Late Iron Age and ‘Roman’ Ireland, was published in November 2014 as part of the ‘Discovery Programme Reports’ series. In addition, individual members of the LIARI team have also published on different elements of the project.