• Name: Paul McLerran
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Solving the Mysteries of Achill

It is a comparatively stark, yet rugged and beautiful landscape, totally surrounded by water. Long a tourist destination off the west coast of Ireland, Achill Island harbors some fascinating archaeological sites. Recent research has focused on ancient and historical remains that characterize the significance of Achill's highest peak, Slievemore Mountain, dominating it's surrounding environs at 2,214 feet. Human occupation is evidenced here going back over 5,000 years, to Ireland's Neolithic period. It's southern and eastern slopes are dotted by a series of megalithic tombs and curvilinear field walls. Toward the western end of the mountain are a series of Bronze Age stone platforms and roundhouses. On a lower slope location lie the remains of a historical settlement known as the Deserted Village of Slievemore, an assortment of rectangular houses of dry stone construction. Like an Irish ghost town, it is thought that these haunting yet fascinating remains testify to a traumatic period in the island's history. Continuing archaeological investigation and documentation will shed further light on this in years ahead.

In the summer of 2010, archaeological research on Achill Island will continue under the auspices of the Achill Archaeological Field School, a well-known and highly regarded field school that has, since 1991, trained thousands of students from all over the world. Investigations will focus on three sites: Round House 2 on Slievemore; a late Medieval house at Keem Bay; and a hut at Annagh Booley Village. Round House 2, a Bronze Age site, consists of a circular platform and a substantial dry stone wall and elaborate orthostatic entrance. Was it used for domestic or ritual purposes? Answering that question is a primary objective of the excavation. Excavations of the house at Keem Bay is expected to reveal more about the age and nature of the structure, and help solve the mystery behind the abandoned village of which it was a part. The village settlement is known to have been occupied as late as the early 19th century.


Are you interested in making a difference in the research and gaining quality, hands-on training in archaeological field work? You can do this by going first to the
Achill Archaeological Field School website to learn more about the work, the opportunity, and how to apply. Students obtain credit for the program through the National University of Ireland, Galway, and the coursework includes practical training in excavation methodology, artifact identification, surveying, measured drawings, sampling and analysis, and recording archaeological and architectural features. The field school experience aside, the natural island beauty and the unique cultural taste of the area alone are well worth the trip!

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Digging Megiddo: The Archaeological Jewel of the Ancient Near East

When James Michener wrote his famous bestselling novel about an archaeological excavation, The Source, he had one true-life excavation in mind as his source of inspiration -- the landmark work that was taking place at Tel Megiddo. Reality trumps fiction at this imposing mound in the Jezreel Valley of Israel. Occupying a highly strategic spot along the critical north-south military and trade route that linked Egypt in the south with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia in the north and east, it's location played host to epic battles and ancient successive occupying powers.

Megiddo's rise to prominence began in the late 4th century, B.C., as arguably the most powerful Canaanite city-state in Northern Canaan. Recognizing it as a prospective and important strategic addition to his expanding empire, the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III led a campaign to acquire it with military force, defeating the Canaanite army there and establishing it as an Egyptian province. It is the earliest known recorded descriptive account of a major war in antiquity. Megiddo fell again to other succeeding military powers, including Joshua of the Biblical account, the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak, the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III, and, again from Egypt, Pharaoh Necho. According to the Biblical record, Solomon re-built Megiddo and made it the center of one of his royal provinces of the United Monarchy. It is now, as Michener related about his fictitious excavation site in The Source, an ancient layer cake of civilizations going back in time to the first attempts at urban living in this part of the world. This ancient layer cake has been the subject of systematic excavations and study since 1903, when the first series of excavations were carried out under Gottlieb Schumacher of the German Society for Oriental Research.

During the summer of 2010, Directors Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University, along with Eric Cline of the George Washington University, will continue excavations of the Tel. They are calling for a team of volunteers and students to help them uncover more of the site and to assist them in their ongoing analysis of the finds and features recovered from the excavation. The effort will be organized in two sessions: June 12 -- July 1; and July 3 to July 29. All participants will have the option to register for college credit coursework designed specifically to draw from the special activities and environment connected to Megiddo. The first course covers Megiddo and the archaeology of Israel, the second, methods and techniques of field archaeology, and the third, the connections between the Aegean and the Levant during the Bronze and early Iron ages. Each course is worth 3 credit hours. For participants who would be attending the excavations solely as volunteers, there are certain lectures that still must be attended in order to learn how to handle finds properly.

If you are interested in learning more about the Megiddo excavations, the coursework and how to apply, more detailed information can be found at the website.