Achill Island, home for the summer

Achill Island. Stunning, barren, centuries-old landscape with sweeping views of endless sea. Located in the beautiful County Mayo region on the Western coast of Ireland known as the “Wild Atlantic Way”. I often ask myself how people find out about secluded places like this (and even San Juan Island for that matter) and it really only takes hearing of it once. I heard about Achill from someone on my previous archaeology field school in 2009. Their description of the mountains, sparse houses, crashing waves and rich history clearly had me intrigued –and still, 9 years later– so when I decided to pursue archaeology again, this was the obvious choice as a location to refresh my skills.

I’m here for a total of six weeks working with thirteen other archaeology students/trainees at the Achill Archaeology Field School. This school is highly rated on the AIA (Archaeology Institute of America) website which is geared toward active students and recent grads….likely the reason that I’m the oldest one in the group. Well, not the oldest one in the group, but the oldest staying in the accomodations house (one other student who’s a couple years older than me isn’t staying at the field school house). I mention the age thing because I honestly forgot what it was like to be a teenager (the youngest two are both 16)/college student and now being immersed in that environment on a 24/7 basis, I am quickly reminded. There are twelve of us staying here, three bathrooms and one communal kitchen. Without going into obvious detail, all I can say is: Thank you Mom for teaching me to be a tidy individual and to Aaron, I’m sorry for ever leaving a dirty dish in the sink. {insert “forever grateful” emoji here}

The field school itself is comprised of a small lab with about 10 computers and a lecture room housed in the adjacent house next to our living quarters. The school is situated right on Dooagh Beach (“Doo-ahh”) an is about a 20 minute drive north to our archaeology site, a 40 minute walk each way to nearby Keel (a convenience store we can get to on weekends) and about an hours drive from Westport, the nearest train/bus depot. We work out on the excavation site Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with lecture/lab/field trips on Wednesdays.

Image via Ultima Thule

Our site of excavation is located at Caraun Point aka Tóin an tSeanbhaile (Gaelic), close-ish to the small village of Dugort (and when I say village, I mean one coffee shop and an art studio). We leave the house weekdays at 9am sharp in a transit bus over Caruan Point and are dropped off for the day until 5pm. We all share moving all of our survey/dig equipment from a small storage shed near the road across the field to our excavation site on the edge of the cliffs. Two “tea breaks” and a lunch are worked into the day, and I have to pack for all 4 seasons, as the weather changes constantly throughout the day (really wishing I snagged a rain cover for my backpack before I left!)

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The shell midden trench located on the cliff edge of Tóin an tSeanbhaile

We are currently working on two “trenches”; one is a possible 17th century settlement house, the other is a shell midden. I am currently working in the shell midden, working layer by layer to analyize remnants of both shell and bone, trying to piece together what types of items people ate (and threw away–you can tell a lot by someone’s trash heap). So far we have found MANY shells, a piece of [hopefully dateable] glass, some animal bone, and possibly some evidence of a hearth. The midden is trench is being run by a PhD student from UCC, Cari Howle, who is passionate about shell middens and is moving to Cork in the fall from South Carolina. Ireland sure draws people from all places, there is a man here from the Netherlands, one student from China, and the rest of us are all from the US (Connecticut, South Carolina, California, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey).

Achill is known for its beauty and beaches and is a common weekend trip for those that live in County Mayo. Activities include kite surfing, biking, swimming, hiking, and of course, attending all the random events that Achill has to offer like ‘Dooagh Day” and the Irish National sheep dog competition (this weekend!) Its been nice to walk around Keel on the weekends, or go sit at our little beach in Dooagh in the mornings/evenings with a cup of tea. I’m hoping to make it to Galway again this trip and also over to Keem Bay (a 1.75hr walk each way) to swim in the shallow beach and hope to see a basking shark which are common here on Achill.

 

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Our group on a field trip Wednesday hiking up behind the historical Achill Mission in Dugort, Achill Island.

I’ll be sharing updates from the dig, and more about Achill each week as its already week three of six! Time flies when you’re having fun!

 

 

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