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The Environmental Context and Function of Burnt-Mounds: New Studies of Irish Fulachtaí Fiadh

  • Antony G. Brown (a1), Steven R. Davis (a2), Jackie Hatton (a3), Charlotte O’Brien (a4), Fiona Reilly (a5), Kate Taylor (a6), K. Emer Dennehy (a7), Lorna O’Donnell (a8), Nora Bermingham (a6), Tim Mighall (a9), Scott Timpany (a10), Emma Tetlow (a11), Jane Wheeler (a9) and Shirley Wynne (a3)...
Abstract

Burnt mounds, or fulachtaí fiadh as they are known in Ireland, are probably the most common prehistoric site type in Ireland and Britain. Typically Middle–Late Bronze Age in age (although both earlier and later examples are known), they are artefact-poor and rarely associated with settlements. The function of these sites has been much debated with the most commonly cited uses being for cooking, as steam baths or saunas, for brewing, tanning, or textile processing. A number of major infrastructural development schemes in Ireland in the years 2002–2007 revealed remarkable numbers of these mounds often associated with wood-lined troughs, many of which were extremely well-preserved. This afforded an opportunity to investigate them as landscape features using environmental techniques – specifically plant macrofossils and charcoal, pollen, beetles, and multi-element analyses. This paper summarises the results from eight sites from Ireland and compares them with burnt mound sites in Great Britain. The fulachtaí fiadh which are generally in clusters, are all groundwater-fed by springs, along floodplains and at the bases of slopes. The sites are associated with the clearance of wet woodland for fuel; most had evidence of nearby agriculture and all revealed low levels of grazing. Multi-element analysis at two sites revealed elevated heavy metal concentrations suggesting that off-site soil, ash or urine had been used in the trough. Overall the evidence suggests that the most likely function for these sites is textile production involving both cleaning and/or dyeing of wool and/or natural plant fibres and as a functionally related activity to hide cleaning and tanning. Whilst further research is clearly needed to confirm if fulachtaí fiadh are part of the ‘textile revolution’ we should also recognise their important role in the rapid deforestation of the wetter parts of primary woodland and the expansion of agriculture into marginal areas during the Irish and British Bronze Ages.

RÉSUMÉ

Contexte environnemental et fonction des tertres calcinés. Nouvelles études des fulachtaí fiadh irlandais, d’Antony G. Brown, Steven R. Davis, Jackie Hatton, Charlotte O’Brien, Fiona Reilly, Kate Taylor, K., Emer Dennehy, Lorna O’Donnell, Nora Bermingham, Tim Mighall, Scott Timpany, Emma Tetlow, Jane Wheeler, et Shirley Wynne

Les tertres calcinés, ou fulachtaí fiadh, nom sous lequel ils sont connus en Irlande, sont probablement le type de site préhistorique le plus courant en Irlande et en Grande-Bretagne. Typiquement d’une date de l’âge du bronze moyen ou final (bien que nous en connaissions à la fois des exemples plus récents et des plus anciens), ils sont pauvres en objets façonnés et rarement associés à des occupations. Il a été longuement débattu de la fonction de ces sites, les usages les plus souvent cités étant la cuisson, les bains de vapeur ou saunas, la brasserie, la tannerie ou le traitement de tissus. Un certain nombre d’importants projets d’aménagement des infrastructures en Irlande dans les années 2002–2007 ont révélé un nombre remarquable de ces tertres, souvent associés à des cuves garnies de bois dont beaucoup étaient extrèmement bien préservées. Ceci nous a offert l’occasion de les examiner en tant qu’éléments du paysage en utilisant des techniques environnementales, plus précisément les macrofossiles de plantes, le charbon de bois, le pollen, les scarabées, et les analyses de multiples éléments. Cet article résume les résultats provenant de huit sites irlandais et les compare à des sites de tertres calcinés en Grande-Bretagne. Les fulachtaí fiadh, qui se trouvent généralement en groupes, sont tous alimentés en eau souterraine par des sources, le long des plaines inondables et au bas de pente. Ils sont associés au défrichement de forêts humides à la recherche de combustible. La plupart avait à proximité des témoignages d’agriculture (arable et tous ont révélé de faibles niveaux de pâturage. Des analyses multi éléments sur deux sites révélèrent des concentrations élevées de métaux lourds donnant à penser que des sols venus d’ailleurs, de l’orme ou de l’urine avaient été utilisés dans la cuve. Dans l’ensemble, ces témoignages indiquent que la fonction la plus probable de ces sites était la production de textile incluant à la fois nettoyage et/ou teinture de laine et/ou fibres de plantes naturelles, et comme activité liée à une fonctionalité, cacher nettoyage et tannage. Tandis qu’il est évident que de nouvelles recherches sont nécessaires pour confirmer si les fulachtaí fiadh font bien partie de la ‘révolution textile’, nous devrions aussi reconnaître l’importance de leur rôle dans la rapide déforestation des parties les plus humides de la forêt primaire et l’expansion de l’agriculture dans des zones marginales au cours de l’âge du bronze irlandais.

ZUSSAMENFASSUNG

Der landschaftliche Kontext und die Funktion von Burnt Mounds: Neue Untersuchungen irischer Fulachtaí Fiadh, von Antony G. Brown, Steven R. Davis, Jackie Hatton, Charlotte O’Brien, Fiona Reilly, Kate Taylor, K., Emer Dennehy, Lorna O’Donnell, Nora Bermingham, Tim Mighall, Scott Timpany, Emma Tetlow, Jane Wheeler, und Shirley Wynne

Burnt Mounds oder Fulachtaí Fiadh, wie sie in Irland genannt werden, sind wahrscheinlich der häufigste Fundplatz-Typ in Irland und Großbritannien. Diese fundarmen Befunde datieren meist in die mittlere und späte Bronzezeit (auch wenn sowohl ältere als auch jüngere Beispiele bekannt sind) und stehen nur selten mit Siedlungen in Verbindung. Die Funktion dieser Befunde wird seit langem diskutiert, wobei als häufigste Nutzungen Kochstellen, Dampfbäder oder Saunen, Einrichtungen zum Brauen oder Gerben oder Anlagen zur Textilverarbeitung genannt werden. Eine Reihe von größeren Infrastrukturmaßnahmen in Irland in den Jahren 2002 bis 2007 führte zur Entdeckung einer bemerkenswerten Anzahl dieser Hügel, oft in Verbindung mit holzeingefassten Trögen, von denen viele auffallend gut erhalten waren. Dies bot die Gelegenheit sie als Bestandteil der Landschaft mit Hilfe von naturwissenschaftlichen Methoden zu untersuchen, insbesondere pflanzliche Makroreste und Holzkohle, Pollen, Käfer und multielementare Analysen. Dieser Beitrag fasst die Ergebnisse der Untersuchung von acht irischen Fundplätzen zusammen und vergleicht sie mit Burnt Mounds in Großbritannien. Die Fulachtaí Fiadh, die üblicherweise in Gruppen auftreten, weisen alle Feuchtbodenerhaltung auf durch Quellen oder in Überschwemmungsgebieten oder am Fuß von Hängen. Ihre Auffindung steht im Zusammenhang mit der Abholzung von feuchten Wäldern zur Gewinnung von Brennmaterial. Die meisten Fundplätze lieferten Hinweise auf nahegelegen Ackerbau und alle wiesen Beweidung in geringem Maßstab auf. Multielement-Analysen an zwei Fundplätzen zeigen erhöhte Schwermetallkonzentrationen, was vermuten lässt, dass herbeigebrachte Erde oder Asche oder Urin innerhalb der Wanne genutzt wurde. Insgesamt legen die archäologischen und naturwissenschaftlichen Daten nahe, dass die wahrscheinlichste Funktion dieser Fundplätze die Verarbeitung von Textil ist, einschließlich der Reinigung und/oder dem Färben von Wolle und/oder von natürlichen Pflanzenfasern, sowie die Reinigung von Fellen und das Gerben. Zwar sind weitere Forschungen notwendig um zu bestätigen, ob die Fulachtaí Fiadh Teil der „Textilrevolution“ waren, doch sollte ihre Bedeutung auch in Bezug auf die schnelle Entwaldung der feuchteren Bestandteile von Primärwald und die Expansion von Ackerbau in marginale Gebiete während der irischen Bronzezeit gesehen werden.

RESUMEN

El contexto medioambiental y la función de los túmulos quemados: nuevos estudios en los Fulachtaí Fiadh irlandeses, por Antony G. Brown, Steven R. Davis, Jackie Hatton, Charlotte O’Brien, Fiona Reilly, Kate Taylor, K., Emer Dennehy, Lorna O’Donnell, Nora Bermingham, Tim Mighall, Scott Timpany, Emma Tetlow, Jane Wheeler, y Shirley Wynne

Los túmulos quemados, o los fulachtaí fiadh como se conocen en Irlanda, son probablemente los yacimientos arqueológicos más comunes en Irlanda y Bretaña. Generalmente se datan en el Bronce Medio-Final (aunque se conocen ejemplos más antiguos y posteriores), son pobres en material arqueológico y pocas veces están asociados con asentamientos. La función de estos sitios ha sido ampliamente debatida siendo los usos más citados los relacionados con el procesado de alimentos, con baños o saunas, con el destilado, o con el curtido o procesado de textiles. El desarrollo de las infraestructuras en Irlanda durante los años 2002 y 2007 reveló un elevado número de este tipo de estructuras asociadas a depresiones delimitadas con maderas, muchas de las cuales están excepcionalmente conservadas. Esto ofreció una oportunidad para investigar estos sitios como elementos del paisaje empleando técnicas medioambientales -específicamente macrorrestos vegetales y carbón, polen, escarabajos y análisis multielemental. Este artículo presenta los resultados de ocho sitios documentados en Irlanda y los compara con los conocidos en Gran Bretaña. Los fulachtaí fiadh que aparecen generalmente agrupados están alimentados subterráneamente por manantiales, en las llanuras de inundación o al pie de laderas. Están asociados con el desbroce de bosques húmedos para la obtención de combustible reflejando evidencias de una actividad agrícola cercana y niveles bajos de pastoreo. El análisis multielemental en dos yacimientos reveló un elevada concentración de metales pesados sugiriendo el empleo de tierra, de ceniza o de orina de fuera del yacimiento en la fosa. En general, esta evidencia sugiere que la función más probable es la relacionada con la producción textil incluyendo la limpieza y/o el tinte de lana y/o fibras vegetales y, por tanto, una actividad funcionalmente relacionada con actividades de limpieza y teñido de pieles. A pesar de que se requiere un mayor número de investigaciones para confirmar si los fulachtaí fiadh tuvieron un importante papel en la "revolución textil" debemos reconocer su importancia en el rápido proceso de deforestado de las zonas húmedas de los principales bosques y en la expansión de la agricultura en las áreas marginales durante la Edad del Bronce en Irlanda.

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