Thriving ancestors enjoyed hearty diet

By david looby

Published 27/08/2016 | 00:00

Dr Ben Gearey, Lecturer, Archaeology, UCC; Dr Katharina Becker, Lecturer, Archaeology, UCC and Declan Ryan of Arbutus Bread recreate Iron Age bread-making. Photo: Tomás Tyner, UCC
Dr Ben Gearey, Lecturer, Archaeology, UCC; Dr Katharina Becker, Lecturer, Archaeology, UCC and Declan Ryan of Arbutus Bread recreate Iron Age bread-making. Photo: Tomás Tyner, UCC

OUR Iron Age ancestors had an iron-rich diet, which included pork, beef and bread, a new report has found.

The UCC-led project, which is the first of its kind of Ireland, has witnessed a team of international archaeologists unearthing evidence of the food people ate in County Wexford and across the south east during the Iron Age.

Dr Katharina Becker, Lecturer in Archaeology at University College Cork, told this newspaper that archaeology digs have been or will be taking place along the routes of the Enniscorthy and New Ross bypasses and along the new natural gas pipeline from Great Island to Wexford town.

Dr Becker said: 'There is so much material. It's incredibly rich and we are very excited about it. We have already analysed a lot of material, which includes material from housing estates, and will be analysing material frm the natural gas pipeline in the coming months. Our specialist is looking at the sites and we are complimenting that with environmental studies.'

The findings unearthed from excavations, from animal bones to seeds, reveal the food grown and cooked in Ireland over 2,000 years ago and have now led to its experimental reconstructions of Iron Age cuisine.

'We have identified evidence of settlement, as well as arable and pastoral agriculture, indicating that communities were thriving in the southeast of Ireland. The apparent lack of archaeological sites dating had previously created mystery around this period. The animal bones and seeds provide direct evidence of farming practises and the diet during the Iron Age, dating as far back as 2,700 years ago. Cattle and pigs provided dairy and meat, barley was a staple, and we also have evidence of a variety of wheats, including spelt, emmer and naked wheat.'

Bread making and cooking techniques will also be unearthed as part of the Heritage Council-funded Settlement and Landscape in Later Prehistoric Ireland - Seeing Beyond the Site project.

Phase 1 of the project covered Waterford and Kilkenny, and Phase 2, which is already under way, is focused on Carlow and Wexford. To carry out the investigations UCC's specialists in Later Prehistoric archaeology and palaeoecology joined forces with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, which is financially supporting the project, and an international research team comprised of specialists from Bradford University, Warwick University and UCD.

Applying cutting edge modelling techniques, data are being examined against the evidence from the study of pollen records preserved in lakes and bogs in the south east. The team joined up with artisan baker Declan Ryan of Cork's Arbutus Bread and experts from the Cork Butter Museum and Cork Public Museum to investigate and recreate how farmers turned raw ingredients into delicious meals during Ireland's Celtic era.

Wexford People

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