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Ben Spillane

Ben Spillane

Ben Spillane (PhD Candidate)

Middle Bronze Age Land-Use in South-East Ireland

Supervisor: Dr Katharina Becker


The Middle Bronze Age (currently defined to c.1600–1150 BC) is an enigmatic and poorly understood period of Ireland’s prehistory, yet recent research indicates it may represent a previously unrecognised peak of economic and social transformation. Traditionally the Middle Bronze Age had only been recognisable through metalwork found in the natural landscape. Its isolation and the general lack of archaeological sites led many scholars to view the period as an ill-defined interval between the archaeologically highly visible and culturally distinct Early and Late Bronze Ages, the latter regarded as the ‘Golden Age’ of Irish Prehistory.

However, datasets generated during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom have uncovered a large body of sites that have transformed our understanding of other periods such as the Late Bronze and Iron Age or the Early Medieval period. Recent work on house and settlement sites shows the unexploited potential for the Middle Bronze Age.

It now appears that this period saw a peak in human activity, matching or surpassing that of the Late Bronze Age, reflected in the palaeoenvironmental record that shows significant woodland clearance and agricultural activity. It may be against this background that significant political upheaval came about at the end of the period.

This project will investigate fundamental questions about the social and economic organisation of this formative, yet misunderstood period, allowing the mechanisms and causes of cultural and economic change during the Late Bronze Age to be fully contextualised. This will be done through an integrated landscape-scale investigation of South-East Ireland; a critical region due to the large number of Middle Bronze Age sites from infrastructural development schemes, juxtaposed with varied topography and landscapes including upstanding monuments such as the hillforts of Co. Wicklow. This will be supported by landscape scale, activity-based Bayesian models that will provide an understanding of the chronological development of the archaeological activity in the study region. Importantly, a number of high-resolution, well-dated palaeoenviromental sequences will allow the creation of fine-grained models of human land-use during the Middle Bronze Age, creating the basis for an integrated understanding of the fundamental economic, societal and environmental changes during this period.

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