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Muireann Ní Cheallacháin

Muireann Ní Cheallacháin

Muireann Ní Cheallacháin (PhD Candidate)

Climate change and Coastal Heritage:
An assessment of the impact of sea erosion on Coastal Promontory Forts in Ireland

Supervisor: Dr. Ben Gearey


Muireann Ní Cheallacháin


There is a growing body of research which suggests that climate change will impact negatively on cultural heritage resources. Due to the probability of increased coastal erosion it is widely agreed that there is an immediate necessity to find solutions, in order to understand current coastal erosion processes, preserve the scientific information inherent in coastal archaeological sites affected by these processes and plan for future vulnerability.  The main aim of this research is to assess, for the first time, the scale of the problem of coastal erosion on archaeological heritage in Ireland, with specific reference to coastal promontory forts. The main objectives are to evaluate the techniques used to quantify past coastal recession and heritage loss as well as techniques used to predict future losses and to incorporate all known information on coastal promontory forts in a centralised database. Sustainable management of coastal heritage necessitates an understanding of the significance of individual sites within a broader understanding of the monument type. A review of current research into coastal promontory forts reveals that they are not very well understood, either in Ireland or abroad therefore another objective of this research will be to critically analyse current classifications, assumptions and interpretations of this monument type and to assess the means of ranking or prioritising individual sites in terms of their significance and vulnerability.

I will create shoreline migration and erosion prediction assessments in GIS by overlying various datasets including ortho-rectified photos, topographic maps and geological maps. Topographic and geophysical survey will be undertaken at six case study sites as well as a photogrammetry series. A GIS analysis of all the primary and secondary data will produce a robust assessment of heritage loss and future threats and vulnerability.  This can then be used to inform long term proactive heritage management strategies.

The scale of the problem of climate change impacts on coastal archaeology in Ireland has not yet been assessed at a site specific scale and therefore there is an urgent need for proactive vulnerability assessments and future risk models such as will be produced from this research. This project will also use the opportunity of new fieldwork to gain a better understanding of an important monument that ‘by their very nature, are constantly being eroded by the action of the waves’ as T.B Barry noted in 1981.

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