Róisín Nic Cnáimhín

Róisín Nic Cnáimhín

Róisín Nic Cnáimhín (PhD Candidate)

Animals and the Economy of Medieval Ireland: A Zooarchaeological Analysis of the Faunal Remains from Caherconnell Cashel, Co Clare

Supervisor: Professor William O'Brien


This project aims to gain a better understanding of the food economy and farming practices of early (400 –1100AD) and late (1100 – 1550AD) medieval Ireland. With the Anglo-Normans dominating late medieval archaeology there is a significant gap of knowledge surrounding Gaelic sites of this period, raising questions on whether the arrival of the Anglo-Normans caused socio-political changes in the economy of these settlements. This project involves a zooarchaeological analysis of the animal bone assemblage from Caherconnell Cashel, a drystone ringfort which is located in the townland of Caherconnell, Kilcorney parish, the Burren barony, in County Clare. The assemblage has a unique level of preservation, and high quality contextual and dating information. This assemblage is exceptionally large with approximately 42,000 bones. Caherconnell is a rural site of high status and Gaelic occupation, dating to early and late medieval Ireland, with agriculture forming the basis of the site economy. This project aims to understand the agricultural economy of Gaelic settlements in medieval Ireland through analysing the Caherconnell assemblage. This project will analyse the agricultural economy of Gaelic sites, to investigate the role of animal husbandry, hunting and fishing, and the status implications of the assemblage. The assemblage dates to early and late medieval Ireland, with a date range of the 10th to 16th century AD, providing a unique opportunity to analyse developments in the agricultural economy during that period. The economic transition between early and late medieval Ireland is yet to be analysed through Gaelic evidence as the later period has relatively few known settlements of Gaelic occupation. This project is part of a major inter-disciplinary study of Caherconnell, involving a collaboration with N.U.I. Galway with excavations directed by Dr Michelle Comber of the Caherconnell Archaeology Field School. It will contribute to the Burren Archaeological Project, Ringforts and the Settlement Landscape of the Burren in the First Millennium AD . The Burren Archaeological Project is a long-term study on the medieval archaeological landscapes of the Burren with the current phase focusing on the Caherconnell landscape.

The central research question of this research is to gain a better understanding of the agricultural economy of rural medieval Gaelic settlement sites of high status.

The aims of this research are:

  1. To identify the role of animal-husbandry, hunting and fishing at medieval Gaelic settlement and within medieval economy.
  2. Identify changes in agricultural practices between the early medieval period and late medieval period to detect potential impacts associated with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans.
  3. Identify the status implications of species at Gaelic medieval settlements.

The objectives of this research are:

  1. To undertake a comprehensive literature of previous zooarchaeological analyses from medieval bone assemblages to research trends of animal use in medieval Ireland. Undertake zooarchaeological analysis to identify faunal species in the assemblage representative of animal husbandry, hunting and fishing. Use statistics and species ratios to recognize their importance throughout both medieval periods. Analyse those results through the various site contexts and apply this information to the phases of activity and broader chronology of Caherconnell.
  2. Review results through a chronology of medieval Ireland to analyse the transition between the early and late medieval periods and any socio-political changes within the wider picture of medieval Ireland, including those associated with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the later period. Identify any species within the assemblage which were introduced to Ireland by the Anglo-Normans.
  3. Identify species that signify status in medieval Ireland on comparable Gaelic settlements of high status, from zooarchaeological data and the understanding gained from the completed literature review. Use statistics and species ratios to analyse the occurrence of these species, to understand their significance. Use the results to understand the narratives of status in the wider context of medieval economy. Identify broader trends in animal exploitation to construct a history of farming practice and foraging that can be compared to broader socio-political changes.

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