The Iverni Project


Prehistoric Transitions Research Projects


The Iverni Project: Exploring the Bronze Age/Iron Age Transition in South-west Ireland

leader: Professor William O’Brien

Funded by a major thematic project grant from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and by excavation funding from the Royal Irish Academy.

Archaeologists have always viewed the Iron Age in Ireland, from around 500 BC to the fifth century AD, as problematic. This is especially true for the south-west region where there is a sparse distribution of monuments and artifacts characteristic of this period. Material culture with obvious links to the continental Celts is absent, most notably the La Tène metalwork art forms that appear elsewhere in Ireland from around 300 BC. The image of an 'empty landscape' at this time stands in marked contrast to a highly visibly record of Bronze Age settlement in this region, and an equally rich archaeology for the early Historic period.

The absence of a significant La Tène in south Munster has raised questions as to the precise nature of Iron Age settlement in this region.  Recent discussion has focused on the possibility of a non-La Tène Iron Age, marked by significant continuity from the indigenous Late Bronze Age and a low archaeological visibility in material culture terms.  Dr William O’Brien has recently established a research programme to explore different aspects of the Iron Age in south-west Ireland. A starting point has been to consider the religious outlook of these communities through their attitude to older Bronze Age monuments on the landscape. A second approach here is to examine direct evidence of Iron Age settlement and economy through the evidence of ancient field systems (The Beara Project). Thirdly, the process of 'becoming Iron Age' in Ireland is generally associated with a significant transformation in social organisation and landscape perception, changes in settlement that had their origins in the Late Bronze Age. This may also be true for the south-west region where the appearance of hillforts in the first millennium BC suggests fundamental changes in society. The investigation of hillforts in their contemporary cultural landscapes is a third important element of this research programme. Cashel hillfort in mid-Cork has been chosen for detailed excavation in coming years.

The distinctive character of the Iron Age in south-west Ireland probably derives from a Bronze Age substrate and the way that people living in Cork and Kerry during the late first millennium BC interpreted this heritage. This project is examining themes of continuity from the Bronze Age against the emergence of a new settlement landscape and cultural values that were partly shaped by external influences.

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