Wednesday, 21st December 2011
Nine thousand years of Waterford and Kilkenny’s history presented in a new book
Have you ever wondered what the Waterford area looked like 9000 years ago when the first humans arrived on the banks of the mighty River Suir? A new book, Cois tSiuire - Nine Thousand Years of Human Activity in the Lower Suir Valley, sets out to answer this and many other questions about the lives of our ancestors who have lived alongside the Suir (Cois tSiuire).
The book and an accompanying CD present the results from over sixty significant archaeological excavations on the route of the N25 Waterford City Bypass in Waterford and Kilkenny. The construction of the bypass led to the excavation of previously undocumented settlement, burial, industrial and ritual sites. The excavations revealed that humans have lived in this part of the Lower Suir Valley for at least nine thousand years. Over these nine millenia our ancestors participated in or witnessed the introduction of agriculture, the first use of bronze and iron, the conversion of the population to Christianity, the early depredations of the Viking raids and the subsequent establishment of permanent settlements like the one uncovered at Woodstown and the coming of the Anglo-Normans.
The fully illustrated publication contains summaries of each of the sites written by the archaeologists who dug them. These include the almost 6000 year-old settlements of the first farmers at Granny, Newrath and Bawnfune. Early Bronze Age (approximately 4000 years old) cemeteries uncovered at Newrath and Rathpatrick are described, as are Middle Bronze Age houses found at Adamstown and Newrath and a contemporary ritual site at Kilmurry. The discovery of a 2500 year-old Late Bronze Age sweathouse or sauna at Rathpatrick was a startling find, suggesting that our prehistoric forebears were more sophisticated tahn we might often think them to be. The earliest evidence of iron smelting in south-east Ireland was found on a site at Newrath dating to the Iron Age over 2000 years ago. There is also an account of the construction and use of the early seventh-century AD vertical watermill at Killoteran, the earliest such mill yet identified in Ireland. The archaeology of the Waterford Bypass is best known for the discovery of the internationally significant enclosed Viking settlement and grave at Woodstown. Some of the artefacts from this site have recently been put on permanent display by the Waterford Museum of Treasures in Reginald’s Tower and an account of the site and its extraordinary finds are provided in the book.
The excavation reports are complemented by a series of overviews by specialists which summarise the evidence for environmental change in the Lower Suir Valley (Scott Timpany), the manufacture and use of prehistoric stone tools (Peter C Woodman) and prehistoric pottery (Eoin Grogan and Helen Roche) and the documentary evidence for Viking activity and medieval settlement in the hinterland of Waterford City (Margaret Murphy, Anne Connon and Jim Galloway). In the introduction and substantial concluding chapters the editors have provided an overview and assessment of how the information from these recent excavations has changed our understanding of the prehistory and early history of the Waterford area.
It is estimated that some 450 generations have lived and died in the Lower Suir Valley in nine thousand years. Some of them, for example the earliest hunter-gatherers left barely a trace; others, like the first farmers clearing the woodlands for their fields had a big impact on the landscape. Some of them experienced periods of dramatic climate change that affected their way of life. Some communities built large and impressive monuments, such as the defended Viking settlement at Woodstown, in other periods all that remains are the holes in the soil left after the posts that supported their simple wooden houses rotted. The cumulative evidence gathered together in this book demonstrates that from the earliest times the Lower Suir Valley was home to vibrant communities who were outward-looking and dynamic and who benefitted from the natural advantages provided by the by the varied landscapes and resources available Cois tSiuire.
Cois tSiuire is edited by two Waterford-based archaeologists James Eogan and Elizabeth Shee Twohig. It has been published by the National Roads Authority. It is available from the Book Centre shops in Waterford and Kilkenny and from Wordwell Books (www.wordwell.com ) and costs €25. It will make an ideal gift for anyone interested in the rich archaeology and history of Waterford and its hinterland.
Cois tSiuire means 'beside (or alongside) the Suir'. The phrase is used in the title of an Irish folk song Cailin o Chois tSiuire me(I am a girl from the Suir-side). This song may have been heard by William Shakespeare in Elizabethan London given that one of the characters in Henry V (act 4, scene 4) is believed to employ a version of the phrase in mocking a captured French soldier.
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