Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Environmental archaeology: standardisation of approaches in the Republic of Ireland

Dealing with disparate datasets
During recent years, I have been involved in several major research projects that undertook analysis of archaeobotanical data from large numbers of excavations. These projects include “Cultivating Societies”, “EMAP” and my current postdoctoral project. In each project, I tracked down individual excavation reports that contained relevant archaeobotanical data. I then entered the archaeobotanical data into a project database, which allowed me to analyse the data in more detail and build up the ‘big picture’.

Unfortunately, I have found that there is no standardised approach towards environmental sampling and reporting of archaeobotanical data in Ireland. This has resulted in difficulties for me and other researchers trying to compare disparate datasets.

Standardisation: new environmental guidelines
In order to address this problem, I have been working with the National Roads Authority in Ireland to develop guidelines on the retrieval, analysis and reporting of palaeoenvironmental remains recovered during archaeological excavations on road schemes. The NRA is the largest procurer of archaeological services in the Republic of Ireland, and the new guidelines will be implemented on their projects. The guidelines enable a standardised approach, ensuring that palaeoenvironmental work conforms to the best professional standards, and is focused on achieving high-quality and scientifically meaningful results.

The guidelines focus on certain categories of remains, including plant macro-remains, charcoal, wood, pollen and insects. The guidelines were written by me and a colleague, Dr Ellen O Carroll, who is an expert in charcoal, wood and pollen analysis. Contributions on insects were also provided by Dr Eileen Reilly.

Workshop to explain guidelines
In order to introduce and explain these new guidelines to colleagues, Dr O Carroll and I will be leading a workshop next week entitled “Implementation and operation of NRA palaeoenvironmental sampling guidelines”. The workshop will form part of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme developed by the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland; the CPD programme helps to maintain and broaden the skill base and standards of professional archaeologists in Ireland. Further information on the workshop can be found here. Hope to see you there!