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Environmental Archaeology in Ireland, ED E.M. MURPHY AND N.J. WHITEHOUSE
Oxford: Oxbow. 2007. 327 pp. ISBN 9781842172742 ( 40.00)

This is an exciting time for archaeology in Ireland with much activity resulting from road programmes, many other developments, the Discovery Programme and some major projects brought to fruition. Sixteen chapters each by acknowledged experts explore the key areas of environmental archaeology, broadly defined to include dating, human and animal remains, plants, geoarchaeology and wetlands with a concluding chapter on legislative frameworks. This book is a must for anybody working in Irish archaeology. It provides a no-nonsense guide to the state of the art and best practice, and will be valuable also to those working in other parts of the British Isles and Europe. The development of dendrochronology has been an outstanding success story with wide-ranging implications for many areas of environmental and social archaeology. Tephra studies and insects (including choronomids, non-biting midges) also emerge as areas where important advances are being made. The marine mollusc record from middens is well covered but work on land Mollusca is not, and has been surprisingly little investigated given the extent of such ideal contexts as calcareous dune sediments, marls and shell middens. Land molluscs are of great biogeographical interest relevant to when Ireland became an island. The archaeological significance of the restricted nature of Irish fauna is evident from the contributions on insects, mammals, fish and birds.

Highlights from key recent projects emerge from several essays particularly the important Lisheen Project at Derryville. The achievements of the Irish Archaeological Wetland Unit and the Discovery Programme are likewise evident. The importance of fields buried by blanket peat at Ceide, Valencia and elsewhere is mentioned but perhaps not given the prominence they deserve in a European context. Similarly major developments in the coastal archaeology of Ireland, as illustrated by the surveys of the Shannon Estuary and Strangford Lough, establish the environmental potential of coastal sequences where environmental evidence has so far only been investigated to a limited extent. These projects are, however, of central relevance to fish exploitation but are not mentioned in that context. Ireland enjoys a huge natural advantage in the great wealth of its ethnohistorical record providing complementary perspectives on aspects of plant and animal resources, human-landscape relationships and the perception of place. The complementary nature of environmental, historical and material cultural evidence is illustrated by fishing: historical sources are concerned with high status freshwater salmon fishery, whereas the fishtraps demonstrate the scale of medieval estuarine fishery and the bones from settlement sites identify the wider range of fish species actually exploited.

Several chapters reveal concerns that environmental archaeology has not been carried out on the same scale in Ireland as in some other areas. That situation is changing rapidly but this book also shows that what may be lacking in the quantity of work has very often been compensated by its quality and research focus.

Martin Bell
University of Reading

Review submitted: April 2008

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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