Friday, September 19, 2014
Letter from Ireland: Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh
Versions of the same Bronze Age structure pop up all around Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom. Archaeologists, however, still have not agreed on their purpose.
On a typically misty morning in the west of Ireland, just outside the medieval town of Athenry, County Galway, archaeologist Declan Moore opens the trunk of his car and invites me to pull on a pair of Wellingtons. “Believe me, you’ll need them,” he assures me as we cross the parking lot and hop a fence into a nearby field.
Moore is taking me to visit an unexcavated fulacht fiadh (pronounced FULL-ahk FEE-add), or fulachtaí fia in plural, the most common type of prehistoric archaeological site in Ireland. Better known as a “burnt mound” in the neighboring United Kingdom, where they are also found, there are nearly 6,000 recorded fulacht fiadh sites dotted around Ireland alone. As we trudge through the wet and soggy field, Moore points out a small stream. “They are usually found near water or in marshy areas, so this is a prime location,” he explains.
When we arrive at the site, Moore shows me the basic features of a fulacht fiadh—a horseshoe-shaped mound of soil and rocks surrounding a depression big enough to park a small car in. Moore climbs the four-and-a-half-foot mound and quickly wipes away some of the soil to expose the layer of stones. He then points to the depression. “If we were to excavate, we’d find a trough dug into the ground there,” he says. It takes us only 15 minutes to fully explore the still-buried site.
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