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The Changing Fieldscapes of Loughcrew: New Insights from Airborne Lidar

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Part of the Themes in Contemporary Archaeology book series (TCA)

Abstract

Loughcrew (Co. Meath, Ireland) is famous for its passage tombs, but it is also a landscape with well-preserved multi-period relict field systems. Over 150 km of ‘field ’ boundaries have been revealed by the Loughcrew Landscape Project’s airborne lidar survey. This complex of overlapping boundaries can be disentangled by considering the relationships between boundaries and also their relationships with prehistoric monuments and early medieval sites. Through such an approach, a sequence emerges which suggests that the earliest phase(s) of field system are most likely prehistoric in date . Later phases are likely to be medieval or more recent, but dating of such features remains challenging in general.

A striking observation is that the Loughcrew fieldscape has been repeatedly, and radically, altered: in some places the shape, orientation, size and regularity of the boundaries have been completely reorganised three or four times. Some boundaries such as the linear feature which appears to predate the Loughcrew “Cursus” are long and winding and do not enclose a defined space; such boundaries are not archetypical field demarcations.

Integration of the lidar evidence with historic mapping (from the late eighteenth century to the present) has allowed the impact of more recent landscape changes to be evaluated. Although the twentieth century saw a radical reorganisation of land tenure and the fieldscape , it is the developments of the first half of the nineteenth century which have affected the preservation of earlier boundaries most dramatically.

The extensive nature of the relict field systems challenges monument-based management strategies. The area has seen widespread development in recent years with many individual new houses being built scattered across the landscape in addition to a small number of larger developments. Many of the dispersed new buildings are in areas which include relict field systems. It is not proportionate to register all 150 km of features recorded as being instances of the monument class “field system”. However, the ongoing piecemeal development does have a potentially significant cumulative impact on the prehistoric fieldscape and this needs to be considered carefully.

Keywords

  • LiDAR
  • Historic mapping
  • Loughcrew
  • Ireland
  • Field boundaries

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Fig. 9.1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    Information from the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENVision project. http://gis.epa.ie/GetData/Download Accessed 8th August 2012.

  2. 2.

    Soils and subsoils data generated by Teagasc with the co-operation of the Forest Service, EPA and GSI. Project completed May 2006. http://gis.epa.ie/GetData/Download Accessed 8th August 2012.

  3. 3.

    This is not a henge in the sense of a circular bank with internal ditch, rather it consists of a subcircular bank with upright stones set in it – for a further discussion of the forms of Irish henges see Condit and Simpson 2010.

  4. 4.

    Available from http://downsurvey.tcd.ie/

  5. 5.

    See also AHN038–039, AHN049–051, APE048–051, AJZ081, previews available from http://www.cambridgeairphotos.com/

  6. 6.

    Stone ringfort.

  7. 7.

    Although now constrained by modern farming, some sections of this stream appear from their unstraightened form to be approximately in their natural location.

  8. 8.

    Available from http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/

  9. 9.

    Ordnance Survey Ireland orthophotography available from https://www.osi.ie/services/mapgenie/

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Acknowledgements

The lidar and vertical photographic surveys, ground-truthing fieldwork and geophysical investigation were funded by Irish Heritage Council Archaeology Scheme grants (12334 in 2004 and 14052 in 2005). Fieldwork was greatly helped by Ciaran O’Reilly and the support of current users of the landscape . The encouragement of the conference organisers and the helpful comments of the referees have also significantly improved this paper.

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Roughley, C., Twohig, E.S., Shell, C., Swanton, G. (2021). The Changing Fieldscapes of Loughcrew: New Insights from Airborne Lidar. In: Arnoldussen, S., Johnston, R., Løvschal, M. (eds) Europe's Early Fieldscapes . Themes in Contemporary Archaeology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71652-3_9

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