Autumn 2012 Volume 26 No. 3 Issue No. 101





06 A font of majuscule proportions at


09 Obituary—Etienne Rynne

10 Cherrymount crannog, Fermanagh

13 Laser scanning at Brú na Bóinne

16 Trapping witches in Wicklow


19 Steam engines make a comeback

23 Buttevant Friary and its crypt

26 Once upon a time in the west...

30 Death by nostalgia


34 Know your monuments: Henges

38 Harping on at Kells Priory

41 Revd Naylor’s desecration


48 Review: The archaeology of medieval Europe




04 News

07 Net news

08 Quote…unquote

42 Events

43 Book news

50 Hindsight


Cover photo: Cairn B, Carrowkeel. (Photo: R. Hensey.)

CURIOSITY Edmund Burke once said that ‘the first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is curiosity’. It could be said that curiosity drives inquiry and contributes to the thirst for knowledge.

It is ironic that Neil Armstrong, the man who left the first footprint on the surface of the moon, died at a time when further landmark achievements are being made in space exploration. His small step onto the lunar surface on behalf of mankind has left an indelible and inspiring message for modern-day earthlings. In one space mission not only was our curiosity as to the nature of the moon satisfied but we also found out what could be achieved when the collective inquiring mind was brought to bear on the numerous challenges posed by lunar exploration.

Curiosity might be the phenomenon that brought about the demise of the proverbial cat, so maybe it is not such an unusual name for NASA’s new rover. It is remarkable that only 51 years after the first manned space flight NASA have managed to deliver Curiosity, a remotely operated vehicle, to the surface of the planet Mars. The exploration of Mars at a distance of 225 million kilometres on average from earth is indicative of the lengths to which we are prepared to go to satisfy that emotion.

It is also amazing that within hours of a complex landing the camera on Curiosity beamed back stunning images of the Martian landscape. We almost forget that the delivery of such imagery is an amazing achievement in its own right, and NASA’s sharing of these pictures with the world is to be commended. Initial pictures show a deserted reddish, vegetationless, geological paradise with hills, valleys and exposed stratigraphic layers. For the first time, high-resolution images will allow scientists to sit back (richly upholstered easy chairs aid cogitation!) and carry out analysis at their leisure.

Whatever about the geological structures of the Martian landscape and its morphological development, the simple question that still dominates scientific and popular thinking is focused on finding evidence for previous life forms and how they may relate to us. By contrast, our own landscapes on Earth are brimming with indications of life, past and present, and evidence for the activities of its life forms. As archaeologists we are curious about our own species: where it came from, how it organised itself, what it has achieved and why it exists. The quickly changing physical and political environments ensure that evidence for previous generations can seem almost as alien as the much-sought-after extra-terrestrial kind.

On Earth and in Ireland the evidence for previous generations is a lot closer. It could be in the neighbouring county, parish or townland. We are lucky that these days we have many new and exciting methods of archaeological investigation. Not only should we be careful to preserve the evidence that is the target of our investigations but we should also address and communicate the reasons for our curiosity, the catalyst for our archaeological pursuits.

Renowned scientist Albert Einstein put it nicely when he said ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing’. Cleverly, Einstein did not say what that reason is, but it is something we should be keen to find out.

Tom Condit