A St. Louis professor believes he has finally discovered his lucky pot of Irish gold after 13 long summers at an archaeological dig in Co. Roscommon.
St. Louis University history professor Thomas J. Finan has visited the same remote field called Purt Na Carce (“Port Nah Carr-rick”) in Co. Roscommon, 60 miles north of Galway, every summer for over a decade, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that he finally made the discovery that made it all worthwhile.
“I think we hit the jackpot,” Finan told The St. Louis Post Dispatch, shortly after returning to the US following his thirteenth summer in Ireland.
“Our dig produced some pretty clear evidence. We’ve managed to build the skeleton, and now we can start filling that skeleton out.”
Proudly wearing a Roscommon hat! pic.twitter.com/81VHqFt3yN— Thomas Finan (@tjfinan) May 28, 2014
The skeleton Finan refers to is not exactly what you might think. The Roscommon site didn’t reveal human remains of our ancient forefathers, but the skeleton of a town dating to a time when it was believed the Irish did not build such things.
Speaking in 2013, Finan, the Associate Director of St. Louis’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, had previously explained his beliefs that Purt na Carce could reveal a secular Irish settlement dating from 1200, which would contradict previous assumptions that the Irish of that time did not live in communal settings but as Nomads. Although certain Irish cities such as Dublin and Waterford may predate this time, they were founded by Viking settlers and not by the native Irish themselves.
“In 2013, we were excited about finding this town, but it was pretty much supposition on our part,” Finan continued.
“But now we have clear evidence that this was an important market town, a town engaged in the industrial market, metal-making and grain-processing, and trading with the English.”
The findings at the dig could also reveal how Ireland was affected by global climate change as far back as 1200.
Ambassador O'Malley gave great address. pic.twitter.com/NtsKnMU8SM— Thomas Finan (@tjfinan) May 14, 2016
Such was the success of the last few months of the dig that the excavation site has garnered interest from the US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley, who is from St Louis, and from the St. Louis Higher Education Channel, which spent a month filming with the archaeological crew as they hit the jackpot.
They may not have seen gold, however, as to their untrained eyes, the importance of Finan’s discovery was not always so clear.
“They’d look at us and wonder what we were getting so excited about. I think they were waiting for us to pull up some golden chalice,” Finan said.
“But it’s actually more like pieces of unprocessed bronze, pollen, seeds and insects.”
The documentary makers also found themselves battling the elements and Ireland's geography. The crew had to persevere through some pretty rainy weather during the month they spent with the dig while the lack of cell service and good quality, high speed WiFi meant they were essentially cut off from the rest of their workloads.
“It rains a lot in Ireland, and even [natives] said it was awfully rainy. It rained every single day,” said Kathy Bratkowski, producer of the HEC documentary.
“So that was the challenge.”
“There’s no Wi-Fi and very little cell phone reception, so checking emails and voicemail was a big problem,” she continued.
The documentary, with its rough working title “The Irish Dig,” is planned for release early in 2017, no later than St. Patrick’s Day, according to Bratkowski.
We are smiling because of the aerial survey-wow. The SLU-NUIG partnership at work! pic.twitter.com/gP9mcQE84d— Thomas Finan (@tjfinan) July 1, 2015