As defined in the Heritage Act, 1995, archaeology is an area that looks at the human past by examining evidence from the historic environment, artefacts, monuments, buildings, landscapes and seascapes:
'[Archaeology is] the study of past human societies, either as a whole or of various aspects of them, through the material remains left by those societies and the evidence of their environment, and includes the study of, searching and prospecting for archaeological objects, monuments, buildings, or parts of any buildings, habitually used for ecclesiastical purposes, landscapes, seascapes, wrecks, and climatological, ecological or pedological factors which may be relevant to the understanding of past human societies or the distribution or nature of any of the foregoing…'
The Heritage Council is a major source of funding for archaeological research projects in Ireland and seeks to promote best practice in all matters archaeological, in keeping with the terms of National legislation and international best-practice.
What is Archaeology?
Humans have occupied Ireland for the past 10,000 years, leaving us with a rich legacy of archaeological monuments and landscapes. These landscapes are important, as they are often the only record left by past generations of their achievements and daily lives, much of which was lived at a time without written records.
Archaeology studies the human past through the monuments and physical traces in our landscape, the artefacts left behind by past generations, and traces from the environmental record. Today’s archaeologists work closely with experts in other disciplines — environmental scientists, surveyors, planners and historians, as well as physicists involved in radiocarbon dating.
Archaeology in Ireland is a subject of great public interest, especially for local communities. It is also an academic subject taught and debated in our universities. In recent years, economic growth in Ireland has seen a dramatic increase in archaeological investigations. These have resulted in many exciting discoveries about how people in ancient Ireland lived their lives.
Get Involved in Archaeology!
Archaeology is not just for experts. Since Ireland has roughly 130,000 known archaeological monuments, it is vitally important that local communities are involved in protecting and understanding our archaeological heritage. Although archaeologists have a good knowledge about Ireland’s archaeological monuments, it is likely that there are significant numbers of unknown archaeological sites on our landscape. And some of these may only be discovered by local communities appreciative of their value and role.
You could help to trace the historical development of our landscapes using historical sources, folklore, early maps and photographs. Using the Discovery Series 1:50,000 maps, you can locate known archaeological sites to visit (sites on private land should only be visited with the permission of the landowner). The best way to get involved is to join a local archaeological and historical society and seek to learn more about your own region’s archaeological heritage. You could also enroll in local adult education classes in Archaeology which are provided by Universities, Institutes of Technology and other centres - you might even become a professional archaeologist yourself!
The Heritage Council seeks to promote best practice in all matters archaeological in keeping with the terms of: the National Monuments Acts, 1930-2004; the European Convention on Archaeological Heritage (Valetta); the European Landscape Convention (Florence); and through dialogue with various professional bodies such as the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland, the European Association of Archaeologists and ICOMOS.
Heritage Council publications encouraging best practice have covered areas such as urban archaeology; the treatment of human remains; aerial archaeology; the care of historic graveyards; as well as the use of conservation plans for medieval urban defences and medieval rural settlements. The National Monuments Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has day-to-day responsibility for the management and regulation of our archaeological heritage.