SECTION 2 : MULTI-PERIOD SITES
Mary G. O’Donnell
Archaeology by its very nature is complex and the evolution of the footprint of our antecedents on the landscape allows for variable interpretations. Stratigraphic sequences on ‘typical’ archaeological site types more often than not raise more questions than answers. The majority of sites are multi-period, be it a site such as Moynagh Lough, Co. Meath, which has evidence for Mesolithic and Bronze Age activity pre-dating the early medieval crannóg or an excavation in Dublin City where evidence for Viking and Anglo-Norman occupation is followed by sequential deposits perhaps up to nineteenth century levels.
It is this complexity in the archaeological excavations discussed below that has resulted in many sites being catalogued by their most prominent archaeological period, for example Simonstown, Co. Meath is referenced under Early Medieval ringforts despite having evidence for pre-ringfort activity dating back to the Neolithic and later re-use in the seventeenth and centuries. The longevity of use of a site may sometimes result in the diminution in the importance of earlier levels and later phases may then appear in the archaeological record to be the most dominant use of the site. Although placing excavations in particular site types and time frames is unavoidable for the purposes of this publication it should not detract from the importance of all levels of archaeological material recovered.
For these reasons the completion of post-excavation work and final publication of the results, be it as a monograph or as an article in a journal, is essential. The interpretation of archaeological levels is best carried out when all the specialist information, stratigraphic analysis and dating is completed and the excavator can establish a sequence of events that can be open to further archaeological discourse. Once in the realm of public knowledge the complexity of multi-period sites can be constantly reassessed in the light of the most recent research and information. Publication itself is a preservation of the site whereby the site record is available although the site itself may have been removed from the landscape.