This project will explore the creative process involved in the crafting of prehistoric wooden artefacts beginning with the ‘Pallasboy Vessel’, an Iron Age wooden artefact discovered in 2000 in Toar Bog, Co. Westmeath.

Experimental archaeology can tell us what materials and tools were used to craft prehistoric wooden artefacts, but little is known of the experience or process of crafting such objects. Using a detailed and thorough recording strategy, this project will reveal and document a contemporary experience of craft and in doing so provide a new perspective on an ancient creative process.

Aside from high profile finds such as prehistoric ‘bog bodies’, the value and richness of the organic archaeological finds from peatlands are arguably under-promoted and under-appreciated in Ireland. Amongst other significance, this record is critical for our understanding of past creativity and artistic skills, such as those required for the crafting of the remarkable prehistoric ‘Pallasboy Vessel’.

Phase I: The Pallasboy Vessel

Due to its state of preservation, the vessel provides a unique record of the materials and techniques that were used in its construction: it is 1.29 m high, 0.57m wide and 0.49m deep and was carved out of a single piece of alder wood.

The replica vessel was crafted by woodworker Mark Griffiths in 2015 using appropriate replica tools (and contemporary equivalents for comparison). The process of re-creation was documented by a Cork-based archaeologist and photographer Brian Mac Domhnaill. The project is being led and informed by archaeology specialists Dr. Benjamin Gearey and Caitríona Moore and is funded by the World Wood Day Fund via the International Wood Culture Society, whose support is gratefully acknowledged.

Phase II: Anthropomorphic Wooden Figurines

In the second phase of the Pallasboy Project we will be developing and extending our practical and theoretical investigations of creativity, craft and woodworking in prehistory. We will broaden our chronological focus to consider woodworking during the Bronze Age (2500-600 BCE) and our geographical focus to take in a particular form of prehistoric wooden artefact: the striking anthropomorphic wooden figurines recovered from wetland contexts across Europe.

Phase III: Prehistoric Water Craft

In the third phase of the project we will be focusing one Irish example of prehistoric water craft, namely the Lees Island 5 Iron Age logboat, which lies on the bottom of Lough Corrib, Co. Galway. The boat is just one of various sunken vessels that litter the watery depths of the Lough; a remarkable array of watergoing craft from the Bronze Age through to recent times (including the wreck of a Victorian pleasure cruiser!) which have been documented thanks to the work of Karl Brady and Ireland’s Underwater Archaeology Unit.

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