28 March 2018

Brian Boru didn’t save Ireland from the Vikings

Gee, I just told my wife a couple days ago that Brian Boru saved Ireland from the Vikings, and now this comes up.

This article from the Irish Times was no doubt written to promote a book recently published by Prof. Howard Clarke, whose comments are prominently featured herein. Prof. Clarke makes many contentions, which I doubt the archaeology folks will buy into, but hey, we know they are a close-knit group that doesn't care what the unwashed masses think about the findings from their chosen field.

I certainly agree with Clarke's contention that the TV program Vikings is mental bubblegum -women warriors in the line of battle - yeah right. The producers of that fantasy got almost nothing right about the Vikings, but the general public neither knows nor cares what is and what is not, historically correct. 

And, the toy boat mentioned in the last paragraph: the authors statement that the hole on the left side was for the steering board is incorrect. The steer board - the origin of the word starboard - was always on the right side, stern of the ship. It's okay, the TV program Vikings, got that wrong, too.

But, given all that, the article is interesting, providing you are into interesting articles. (Ed.)

History exaggerated the Battle of Clontarf – one of many misconceptions about Vikings
Sat, Mar 24, 2018, 05:00

A long boat at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway
We know it all about the Vikings. We’ve seen the TV series; we’ve had the craic on the Viking Splash tour. We’ve seen the scrap of Viking wall in Dublin; we’re outraged that those barbarians almost destroyed our Viking heritage in Wood Quay in the 1970s.

Think again. The TV series is “mental bubblegum”. The idea of carting people wearing horned helmets around the city in an amphibious vehicle is a distorted version of reality. Not that any of this bothers Howard Clarke, who gently twinkles at the accepted perceptions of Vikings, and is on board with lots of them.

A gorgeous new book, Dublin and the Viking World, introduces readers to the period when Dublin became Ireland’s first fully functioning town. Written by Prof Clarke, a director of the Medieval Trust (the parent body of Dublinia, the Viking and medieval museum near Christchurch, Dublin) and formerly a historian at UCD, Sheila Dooley who was curator and educational officer in Dublinia, and Dr Ruth Johnson, city archaeologist for Dublin City Council, it will be published just after Easter weekend’s first Viking festival, hosted by Dublinia.

“Vikings,” says Clarke, “have an air of romance about them, rightly or wrongly. I mean, they were brutes, but nevertheless, like cowboys and Indians they attract romantic ideas. It’s hard to see why; a psychologist might know. I think it’s an interesting mix of violence combined with opportunism, leading to trading and settling.

“The three key themes to Viking world are raiding, which is how we think of them, trading – they exchanged goods, including slaves – and, thirdly settling down in certain parts of western Europe, most spectacularly in Iceland, Greenland and very briefly in north America.”

Two sagas
North America? Yes, says Clarke, there’s a well excavated site with authentic Viking finds called L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, which most experts accept represents a stopover on Viking exploration of North America, and two sagas also refer to it, calling it Vinland because wild grapes – or something that looked like them – grew there.

It’s an example of the romanticism Clarke is talking about, and also one of the surprising things many of us don’t know, or get wrong about, the Vikings.

We know one of the popular representations of Viking – that they wore horned helmets – isn’t true. Well, not strictly untrue, actually. There was horned headgear in Scandinavia, Clarke says, though this is likely to have been related to ritual, the headgear of some sort of priest or shaman, “rather than for men in fighting mode, where the horns would have been an inconvenience” he says, wryly.

The big surprise for us is that Brian Boru didn’t actually save Ireland from the Vikings, and the prevailing wisdom about the Battle of Clontarf is based on propaganda.

“The significance of the Battle of Clontarf has been misunderstood in Ireland. People have relied too heavily on a 1867 translation into English from an early 12th century propaganda text in Middle Irish, produced in Munster (Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib, or The War of the Irish with the Foreigners).”

Originally written a century after Clontarf at the behest of Brian Boru’s great-grandson, Muirchertach, who was king at that time, to bolster his grandfather’s reputation, “it distorted the situation,” says Clarke, and “uses inflated language to exaggerate the reputation of Brian Boru for political gain at the time”.

After it was translated into modern English (by scholar James Todd in the 19th century) the popular conception of the Battle of Clontarf took hold.

Munster army
Clontarf was fought by a Munster army under Brian Boru against a Leinster-based army with Dublin allies; the Leinster men were rebelling against the Munster men. Besides, “the Leinster lot had some Dublin Vikings on their side. And Brian Boru had Vikings from Limerick and Waterford.”

The idea that Brian Boru saved Ireland from a Viking conquest is “completely false”, says Clarke. “There was never any possibility Vikings would have been able to conquer or even thought about conquering Ireland. There were never enough Vikings in Ireland to do this, and there were far too many Irish kingdoms – maybe 150 political units, all with armies – to defeat.”

The TV series has renewed interest in Vikings, but Clarke says he gave up watching it after an early scene where a chieftain’s wife is sword fighting a man on a beach. The dramatic licence offends his historian sensibility.

“It is inconceivable that women fought alongside men in Viking times. No text mentions or even implies it. Women did all sorts of things, but they didn’t fight with swords in battlelines.”

He mentions, in a mildly amused way, a recent episode which featured “Vikings in North Africa riding camels across the desert”.

He doesn’t seem to have anything against The Vikings, per se, but he calls it “mental bubblegum”.
“It’s a clever series, a mix of reasonably authentic information derived from historical records and archaeology, and pure invention.”

Native Irish women
Far from Viking women sword fighting on beaches, the Vikings brought few women to Ireland, says Clarke. (We know this from grave goods evidence, and records in the sagas). But they formed relationships over time with Irish women, as wives, concubines, and slaves. “They depended on native Irish women for all the reasons men want women.”

Women had a very productive role. And although the word “craftswoman” is rare in English according to the OED, women and girls had an enormous range of practical skills. This is illustrated, says Clarke, in an early Irish text dealing with the entitlements of a divorcee, all related to her role as a maker of linen garments.

“And women were valued as slaves precisely because they were presumed to have a useful range of practical skills around the farm and household, not to mention anything to do with sex.”

Few Norse women travelled as far as Ireland, but some finds in Scandinavia of Celtic artefacts from the time were religious objects – presumably looted from monasteries – remodelled into jewellery, suggesting that one of the motives for Viking raids was gold and silver to bring back home to be recycled as trinkets.

Another myth is that the Vikings “founded” Dublin. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to the book.

“The word ‘founded’ suggests a sudden act of enlightenment, for which there’s no evidence,” says Clarke. “Dublin developed as a town only gradually, reaching that stage in the mid-10th century, about a century after the initial settlement recorded in the annals under the year 841.

“This was based on two pre-existing Gaelic settlements, Ath Cliath and Dubhlinn. The Vikings adapted the name Dyflinn for their settlement near the black pool,” on the site of the Dubh Linn Garden (now behind Dublin Castle), where Vikings moored and repaired their boats.

Dublin and the Viking World is handsomely illustrated and accessible, drawing on a tremendous amount of research. Clarke makes the point that it represents “the best possible attempt anyone can make to demonstrate the nature of a major Viking settlement anywhere in Europe”.

An artist’s impression of Fishamble Street in Dublin in Viking times
“This is because of the evidence for Viking settlement in writing [in the Irish Annals and elsewhere] and in the archaeology is far superior in Dublin to any comparable Viking sites.”

In Scandinavia the three main Viking trading settlements of Kaupang (Norway), Hedeby (then in Denmark, now northern Germany and called Haithabu), and Birka in Sweden are known for their marvellous archaeology, but Viking age written records in Scandinavia are fragmented and scarce. Ireland was Christian and literate, so we know much more about Viking Dublin from the Irish Annals, compared to other Viking sites.

So while Clarke modestly says perhaps a better book could be written, “it would never be possible to write a book like this about other sites – in Dublin we have the best possible vision of what a Viking settlement looked like”.

In the heart of Viking Dublin, at the Wood Quay amphitheatre over Easter, a European Viking spectacle promises to enliven the 21st century city. Joining the international show will be Irish drumming students from BIMM. But, but... do we know, were there really Viking drummers?

“Not that I know of,” smiles Clarke. There is evidence of Viking whistles made of bones, “but a drum is a fragile thing and wouldn’t have survived. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have drums. Most cultures have produced an instrument with a drum-like sound. It sounds like a fun show, though I can’t attest to its authenticity. But I’m just a boring academic!”

Dublin and the Viking World by Howard B Clarke, Sheila Dooley and Ruth Johnston (published by O’Brien Press on April 16th, €12.99 /£11.99)

Easter weekend will see a new – and benign – Viking invasion of Dublin, with the first VikingFest, centred around Dublinia and Wood Quay, celebrating the cultural and historic impact of the Vikings.

Part of a “borderless tourism” project, Creative Europe Follow the Vikings, and “working with our international partners we have created the Follow the Vikings roadshow which travels to 12 important Viking heritage sites across Europe”, including Dublin and Waterford, says Dublinia director Denise Brophy.

Dublinia’s Viking and Medieval Experience, the not-for-profit education and research organisation in Dublin city, has built the festival around the live audio/visual/theatrical outdoor spectacle centrepiece Follow the Vikings.

Follow the Vikings: 10th century Icelandic warrior-poet Egill Skalla-Grímsson inspires a contemporary representation, drawing on Norse mythology. Includes BIMM drumming students under the guidance of top session musician Dave Hingerty. (Wood Quay amphitheatre, Saturday, March 31st, two 45 minute shows, 8.30pm and 9.45pm. Free ticketed event, book at dublinia.ie).

Vikings ships: Dublinia and Lakes Vikings (who supply Viking longboats for the TV series) will have long ships and Viking warriors at Wood Quay over the weekend, with a full Viking long ship grounded and on display. “Vikings” talk about life 1,000 years ago, “warriors” demonstrate fighting techniques with axes, swords, shields and spears. March 31st , April 1st, 11am to 4pm.

Living history: Viking weaponry, coin-minting and crafts from Viking life in Ireland c. 795 - 1171. Swords, shields, spears, bows, and axes and tactics to use them; domestic Viking goods; coin-minting, tablet-weaving and braid-making. Plus Living history re-enactments. Dublinia, March 30st-April 1st.
Discounted admission to Dublinia over the weekend. Details at: dublinia.ie
The Viking Festival and Roadshow Veðrafjorðr (aka Waterford) is also on over Easter weekend, with two performances of the Viking roadshow on Easter Monday.

What did the Vikings look like?
We can guess at their appearances from statues and other representations of, mostly male, Vikings. They would have had beards and moustaches because shaving on long boat journeys would have been impractical. “They would have been rather hairy, and the statuary is consistent with that.”
Clarke mentions strange haircuts in the TV series, with short sides – “a bit like Kim Jong-un”, which he considers unlikely.

Living in fear: We don’t know how many Vikings were in Ireland, but we know they were fearsome warriors and the prospect of raids terrified people, as seen in the fear and dread of a monastic community, written in the margins of a Co. Down manuscript:
The wind is rough tonight/ Tossing the white-combed ocean/ I need not dread fierce Vikings / Crossing the Irish sea

English has lots of words of Viking origin: “kn” words such as knife; “ransack” (Old Norse rannsaka); “leg” (leggr); “skin” (skinn).

Old English was Freond but modern spelling of friend is nearer to Old Norse frændi (Old Norse was a Germanic language, as is English).

Not many Viking words crop up in modern Irish, but the Irish for market – margadh – is from old Norse Markardr, indicating how strong trading was.

Place names: Waterford and Wexford were settlement sites. Howth doesn’t seem to have been; Dalkey may have been a slave-holding centre (annals for the year 939 have a story that an abbot drowned attempting to escape the island where he was captive). Leixlip is the only purely Norse name, apart from the River Steine that gave rise to the Long Stone (steinn is the Old Norse word for “stone”). Hybrid place-names such as Ballally would have been invented by the Irish.

The Viking legacy is seen in logos such as AIB’s and curiously, the SS symbol. Bluetooth is a Viking name (probably of a person with a blackened tooth).

A toy boat from Christchurch Place, Dublin. The hole towards the left is where the steering board was attached, while the hole in the prow may reflect the common practice of towing a smaller vessel containing provisions behind the main ship on long voyages.

03 March 2018

Digging into the past reveals Cork settled much earlier than thought

Ireland continues to be a treasure trove for archaeologists. Every time new construction begins in a city, it seems that Viking artifacts are uncovered. 

In this instance the city is Cork, and the city's history is uncovered just beneath its current streets. 

In addition to Viking artifacts, other items were unearthed dating all the way to the 17th century.(Ed.)


Monday, January 29, 2018 - 12:00 AM

Wooden floors uncovered by excavation work on South Main Street suggests urban planning arrived in Cork earlier than we thought, writes Niall Murray.

One of a sequence of house floors dating from 1070 to 1120. Picture: Maurice F. Hurley
 While political rows rumbled last year about the lack of building work on a site crucial to Cork’s future development, experts were busy taking advantage of the chance to shine a light on 1,000 years of the city’s past.

What the archaeologists found on the old Beamish & Crawford brewery site will help add detail to the city’s history and its people. From the lives of early Viking settlers on the marshy islands in the late 11th century, to the glass, brewing and other uses of the last two centuries, archaeologists have found evidence of many little-known aspects. Probably the most notable of these from a historic point of view was the unearthing of what is now Cork’s earliest known formal urban layout.

The dog-leg angle found by archaeologists is visible just below and left of centre of this 1690 map of Cork City. Picture: Corkpastandpresent.ie
A few metres behind the railings and palm trees that line the more northerly end of the 3.5-acre site’s South Main Street, they revealed the floors of a row of houses that once lined the earliest town of Cork’s main thoroughfare.

This part of the site is in line to be developed for student accommodation as part of BAM’s overall plans to develop an events centre and other mixed commercial elements. It got planning permission in 2010 for the wider project, but funding uncertainties and plans for changes to the mix of uses have seen little construction work, although moves on the student accommodation zone has started in recent weeks.

The requirement for deeper excavations for a basement car park in that area of the site meant the archaeologists got a rare opportunity to dig to some of the deepest layers.

There was already an understanding from testing for the site owners in 2010 that this was likely to be the most archaeologically valuable portion of the brewery plot. Because archaeology below most other areas had been damaged by cellars and basements associated with industrial use, the street-fronting area’s occupation by houses until the mid-20th century meant there was a much better chance of evidence of Cork’s earliest citizens surviving there.

This stone door lintel with the words God Save flanking a Tudor rose, is from the second half of the 16th century and was found above the ground where 11th-century Cork homes previously stood. Picture: Maurice F. Hurley
The resulting focus on that stretch of ground did not disappoint, beginning with foundations of stone houses, most of them dated to the 18th century but some from the 1600s.
“Those houses were effectively the type, or similar to them, that still front that side of South Main Street,” said lead archaeologist on the project, Maurice Hurley.
Those existing properties face the modern Bishop Lucey Park and, alongside it, Christchurch which is now part of the Triskel Arts Venue. Mr Hurley speculates that some of the 15th and 16th-century church architecture used in their foundations, such as parts of arches, could come from the rubble of a predecessor Anglo-Norman church at the same location.
“We know there was a Gothic church that was demolished before the existing Christchurch was built in the 1720s,” he said.

It was below the foundations of those stone houses that some of the real highlights emerged during last year’s excavations of the Beamish & Crawford site.
Below at least five levels of houses built over several centuries on the same plots, the team found the floors of 19 wooden houses from the earliest period of Cork being inhabited as a town.

Crucially, the scientifically proven dating evidence from timber in one of them places that first phase of construction to the 1070s.

This is 30 years older than previous evidence-based dating of other homes excavated inside the boundary of the medieval walled city.

During digs between 2003 and 2005, for example, on the old Sir Henry’s and car park sites closer to the River Lee’s south channel, houses were dated from pottery and a door jamb timber to the early decades of the 1100s.

What can be conclusively stated now is that houses fronted the street — with which the wider South Main Street now lines up nearly 950 years later — in a formalised urban layout as early as 1070.

Survey of the Cork city wall in progress. Picture: Maurice F. Hurley

But while this could be as much as a decade earlier than the oldest positively-dated dwelling in a formally laid-out Waterford for 1080, this does not mean Cork’s urban settlement was earlier.

“In Waterford, there are two levels of houses that predated that level, but for which no date was obtainable. It looks like the sequence of occupation was beginning 25 to 30 years earlier in Waterford,” Mr Hurley said.
“It’s a particularly ‘chicken and egg’ situation in terms of our overall understanding. But I believe formalised urban layout in Waterford is slightly earlier,” he said.

With undated but clearly earlier evidence of street-fronting formal layout, he says Waterford can relax about any suggestions of Cork claiming an older urban heritage.

These dates are all still after the Vikings had arrived and plundered the south coast to begin what we now know as the Hiberno-Norse period.

But, Mr Hurley explains, the concept of formalised urban layouts is a later phenomenon.
“We’re told in the old annals that the Vikings arrived and plundered Cork. But those first people were making a fortification, they were not coming and founding a town right away,” he said.

The late 11th-century homes exposed at South Main Street were simple one-room single-storey dwellings, whose thatch roofs were supported on four posts inside the structure, somewhat like the legs of a table.

When this main living space became inadequate, workspaces or extra accommodation for extended family were added in smaller buildings to the rear.

The archaeologists uncovered the small paved yard around which such smaller buildings would have been added to one of the houses.

Mr Hurley and fellow archaeologist Alan Hawkes will outline the findings from the excavations in a free public lecture at the monthly winter lecture for the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in the Crawford Art Gallery next week. As a former city archaeologist whose work on other medieval Cork excavations has been published in the society’s journal, he said it was the appropriate place to present details of the latest insights into medieval Cork.

Just as he did on previous excavations of the old town and city, Mr Hurley and his team uncovered more parts of the walls that were a vital part of the city’s defence from the late 1100s until after the 1690 Siege of Cork.

While nothing really new about their construction was learned, the work confirmed an unusual kink in the line of the western wall, near where the river turns south for a short distance at Clarke’s Bridge.
“The wall is running north-south, and then suddenly changes angle, as shown in many historic maps,” Mr Hurley said.

But rather than being the result of repairs after any breach or other damage, he said this section was very well built with finely-cut stone that suggests the use of a master mason. While the inside of the wall was in remarkable condition, the outer face was removed, either by drainage work in the 1980s, or possibly in damage from some earlier period.
Some aspects of the historic heritage of the site will be reflected in the proposed development of the large city-centre plot.

While the developers BAM have come in for criticism recently over a proposed reduction in the heritage space to feature in the middle section of the site, Mr Hurley said the firm provided every facility required for his excavations without question.

With those supports, whatever eventually gets built on the old Beamish & Crawford brewery grounds has given the first chance to uncover what lies beneath from South Main Street all the way back to the western city wall.

Maurice Hurley and Alan Hawkes will give a lecture on the excavations to the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. The free public event takes place in Crawford Art Gallery at 8pm on Wednesday, February 7. www.corkhist.ie

Cork’s oldest church emerges from beneath brewery

Almost within the shadow of Cork’s St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, archaeologists last summer found what are probably the oldest remains of a church in Cork, writes Niall Murray.

The foundations of St Laurence’s Church being excavated last year, with the 1600s Elizabeth Fort and the 1879 St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in the background. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
The survival of remains of St Laurence’s Church was quite a miracle in the view of lead archaeologist Maurice Hurley, referring to damage below ground on the site by various drainage schemes.

His excavation team faced the further challenge that the church was not in the area suggested by annotation to a 19th-century map of the Beamish & Crawford brewery, which stood on the same location until its demolition recently.

But they still managed to unearth significant parts of the foundation below that of a 19th-century malthouse, as well as other medieval stone walls and a paved laneway in the same area near the River Lee’s south channel.

Questions remain, however, about the possibility of a predecessor church that may have been the private chapel of Cork’s last Viking ruler.

Cork historian Henry Jefferies has suggested the site was originally that of a church dedicated to St Nicholas, used as a private chapel by the last local leader of the late Hiberno-Norse period when the Irish and Viking families had inter-married.
The clear evidence from the archaeology last summer was that the stone church the project found was built in the 13th century. This makes it an Anglo-Norman construction, built some decades after the occupation of the city by forces who killed local leader Gilbert Mac Turgar in an 1173 sea battle near Youghal and captured the city in 1177.
“The Hiberno-Norse were weakened, and I do think what we found may be later than that,” Mr Hurley said.

Dating evidence is difficult when the only archaeology is stonework. But pieces of pottery from south-west France found in the mortar of the church have been dated to the 13th century, ruling out the possibility of it being from the late viking period of Cork’s history.

Although the western wall does not survive, it would have measured around 34ft x 14ft, its size suggesting it too was a private church.

“There were no burials here, it wasn’t a public place that had a parish priest, so maybe a private chapel throughout the entire period of its use,” Mr Hurley said.

This belief is strengthened by the absence of any known records of a parish of either St Laurence or St Nicholas in the medieval city.

Of particular interest, however, is the dedication to St Nicholas of a church constructed not far outside the old city’s southern boundary, just off where Cove Street stands today near lower Barrack Street.
“It’s likely that when the Hiberno-Norse people were expelled that they took this dedication to St Nicholas with them,” he said.

With no proof from the excavation that what was found was the first church on the site, it can not be ruled out that a St Nicholas church once also stood there when Cork was dominated by Vikings and their descendants.

Dig reveals the glass factory that dominated the skyline of 19th-century Cork
The story of how cut-glass was made by one of Cork’s three manufacturers over 200 years ago will be clearer thanks to recent excavations, writes Niall Murray.

The 18th-century foundations of the Cork Glass Company under excavation. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
The team that worked on the northern end of the Beamish brewery site dug down to the stone foundation of a cone-shaped furnace that dominated the south of the city’s skyline for nearly 150 years.

Although it was not demolished until 1915, however, the Cork Glass Company which made and exported its wares from the site had ceased operation by 1830.

The cone of the Cork Glass Company’s furnace on Hanover Street dominated the 19th-century skyline of Cork’s south inner city, as seen in William Roe’s 1844 drawing. Picture: Cork Public Museum

Maurice Hurley explained how the project he oversaw exposed around two metres of stone-built foundations for the cone that once stood around 25 metres above the ground. While it was around 14 metres in diameter at its base, it narrowed to just five metres at the top.

The Cork Glass Company was established in 1782, its brewer owners taking advantage of nearby river quays already in use by the city’s numerous brewing and malting operations to land coal.

The recent excavations found how the central furnace was fed with that coal by a mechanised railway line system, and the cinder residue from the process was removed through vaulted passages.

“There were vast amounts of cinder from firing, and huge samples of half-melted bits of glass. They also made vast quantities of bottles, so a lot of what was found is the waste from the process,” Mr Hurley said.

Mr Hurley said this element of the excavation on the Beamish site was very informative and there is potential for a scholar to study and analyse the material and the site reports.

Two Cork Glass Company decanters with moulded target stoppers with another decanter.

Finer examples of the highly-decorated and distinctive decanters made by the Cork Glass Company — or from the Waterloo glass factory that overlooked nearby Clarke’s Bridge at Wandesford Quay — can make thousands in auctions.

The archaeological work on the site will prove highly valuable to those interested in the processes involved in creating those beautifully hand-crafted works.
Artefacts aid knowledge of Viking Cork

The day-to-day life of Viking and early Norman Cork can be better understood from artefacts found last year in different layers of the city’s archaeology, writes Niall Murray.

The 11th-century wooden Viking weaver’s sword found on the Beamish Crawford site. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
Just like the hundreds of finds from the past decade’s digs on the opposite side of South Main Street, the utilitarian items shine a light on how our ancestors lived, cooked, travelled, and their engagement with spirituality and ceremony.

The most visually stimulating is probably the 30cm wooden Viking weaver’s sword, which has already been in the public spotlight. When it was shown to the Norwegian ambassador to Ireland at Cork Public Museum last year, photos that accompanied news reports attracted marvel around the world at the craftsmanship of the carving over 1,000 years ago.

However, more everyday items help paint a picture of the implements used by ordinary citizens of Cork over many centuries of the town’s earliest existence.
Among them are a collection of items found in the lower levels of wooden houses excavated near the frontage of South Main Street, where the earliest known urban layout near the Lee has been discovered.

“There is a great range of spoons, ladles, buckets, horse trappings and other such items, and many of them are decorated with scratches or etchings,” said consultant archaeologist Maurice Hurley.

Among the horse-related items is a wooden harness bow, used to guide reins, from the late 11th or early 12th century.

A harness bow from the late 11th or early 12th century found during South Main Street excavation. Picture: Maurice F Hurley
The sad fate of some of the houses being burned down led to items being charred, but the organic and aerobic conditions have aided their preservation over the intervening centuries.

One of the rarer artefacts to emerge from the soil near South Main Street was a metal spoon, naively but intricately depicting a woman holding up a dog. Mr Hurley said the spoon, made of pewter or copper, is from the 13th century or possibly the late 12th century when Cork had only recently been conquered by Norman invaders.

A 13th-century pewter spoon decorated with the symbolic image of a dog. Picture: Maurice F Hurley

“The only one like it has been found in a town in Poland, this was either a wedding gift or a christening spoon. These spoons would have been personalised for the recipient, and very significant to the owner,” he explained.

Many items of the period had important symbolic meanings, and in this case the dog was probably used as a symbol of fidelity.

Another 13th-century artefact, but not quite so rare, was the pilgrim badge from the shrine at Canterbury to 12th-century martyr St Thomas Becket. This item was made around 100 years before Geoffrey Chaucer penned his famous The Canterbury Tales about pilgrims making their way from London to the same place.

Pilgrim badge from Canterbury, 13th century. Picture: Maurice F Hurley

“This is something somebody brought back to Cork from pilgrimage to Canterbury. It appears to symbolise Becket coming on a boat from France to England,” Mr Hurley said.

Thomas Becket was archbishop of Canterbury when he was killed by knights in 1170 — soon before control of Cork was to pass from Hiberno-Norse to Norman hands.

The English town became a centre of pilgrimage, and badges like this were worn not just as souvenirs but to spare pilgrims from robbery as it denoted they were on a sacred mission.

Such relics are not uncommon in Ireland, as a similar Canterbury pilgrim badge was excavated in Dublin. There are also records of Waterford people travelling to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, pre-dating the modern Irish walkers and cyclists who flock to the destination by around 600 years