John Ó Néill

Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, 2 Killiney View, Glenageary, Co. Dublin, Ireland (



The following is a proposed strategy for integrated palaeoenvironmental research of Fulachta fiadh.


Fulachta Fiadh are the most widespread prehistoric monuments in Ireland, yet their function and relationship with settlement is not fully understood. Little integrated research has been done on fulachta fiadh specifically addressing the question of the micro-environmental context of these site within the broader Late Neolithic/Bronze Age landscape. A brief strategy to examine the potential information recoverable from these sites is outlined below.


Fulachta fiadh are generally defined as being spreads of heat shattered stone which accumulate from boiling water in a pit (or trough) located in the immediate vicinity. During the final use of most fulachta fiadh, the trough, which appears to be re-dug each season or phase of use, is deliberately back-filled with the burnt material which accumulated as by-products of heating the stone. As the trough would be kept relatively clean during use, and would be cleanly re-excavated before each use, an intact silt layer present in the base potentially contains a micro-fossil record relating to the short period in which the trough was open.


Examination of the palynology and palaeoentomology of the silt layer may produce a series of results that can be integrated to provide information in a number of areas.

The isolation and identification of lipids within the silt layer would also give an indication of function, such as animal fats from boiling haunches etc.


Seasonality: careful reading of seasonal pollen and micro-faunal indicators may identify the season when the trough was open.


Function: the identification of animal fats, by species, through lipid analysis, may identify if cooking is taking place, and also identify the meat types. Similarly stenotopic micro-faunal indicators may also suggest cooking or other activities in the immediate locality.


Micro-environment: the snapshot nature of the palynology may shed light on the immediate environment of the trough, with particular emphasis on grassland and cereal pollen. Cross-comparison with charcoal identifications will provide a very general background to the period of use. This will give some form of impression of the local tree cover and use of open ground in the immediate area.


While specialists have been sourced to carry out analysis on samples for most of the disciplines involved, it has as yet proved impossible to find someone who can recommend both a sample strategy (in terms of volume) and explain the limitations of the approach. For instance, can lipids, extracted from such a sample, be identified to species level, and if so, how (this would be the basic requirement, if function is to be suggested)? Anyone who could shed light on the subject can contact me at the addresses provided above.