home / History / Archaeology

Archaeology

Our archaeology collections offer a window into the past by studying objects, the remains of settlements and monuments to the dead. These tell the story of how people lived, worked and treated their ancestors, from prehistory to medieval times.

Prehistory

Prehistory refers to a time long ago when as far as we know, people could not read or write. To help us understand what life was like at this time, we need to examine objects and look for clues.

Early Medieval Ireland (400—1200AD)

Saint Patrick is believed to have brought Christianity to Ireland. With Christian teaching came writing and for the first time there were accounts of news and events as they happened. Churches and monasteries became the focus of people’s lives and fine metal objects, such as the Clonmore shrine, were designed for use in church ceremonies. Most people lived in farms known as raths. In a few places such as Armagh, others began to settle in towns.

The Vikings shattered this religious way of life. They swept down from Scandinavia landing along the coast. Their shallow longships penetrated far inland by river. They ransacked monasteries and pillaged raths. Eventually they began to settle, trading and building homes. Dublin was their main port.

This period of calm did not last long as new wave of invaders were ready to land.

Late Medieval Ireland (1200—1600 AD)

In 1066 the Norman (French) king, William the Conqueror, famously defeated English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. England became a Norman kingdom.

Just over a century later, in 1169, these Anglo-Normans began an invasion of Ireland. They built strong stone castles as symbols of power to help control the local population. Carrickfergus Castle is a good example of such a stronghold. It made Carrickfergus the most important town and trading port in the north of Ireland.

Their presence was resisted b the older, Gaelic way of life. Fighting would continue between Irish chieftains and English lords for the next five centuries. Typical weapons and armour of this period include helmets, swords, and crossbows.

Despite this ongoing conflict, trade flourished as seen in the greater number and variety of coins.