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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Significant grant will help discover our Celtic roots

Published: 18 August 2015
Professor Brown and team

Geography and Environment at Southampton has received significant Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding to explore ancient lake settlements (crannogs) in Scotland and Ireland.

The £727,000 AHRC grant is one of the largest ever received by Geography and Environment and will allow Principal Investigator Professor Tony Brown and his team to expand on research carried out by one of their PhD students Thierry Fonville.

Thierry’s research focused on expanding knowledge of these crannogs by tapping into the environmental history locked within the sediments of the lakes in which they were built.

By analysing the remains of algae and plants that have accumulated in these sediments, as well as the sediment chemistry, he discovered that the prehistoric Scottish crannogs were probably not occupied for long periods of time, sometimes less than three generations, while the early medieval Northern Irish crannogs appear to have been occupied for longer.

The AHRC-funded project will build on Thierry’s work and aims to discover more about these Celtic crannogs and their influence on our landscape today.

Tony explained: “Crannogs show a distinctly westerly distribution. There are none in England, only one in Wales but are common in Scotland (400) and in Ireland (1,000). Being under water these sites can have remarkable preservation of perishable artefacts, but because they are rarely in the path of development few have been excavated. However, many are under threat from erosion, pollution and natural decay.

“The recent discovery of a crannog with near-perfect preservation of artefacts due to road construction at Enniskillen, in Northern Ireland, and another superbly preserved wetland village at Black Loch of Myrthon, near Dumfries, in Galloway, Scotland, offer rare glimpses of their archaeological potential.”

Postdoctoral research assistant Dr Maarten van Hardenbroek said: “In order to understand more about the heritage of common lake settlements and why and how these sites fit into the emerging Celtic landscape we still see today, we need to know more about the chronology, longevity, intensity of use, and environmental context of these enigmatic sites.”

The three-year project will see researchers from Southampton working with previous Southampton PhD students who are now at the universities of Newcastle and Plymouth, as well as colleagues at AOC Archaeology, Historic Scotland and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Maartin said: “This project takes to a new level previous research that developed a new methodology for remote sensing crannog construction and inhabitation. The new funding will allow us to go a lot further in applying these techniques alongside a new generation of bioarchaeological methods and will allow us to learn more about these sites, our Celtic roots, and how long these crannogs were in use.”

Thierry added: “This AHRC funding provides an exceptional opportunity to further develop our understanding of these typical occupation sites in Ireland and Scotland and their impact upon the lakes in which they were built. Through the addition of advanced new techniques such as ancient DNA and biomarkers and the examination of a new set of lakes, the wealth of information that was unlocked from the lake sediments during my PhD can be expanded upon.”

For more information visit

Exploring the stratigraphy of sediments
The team at Black Loch of Myrthon
Cults Loch - Scotland
Excavation work
Reconstructed crannog
Llangorse Lake - Wales
Northern Ireland
Crannog at Lough Yoan
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