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About the Field School

Dooagh panorama

The Achill Archaeology Field School has now celebrated over three decades as a Training School for undergraduate and graduate students

The Achill Archaeological Field School, founded in 1991, is a training school for students of archaeology and anthropology and is an accredited Field School of the University of Galway (formerly NUI Galway). Our mission is to promote the discipline of archaeology through academic and field-based study programmes for national and overseas students that combine in-depth hands-on training with state-of-the art archaeological research. The Field School supplements field-based learning with weekly field trips to local sites and monuments and provides a series of evening lectures, seminars and conferences on topics of historical and archaeological interest. The work of the Field School contributes enormously to the understanding, promotion and safeguarding of the local archaeological resource.

The Achill Archaeological Field School has as its main core mission the delivery of academic accredited archaeology courses with an eminently practical aspect. The international profile of the AAFS is of paramount importance considering that the vast majority of its students come from universities from the USA & Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia. The maintenance of a competitive and relevant position within the landscape of international and domestic academic institutions is therefore crucial to the AAFS growth and evolution as a reference in the field.

The Field School has a small but well-stocked library and a dedicated computer lab complete with a bank of new computers, A3 Scanner, EDM (Total Station), Auto Levels, Trimble GPS units. Software includes Auto Cad 2015, Civil 3D, Map 3D, Arc GIS and Photoshop. Wi-Fi is installed in the Archaeology Centre and in our adjoining student accommodation.

The Achill Archaeological Field School has been training archaeology students in field techniques for over 30 years

The Achill Field School conducts two archaeological excavations each year and these create an ideal training environment in which we can teach archaeology and anthropology students to excavate and to record the results of their archaeology excavations in a three-part system which creates a written record, a photographic record and a drawn record. These three archaeology records come together in the post-excavation stage of the project to tell the story of the excavated site and form the foundation for our analysis of the excavated evidence and for our presentations to the public in the form of public lectures and printed publications. For many years, detailed stone-by-stone drawings, which were created on-site to a precise scale, were later ‘inked-up’ in our office building using traditional methods, but these skills have now been replaced by digitisation using Adobe Photoshop and AutoCAD.

While students undertaking our two-week, four-week and six-week Modular Courses between mid-June and mid-August are primarily here to work on the excavation sites, we do try to involve them in the post-excavation process as much as possible and this valuable experience, often undertaken on wet days, can involve washing and numbering artefacts, processing soil samples and digitising field drawings. Our Modular Courses are generally taken for University Academic Credit, in the sense that students may apply to have their work in Achill recognised though our in-house assessment process – we have a long-standing relationship with the University of Galway in this regard and they issue Academic Credit vis transcripts to our students which then contributes to each student’s degree at their home university.

A hallmark of Achill Archaeology Field School is our reputation for the quality of our field school training in Europe and North America.

Achill Archaeological Field School caters for small group sizes with all instruction delivered directly by highly experienced archaeologists and environmental scientists. Following on from our archaeology research at the world-renowned Deserted Village in Slievemore, Achill Archaeological Field School extended our research to some of the prehistoric sites on Slievemore Mountain. The prehistoric landscape on Slievemore consists of Neolithic Tombs, massive stone-built Bronze Age Roundhouses, smaller circular and oval-shaped buildings and a complex system of field walls. Because stone was the building material of choice, and because the sites have been covered over by the bog for several thousand years, the state of preservation is truly exemplary. To date, our archaeology students have helped excavate two of the largest and best-preserved prehistoric Middle Bronze Age buildings ever found in Ireland, as well as working on a series of associated, smaller but equally well preserved Early Medieval buildings. In addition to the work on the prehistoric landscape at Slievemore, we also did a limited amount of work on a series of transhumance sites. In 2019, we returned to Caraun Point, a sand-covered peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. It is well-known for its rich archaeological remains, including an early medieval enclosure, possible ringfort, a childrens’ burial ground, several shell middens and an early modern village of small stone houses. The primary focus of the 2019 excavation  was three drystone houses which date to the Post-Medieval period. Artefacts recovered from the excavation include glass and pottery, along with animal bone and shellfish remains. Analysis of these objects gave us an insight into the livelihood and diet of the people who lived here. One unexpected discovery was the presence of a probable Early-Medieval ringfort immediately to the west of our excavation. Habitation deposits associated with this site were evident beneath the Post-Medieval houses and some artefacts of 8th to 10th century date were recovered.

Archaeological field schools are found around the world, but we stand out for a number of reasons

Achill Archaeology Field School has a broad range of archaeology courses designed to suit all interests and budgets – our archaeology courses range in duration from one week to eight weeks and each archaeology course is targeted at a different market – interested amateurs seeking an exciting holiday (Introduction to Irish Archaeology), archaeology undergraduate students seeking field experience and Academic Credit (2-4-6-weeks), and potential site supervisors (Trainee Supervisor course) – we don’t believe that one size fits all and so we offer a variety of archaeology courses to a variety of markets.

Academic credit, all materials, self-catering (sharing) accommodation and local transport are included in the cost of each of our accredited courses. Other courses include all materials, self-catering (sharing) accommodation and local transport.

We also offer expert-led guided tours of the archaeological sites of Achill and further afield to Galway and Sligo.