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Schryver’s Ireland Dig Leads to Documentary

Archaeological dig site
Sarah Freske ’18
Publication date: 
November 29, 2017

Associate Professor Jimmy Schryver joined a team of archaeologists and undergrads at a groundbreaking archaeological dig of a Gaelic Irish ringfort in County Roscommon, Ireland. The resulting documentary reveals how their discovery could dramatically change what we know about medieval Ireland.

The project, directed by Professor Thomas Finan of St. Louis University, involved four weeks of excavation during summer 2016. There Schryver and his team made notable discoveries about the Gaelic Irish people who would have inhabited County Roscommon in the medieval period. These discoveries included a kiln and an English penny.

"The coin is important," says Schryver. "What we're finding here are all these different puzzle pieces, so the coin is like a corner piece that can help us get the rest of the picture."

Archaeological dig site

Schryver adds that interaction beyond battle between the English and the Gaelic Irish was formerly unheard of. The presence of an English penny at an Irish settlement challenges this understanding. Historians must now reconsider the relationship between these two groups, and ask why and how they might have been interacting.

The presence of the kiln, too, contradicts current knowledge about Gaelic Irish settlements. By blowing hot air through it, inhabitants of the settlement could dry grains for preservation. Yet this implies the builders of the kiln were using the area as a permanent settlement.

In the current understanding, the Irish made settlements that would be easy to leave behind if necessary. The suggestion of a permanent settlement differs from current ideas of medieval Irish life.

"The kiln is the most important finding," says Schryver. "It reminds us of how little we know about the Gaelic Irish in medieval Ireland. While the English had lots of documents, the Irish did not write things down, so archaeology is one of the few ways that we can learn about them."

Archeological dig team and film crew

Throughout the excavation, a film crew for HEC-TV followed Schryver and the team in order to capture the dig and the resulting discoveries. Their film, says Finan, "gives a wider population a glimpse of the intensive research that occurs on a research archaeological project."

"This documentary...shows how focused excavation can yield critical discoveries that change the way we understand the past," says Finan. "In terms of medieval Ireland, this excavation is already proving to be a significant contribution to our understanding of medieval Gaelic Ireland."

To learn more and preview the documentary, visit