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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 18 November, 2019
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Here's what it takes to remake a mysterious Iron Age vessel by hand in 2015

A team from Ireland and England are trying their hand – with impressive results.

NO ONE KNOWS exactly how they made the Pallasboy Vessel – or what it was for.

But thanks to the work of four people in Cork, we now have a closer idea of what went into crafting the Iron Age artefact.

Discovered in 2000, the wooden vessel was located in Westmeath during an excavation on behalf of the National Museum.

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It was rescued from the Toar Bog, whose wetlands had helped preserve the wood wonderfully (although part of it had been damaged by a Bord na Móna ditcher).

It’s 1.29m long, 0.57m wide and .049m wide, and u-shaped.

Revisiting the past

Now Dr Benjamin Gearey (a lecturer in environmental archaeology in UCC), Caitriona Moore (a specialist in Irish wetland archaeology); Mark Griffiths (who creates and restores wooden artefacts); and archaeologist-turned-photographer Brian Mac Domhnaill have teamed up to try and re-create the Pallasboy Vessel, documenting their progress along the way.

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Dr Gearey explained to TheJournal.ie that he often wondered what exactly went into crafting ‘a vessel as fine’ (as he describes it in his lectures) as Pallasboy.

After talking to his brother about it, he was put in contact with Mark Griffith. Then Caitriona Moore and Brian Mac Domhnaill came on board.

They successfully applied for funding from the World Wood Day Fund, which is run by the International Woodculture Society.

The finished vessel will be placed in the Cork Museum on Culture Night, for the public to see.

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It has been an enlightening project.

“It has been a fascinating process – even from the start, we have learned lots of stuff. Like how difficult it is to get a suitably large specimen of alder wood,” said Gearey.

They found the wood in Bray, on grounds owned by David Brabazon, after multiple calls to different timber yards. A trip to closely examine the original Pallasboy vessel helped to cement their plans and give them a real look at how technically advanced and beautiful the vessel is.

They have been knocking the wood into place at Meitheal Mara in Cork, and blogging about the experience.

Come the end of the first day I was satisfied with the progress made. I was getting a feel for how the timber carved. Our replica tools on the other hand were proving awkward and slow compared to the matching set of contemporary ones we were using as a comparison.

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“It has partly been experimental archaeology,” said Gearey. “Learning about these processes and crafting. [And learning] how many people might be able to work on these creations.”

They’re using modern tools, but have also been given some older Iron Age-style tools, so they can compare and contrast methods.

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This weeks marks the final phase of the project, gearing up for Culture Night on 18 September.

There have been a lot of discussions about what the original vessel was used for, said Gearey.

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Some suggest it was a very small dugout vessel, either to tow behind a boat, or tow it behind yourself. One of the original suggestions was it is some kind of feasting trough. It is very finely worked, the time they put into it… this wasn’t something that was knocked out very quickly. It was done by a very skilled woodworker.

The pattern made by the iron axe on the original boat is similar to the pattern made by axes today, but modern axes are about twice as quick, said Gearey.

He spent a day learning how to hollow the vessel out, and “completely ruined” his hands.

Each member of the group hopes to report on the project, both on the academic side or otherwise. Mac Domhnaill, for example, will be putting together a video on the process.

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The group hope to highlight the craftsmanship that went into a vessel like this, but also to get people thinking about peatland in Ireland. “We wouldn’t know about this if it wasn’t for our peatland,” pointed out Gearey.

They look forward to seeing people visiting their vessel and interacting with it – no blisters required.

To read more about the Pallasboy Vessel project, visit the blog.

Read: It seems that the Celtic Tiger was good for something…>

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