Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bog


A few days ago I wrote here about the Coumanare "arrows," splinters of yew wood about a foot long, sharpened at both ends, now eroding from bog on a shoulder of Mount Brandon here on the Dingle Peninsula. My guess is that they were set vertically into the ground in great numbers and used for laming deer driven onto them. Subsequently, a meter or more of peat has grew over them which is now eroding away. What is remarable is that the sticks look today, thousands of years later, as fresh as the day they were stuck into the ground.

Ireland's history is buried in bog. Because of the water-logged and anaerobic nature of the soil, whatever gets buried is preserved. Pollen, twigs, tree trunks, bones, and antlers are maintained in the peat in recognizable form, enabling naturalists and climatologists to reconstruct past climates, flora, and fauna with remarkable completeness. Human history, too, is in the bog. Dwelling places, timber trackways, tubs of butter, even clothed bodies are yielded by the peat for study by archeologists. Most remarkable of all are the troves of ecclesiastical treasure -- jeweled chalices, patens, and other artifacts of wood and metal -- buried in the bog a thousand years ago, perhaps in nervous anticipation of a Viking raid, and not recovered until our own time.