Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Fisherman nets rare medieval cooking pot


February 07, 2007

A FISHERMAN at Drumdowney Point has found more than the catch of the day in his fishing nets – you might even call it the catch of six to eight centuries.

Sean Doherty, who lives on the opposite shore in Waterford, was fishing at the south Kilkenny spot about 40 metres from the shore line a year and a half ago, when he noticed in his net what he thought was a flower pot.

On second glance he saw that the pot was unusual in that the bottom was rounded rather than flat like a typical pot of today.

His keen eye for observation has been honed over many years picking up different pieces, and his interest in archaeology has been boosted from watching documentaries and other such programmes.

But little did he know that his discovery would end up on display in the National Museum in Dublin.

He initially brought the pot to the Waterford Treasures museum, and they in turn passed it on to the National Museum.

He still can't believe his luck, as the area has been well fished over the years. "Maybe I was just in the right place at the right time," he said.

Dr Andy Halpin, assistant keeper of the Irish antiquities division in the National Museum, says the pot is an extremely rare find.

The type of cooking pot is referred to by archaeologists as 'Leinster cookware' and this particular pot is a significant find for the museum.

"The type of pottery that it is practically never turns up in one piece, so it's really remarkable," Mr Halpin said. "This is effectively the only intact piece of Leinster cookware that we have."

"How it managed to survive intact lying on the sea bed for hundreds of years and then being brought up in a net, is just amazing."

The pot is about eight or nine inches high and 10-11 inches in diameter, and dates from the 12th to 14th century.

"I couldn't say exactly how old it is but the type of pottery that it is would date it sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries, so it's about 600 to 800 years old," Mr Halpin explained.

"The fact that it's intact is really the main thing about it. Otherwise as a pot it's pretty simple."

The basic pot is a fairly coarse type of pottery, not very refined or well made, he said. It looks slightly like a flower pot and is a pale red terra-cotta colour.

One characteristic feature of Leinster cookware is that quite a large amount of gravel and quartz is included in the pottery, Mr Halpin noted, and the tiny pieces of quartz dazzle when light shines on them.

Such a pot would have been hand-made rather than thrown on a wheel, and was probably fired in a very simple kiln, according to Mr Halpin.

"It is not very technically advanced even for that period," he said. "It's a very humble object. It was probably used by fairly simple people, not the wealthy."

The pot will now be put on display as part of an exhibition on medieval Ireland in the National Museum building on Kildare Street in Dublin.

That exhibition is currently on display and this latest pot will be added to it within the next two months, Mr Halpin said.


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