A fulacht fiadh
is a type of archaeological
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...
site found in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...
. In England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...
they are known as burnt mound
A burnt mound is an archaeological feature consisting of a mound of shattered stones and charcoal, normally with an adjacent hearth and trough. The trough could be rock-cut, wood-lined or clay-lined to ensure it was watertight...
s. They commonly survive as a low horseshoe-shaped mound of charcoal-enriched soil and heat shattered stone with a slight depression at its centre showing the position of the pit. No one is certain about their use or purpose, however some believe them to have been used as an outdoor cooking area, though larger examples may have served as bathing pits or steam baths (see below).
Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years. Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" ,...
indicates that the majority of fulachtaí fia
were constructed during the mid to late Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...
(c.1500- c. 500 BC), though some Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...
examples are known. However, some were still in use up to medieval times. They are the most common archaeological sites in Ireland, with over 4,500 recorded examples, of which some 2,000 are found in County Cork
County Cork is a county in Ireland. It is located in the South-West Region and is also part of the province of Munster. It is named after the city of Cork . Cork County Council is the local authority for the county...
. Permanent structures are rarely found near to fulachtaí fia
,but small hut sites are common and it is unknown whether early sites were built by permanent settlements or nomadic hunters.
Many commentators suggest that the Irish word "fulacht
" denotes a pit used for cooking. "Fiadh
" in Old Irish meant something like "wild", specifically relating to animals such as deer. However, all commentators acknowledge significant difficulties in deriving a genuine etymology for the word "fulacht
". As some historical references clearly use the term "fulacht
" to describe a cooking spit, a close reading of these accounts suggests that the term actually derives from a word meaning support and probably carries a deliberate reference to the Irish words for blood and meat. The (apparently erroneous) identification of the term "fulacht
" with the use of hot stone technology has crept into modern readings of the medieval literature and is probably too established now to be corrected.
are usually found close to water sources, such as springs, rivers and streams or waterlogged ground. They were also sited close to sources of suitable stone where it could be obtained close to the surface. They required a source of fuel, so would have been close to woodland. They would also have to be in proximity to whatever was being processed by boiling in the trough. Once these conditions were met a fulacht fiadh
could be constructed. Once the use of a fulacht fiadh
had ended it was common for people to continue to exploit the usefulness of the site and therefore fulachtaí fia
tend to be found in groups strung out along water courses.
generally consist of three main elements: a mound of stones, a hearth used to heat the stones, and a trough, often lined with wood or stone, which was filled with water and into which the heated stones were placed to warm the water. Troughs may be cut into subsoil or, more rarely, into bedrock. The site may contain the remains of structures such as stone enclosures or even small buildings, and sometimes multiple hearths and additional, smaller pits. They are almost always found near running water, or in marshy areas where a hole dug into the ground would quickly fill with water.
A number of the fulachtaí fia
pits are approximately a metre wide by 2 metres long and maybe half a metre or more in depth. However, size can vary a great deal from site to site, from rather small pits lined with stones to pools conceivably large enough for people to bathe in.
It is postulated that these pits were filled with water and heated stones thrown in to create a pool of boiling water in which meat was cooked. This is because when excavated, fulachtaí fia
are found with associated charred, scorched and broken rocks.
Other theories suggest that the sites may have been used for bathing, the washing and dyeing of cloth, and leather working. Supporters of these theories point to the fact that no remains of foodstuffs have been found at the fulacht fiadh
sites. Some researchers believe the fulachtaí fia
were multi-purpose and could have, at least in some cases, been used for all of these activities - cooking, bathing, dyeing, or anything involving hot water. Some fulacht fiadh
reconstructions, such as the one at Ballyvourney
Baile Bhuirne , anglicised as Ballyvourney is a Gaeltacht village in south-west County Cork, Ireland. It is a civil parish in the barony of Muskerry West and is also one half of the Ecclesiastical parish of Baile Bhuirne agus Cúil Aodha in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cloyne-Location and...
, include circular, hut-type structures based on the post holes found at the sites; some believe these small buildings were used for the storing and preparation of foodstuffs, or perhaps for enclosing heat and steam in a manner similar to the Tigh 'n Alluis
Gaelic sweat-houses (which were built of stone).
In August 2007 two Galway
Galway or City of Galway is a city in County Galway, Republic of Ireland. It is the sixth largest and the fastest-growing city in Ireland. It is also the third largest city within the Republic and the only city in the Province of Connacht. Located on the west coast of Ireland, it sits on the...
based archaeologists suggested that fulachtaí fia
were used primarily for the brewing of beer, and experimented by filling a large wooden trough with water and adding heated stones. Once the water had reached approximately 65 degrees Celsius they added barley and after 45 minutes transferred it to separate vessels to ferment, first adding wild plant flavourings and yeast. Some days later they discovered that it had transformed into a drinkable light ale.
- Higgins, Jim,, 1991, A new group of fulachta fiad in Co. Mayo, in Cathair na Mart 11, pp. 31–34, 1991
- O’Kelley, Michael J., 1989. Early Ireland – An Introduction to Irish Prehistory. Cambridge University Press
Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...
, Cambridge. pp. 223–227 ISBN 0-521-33687-2
- Harbison, Peter, 1988. Pre-Christian Ireland – From the First Settlers to the Early Celts. Thames and Hudson, New York. pp. 8, 110-112, and plate 65. ISBN 0-500-27809-1