Early Medieval

500 – 1100 AD

In the archaeology of Ireland, the Early Medieval period is an important and fascinating time period, marked by the emergence of new cultural, social, and political structures. This period is commonly believed to have begun in the fifth century AD and ended with the Norman Conquest in the late twelfth century. With the introduction of Christianity and the development of a sophisticated monastic system, Ireland underwent significant changes in its material culture, settlement patterns, and political landscape at this time.

The spread of Christianity throughout Ireland during the Early Middle Ages brought new religious and cultural influences to the country. The establishment of monasteries, which served as centers of religious, educational, and cultural activity, was one of the most significant changes. These monasteries were frequently large, intricate structures with multiple buildings and expansive enclosed courtyards that housed monks, students, and laypeople. Clonmacnoise, a well-preserved monastic site located in County Offaly, is the most well-known example of these monasteries that still exist today.

The development of new settlement patterns, with the creation of ringforts and crannogs, is an additional significant aspect of the Early Middle Ages. Often surrounded by a ditch and palisade, ringforts, also known as raths, were circular earthen enclosures. They were typically used as farmsteads, but they could also function as fortified homes for the local populace. Crannogs, on the other hand, were artificial islands created in shallow lakes that were frequently used as fortified dwellings. Both of these types of settlements reflect the political instability of the era, which necessitated the creation of secure, defensible living areas.

The variety of metalwork, pottery, and other artifacts of the Early Medieval period reflect the new cultural, religious, and political systems. For instance, metalwork of the period includes intricately decorated brooches, pins, and other personal items, whereas pottery features a variety of forms and styles, such as decorated storage jars, bowls, and cups.