A GROUP of international archaeology students are working together to reveal the secrets of Trim, Co Meath, on what was once wasteland used for illegal dumping.
Without the presence of old mattresses and rusted bicycles, the history of the five-acre site is slowly being uncovered by the bucket load, literally.
“To see the bones in real life is so different to just what you see in a text book. It is wonderful,” said Melissa Clark (20), from Ohio, who is taking part in the excavations, organised by the Irish Archaeology Field School, for the second summer in a row.
They are on lands where in the 13th century the Dominicans built the Black Friary.
The friary was an imposing building and is a short distance from Trim Castle, which was one of the locations used in the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart.
Trim was once the capital of the lordship of Meath, which was second only to Dublin as the wealthiest holding in Ireland at the time.
It was home to an annual market and people travelled from France, Germany and Belgium to attend it.
“This was a busy town and there was a constant bustle and activity here for a couple of hundred years,” explained the school’s academic director, Finola O’Carroll, who is also chairwoman of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. One of the most important aspects of the school project is that it allows anyone interested to get involved, which Ms O’Carroll says is critical.
“Our heritage is not an elitist thing and it belongs to everyone. I think the school is unique in that we encourage people who are not archaeology students to come along and be a student and work here for a few days,” she explained.
This year she has welcomed two dozen overseas students to the Trim dig. Two other digs are under way at other sites in Meath.
For those studying archaeology in university, the field work gives them credits for their degree courses.
The Trim digs have recently uncovered a number of skeletons. After examining one skull dating from about 1540, an American graduate was able to decipher some of the secrets of its owner.
“Based on the tooth wear, I would say this chap was somewhere between 40 and 50 years old when he died. He had arthritis and I also think he had TB,” explained Siobhán Swidersky (35), from Minnesota, US.
The Black Friary site is owned by Trim Town Council and Ms O’Carroll said the work would continue until all the secrets had been uncovered.
For heritage week, which begins next week, the Black Friary site will also host Dig It archaeology camps for children.
More information is available on www.digitkids.ie