Armchair archaeologist locates unknown crannógs
An “armchair archaeologist” has literally put ancient Cavan crannógs on the map.
Anne-Karoline Distel has discovered three previously unrecorded crannógs, which have been confirmed by the National Monuments Service. The historic structures are located in Parisee Lough, northwest of Cloverhill, Kilconny Lough north of Belturbet and Mill Lough just south of Killeshandra.
Anne has since identified a further seven possible crannógs in the Breffni County, which await confirmation by National Monuments Service.
Crannógs are ancient man-made islands, which were typically used for dwellings. Anne says the crannógs probably date from the bronze age to early medieval, adding “only an excavation can tell”.
Probably the most famous landmark in County Cavan, Clogh Oughter Castle, stands on such a man-made island. However there are many more less obvious crannógs dotted around the Lake County, possibly submerged for much of the year.
She acknowledges that anglers and locals may well know of at least some of the crannógs, yet they were never recorded by the National Monuments Service. In fact one of the unrecorded crannógs for which she is awaiting confirmation is located in ‘Carricknacrannoge Lough’. “Bit of a clue in the name,” she quips. Not all are so helpfully named however.
Anne surmises the crannógs she’s finding have remained undetected by the authorities for two reasons: “People haven’t looked for them systematically, and they are not in the way; like ringforts are in the way for farmers.”
Anne has also found crannógs in other counties in the Republic, with Mayo accounting for her first ever discovery.
What makes Anne’s discoveries all the more impressive is that she has no formal training as an archaeologist or geographic information system (GIS) professional.
A graduate in English literature and languages she happily embraces the title “armchair archaeologist”. What Anne lacks in qualifications she more than makes up for in her passion for mapping. She is a volunteer contributor to ‘Open Street Map’, a copyright-free online resource available to all.
Contributors pore over satellite imagery and compare existing online maps to provide detailed information for the ‘Open Street Map’ resource. For example when mapping Cavan, given the high quality satellite images available, Anne was able to include such useful details as disabled parking bays.
She acknowledges Open Street Map isn’t very well known generally, and when telling people about her historic discoveries, often finds herself first having to explain about the map.
Anne’s introduction to Open Street Map came when she was indulging “another strange hobby” while still living in her native Germany.
“I learned to unicycle when I was 30,” Anne says as an aside. “I was unicycling in Berlin and was trying to figure out good ways to unicycle long distances.”
Anne used the map to break down the 120km route of the former Berlin Wall, which is now a walking/cycling lane.
“I didn’t do it in one go obviously – I think in 20 bits or so,” she explained.
Anne left Germany due to an urge “to know what it is like to be a foreigner”. A love of Irish trad music dictated it was to these shores she settled, specifically Kilkenny.
While in her adopted home she got into playing Pokemon Go, for which Open Street Map proved helpful.
“Someone said, ‘You know you can edit this map, and you might find different Pokemons’,” she recalls. “That’s how I got into it.” Then in November 2019 the Open Street Map resource hosted a meeting in Kilkenny about their new ‘Buildings Project’ - an ambitious plan to detail every building in Ireland in the map.
“So I went to that and quit playing Pokemon. I started mapping the buildings.”
Through sheer dedication to mapping, Anne has become something of an expert in the field. “I’ve been the number one mapper in Ireland for over a year, and I don’t want to lose that position.”
As such she has “over a year’s streak” for mapping daily, with a particular focus on her adopted home. “In a way I feel like a curator for the map for Kilkenny, so any time there is a shop opening or closing or bicycle stands I try to update it because I think it’s important.”
Anne shares her insights on her mapping work through YouTube instructional videos. She actually discovered her first crannóg in a lake in County Mayo while recording a video, which she said left her “super-psyched!”
Asked if mapping is an obsession for her, Anne sees it more as “a useful” hobby.
“My father wants to start running – I could do that, but there’s no use to humanity or anything.”