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Fulachta Fiadh – An Irish Mystery

Experimental Archaeology at its finest

My name is Anne-Maire Nurnberger (née Denvir) and I am an archaeologist from Belfast, N.Ireland. This is the online version of my undergraduate thesis. It focuses on prehistoric monuments named 'fulachta fiadh' or 'burnt mounds' This research was conducted in 1999. There have been many advances in our knowledge of burnt mounds since then but, this website still stands as a useful place to acquaint yourself with the topic of fulachta fiadh. If you haven't got time to browse through the whole site I suggest you go straight to the results and concluding thoughts section as all my research and findings are there in a condensed form.


Fulachta fiadh were an integral part of the prehistoric landscape in Ireland, they provide significant evidence of activity in areas with little artifact deposition. They also form the biggest number of a single prehistoric monument in Ireland and over the years have generated much interest in the archaeological world. Yet the purpose of fulachta fiadh is still unclear even though many major studies have been undertaken on them.

Nearly 50 years ago some experimental archaeology was conducted to support a theory that fulachta fiadh were cooking sites (O’Kelly, 1954). This particular experiment proved very successful but, many people still refused to accept that the sole purpose of a fulacht fian was to cook. In 1987 it was argued that fulachta fiadh were used as bathing sites similar in a sense to a Roman or Turkish bath (Barfield and Hodder, 1987).

In 1991 some observations were published highlighting the fact that fulachta fiadh are exceedingly suitable for textile production (Jeffery, 1991). More recently in East Anglian Fens, Jo Roberts has found evidence that in England at least fulachta fiadh have been used as burial sites and may have had some ritual purpose. She uncovered a “burnt mound with a crouched inhumation?"(Roberts, 1998). At this point, before I go onto discuss these arguments any further, it is important to give a general overview to the monument type known as fulachta fiadh. So start at the beginning and go to the "what are fulachta fiadh" link below.

What are fulachta fiadh? | Arguments for cooking | Arguments for bathing/saunas | Arguments for textile centres/laundries |
A compendium of excavated fulachta fiadh | The study of textiles in archaeology | Bibliography |

The washing experiment | The dyeing experiment | The fulling experiment | Results and concluding thoughts |

Fulachta Fia or Fulachtai?