Uncovering Medieval Gaelic Ireland

The Lough Key Archaeological Project is an ongoing field research project examining the McDermot Lordship of Moylurg in the medieval period.  The main focus of the project for the last few years has been ongoing excavations on the Rock of Lough Key, the main caput of the McDermot lords.  We will be posting more information about our “mighty campaign” of 2022 here, as well as information about our upcoming 2023 campaign!

The Lough Key Archaeological Project has received substantial research funding from Saint Louis University, University of Minnesota-Morris, Denison University, and, most recently, a very generous Archaeological Excavation Grant from the Royal Irish Academy

2022 Excavations

Our 2022 excavations on the Rock proved to be an incredible experience for both students and staff, as our team continued to piece together centuries of medieval occupation on the Rock of Lough Key. We have identified at least three internal structures that date to the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, and have discovered artifacts that appear to suggest an even earlier occupation extending into the 8th century. We are working through our analysis and reports, which we will post to this site in the coming weeks.


Our excavations from 2019 and 2022 have yielded an extensive assemblage of medieval artifacts that reveal the day to day lives of the MacDermot lords who inhabited the island in the middle ages. We now have evidence of fine metal working, bone and antler comb production. We have found several gaming pieces, including “checkers-like” pieces and dice, and even a die mold that shows the production of dice mid-process. And, finally, we have a set of harp tuning pegs that suggest entertainment happening on the island. All in all, the assemblage is a remarkable affirmation of historical sources.

Animal Bones

During 2019 and 2022 we collected over 40,000 animal bones from the excavation on the Rock, nearly all secured in medieval occupation layers. The bulk of these bones show evidence that the animals (mostly pig, cattle, and sheep) were consumed on the island in what we are arguing as a “feasting” environment. This of course leads to a number of questions stemming from the science of zooarchaeology, such as where were the animals kept, what parts of the animals were consumed on the island, and were some animals brought to the island living. The analysis of the bones is ongoing and will keep us busy well into the post-excavation phase of the project!