The Quest for the Irish Celt is the fascinating story of Harvard University’s five-year archaeological research programme in Ireland during the 1930s to determine the racial and cultural heritage of the Irish people. The programme involved country-wide excavations and the examination of prehistoric skulls by physical anthropologists, and was complemented by the physical examinations of thousands of Irish people from across the country; measuring skulls, nose-shape and grade of hair colour.
The Harvard scientists’ mission was to determine who the Celts were, what was their racial type, and what element in the present-day population represented the descendants of the earliest inhabitants of the island. Though the Harvard Mission was hugely influential, there were theories of eugenics involved that would shock the modern reader. The main adviser for the archaeology was Adolf Mahr, Nazi and Director of the National Museum (1934–39). The overall project was managed by Earnest A. Hooton, famed Harvard anthropologist, whose theories regarding biological heritage would now be readily condemned for their racism.
Mairéad Carew explores this extraordinary archaeological mission, examining its historic importance for Ireland and Irish-America, its landmark findings, and the unseemly activities that lay just beneath the surface.
Table of Contents
- The Harvard Archaeological Mission in the Irish Cultural Republic
- Adolf Mahr and the possibilities of Harvard archaeological research
- ‘Ireland belongs to the World’: Celtic origins, Anthropology and Eugenics
- Choosing crannógs: Politics and Pragmatism
- Lagore crannóg: archaeology in service of the state?
- A United Ireland in Prehistory
- A New Deal for Irish Archaeology
- A Native School of Irish Archaeology
- ‘The Pageant of the Celt’: Archaeology, Media and the Diaspora
Appendix 1: Harvard Mission archaeological sites
Appendix 2: Unemployment Scheme archaeological sites, 1934–1937
Appendix 3: Private donations to Harvard Mission research
About the Author
Mairéad Carew is an archaeologist and writer. She has worked as a lecturer in the School of History and the School of English in UCD, and coordinated courses for UCD International. She is the author of Tara and the Ark of the Covenant: The Guidebook. She has also published short stories and poetry and has contributed scripts to A Living Word and Sunday Miscellany on RTÉ Radio. She is the recipient of a Listowel Writers’ Week Award and has been shortlisted for the Hennessy Award.