Co-Leader of Acclaimed Public Archaeology Project Visits PBA

Dr. Stephen Mandal speaks to students at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Tuesday. Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) is a private, accredited, Christ-centered college located in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
Dr. Stephen Mandal speaks to history students at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Once a neglected four-acre grassy field, the area known as the Blackfriary in the historic Irish town of Trim has been transformed into an active archeological site frequented by schoolchildren and townspeople.

Rather than limiting access to the site only to researchers, those carrying out the work made a deliberate effort to open it to the public, said Dr. Stephen Mandal, co-founder of the Irish Archaeology Field School, Cultural Tourism Ireland and Dig it Kids.

This unique approach has garnered several accolades for the Blackfriary site and made it a model for future projects, said Dr. Mandal, speaking to Dr. Robert Chapman’s public history class at Palm Beach Atlantic University this week.

“The site is always open,” he said. “People can always come visit.”

The Blackfriary, a medieval Dominican friary dating back to 1263 A.D., derives its name from the black robes the monks wore, he said.

Since 2010, archaeologists have unearthed some of the foundations of the friary’s church walls and tower arch, as well as hundreds of bones. The site was used as a burial ground for many years after the friary was gone, Dr. Mandal said.

Researchers examine bones at the Blackfriary site in 2011.
Researchers examine bones at the Blackfriary site in 2011.

The work, which has generated a great deal of public interest, could continue for the next 15 years, he said. 

“It’s a teaching excavation,” Dr. Mandal said. “It’s a community-based project. We’ll take our time. We’ll do it slowly.”

The Blackfriary site is a pilot project for Cultural Heritage Amenity Town (CHAT), a nationwide historical and cultural preservation movement. It has received several commendations, including being named one of the “100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life” by National Geographic Traveler magazine editor-in-chief Keith Bellows.

Dr. Mandal’s presentation showed the class how a local archaeological site can be turned into a community project, making the history all the more exciting and approachable, said Dr. Chapman, associate professor of history. People learn about their heritage, and the town gets a boost in tourism, he said.

“Without a doubt this is a model that will be applied here in the United States,” Dr. Chapman said. “Our students have been enriched by Dr. Mandal's campus visit.”