The findings of the Archaeology of Salt in Ireland project were recently given their first airing at the First International Congress on the Anthropology of Salt, held in the Romanian city of Iasi. Generously hosted by the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, 71 papers were presented by an international groups of delegates from across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. These covered the archaeology of prehistoric and later sites, ethnographic observations, heritage concerns and halotherapy applications in a cross-disciplinary effort to address human interaction with salt.
The paper given by the Archaeology of Salt in Ireland project presented both our National Survey work and the excavations at Ballycastle. However Romanian salt making was centre stage, the salt-rich Carpathians producing outstanding archaeological remains from the Neolithic onward and a series of spectacular sites such as Baile Figa, a Bronze-Iron Age site in Transylvania.
On the last day of the congress delegates were treated to a tour of Targu Ocna salt mine in the foothills of the Carpathians. Known as ‘Romania’s Salzburg’ it was a centre of salt production from the 15th century. Today most of the remains are 19th century, a period when convicts were used to mine salt. They suffered from the usual illness associated with manual labour, lack of sunlight and poor diet, however it was noticed that their lungs were particularly healthy in contrast with those workers mining other minerals. Consequently halotherapy was born and the large salt chambers are now used to treat patients with respiratory illnesses.
All in all a wide-ranging conference with much of interest and very generously hosted by our Romanian colleagues.