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An analysis of Irish Lithic technology

An analysis of Irish Lithic technology

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Gerard Taylor. Originally submitted for BSc Archaeology & Palaeoecology at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Jim Mallory in the category of Archaeological Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Gerard Taylor. Originally submitted for BSc Archaeology & Palaeoecology at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Jim Mallory in the category of Archaeological Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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An analysis of Irish Mesolithic technology.
Addressing the human colonisation of Ireland is a complex task. It is aided greatly by theanalysis of technology. Its type & use, and the relationship to the tool kits used by those inBritain, & continental Europe are of upmost importance. A full understanding of thetechnology of the Mesolithic allows us an insight into the hunting & foraging methods, andthe building capabilities of prehistoric peoples. As a result an image of the society can becreated; this is a fundamental aim of most archaeologists. This paper aims to view thediffering toolkits offered by the early and later Mesolithic. I have not separated the latter intoan upper and lower timeframe, but rather viewed the late Mesolithic as one era. When Irelandfully separated from Britain is still a raging debate. Evidence for a land bridge between thetwo Islands is still, unfortunately inconclusive. This is relevant as a land bridge would show alikely entry point for the first settlers, and from there excavation into the areas adjacent to the point could lead us to artefacts that could show us the origins of the Mesolithic tools.
Lithic composition
The materials used in creating the tools are of differing types and properties. I will addressthem now to give more relevance to the materials and types discussed later in the paper.Along the Antrim coast of Ireland there is a large amount of flint; this is a hard yet brittlesiliceous rock with excellent fracturing properties. It is most commonly found as tablets inchalk or deposited in clay and gravel. (Darvill, 2008. 159) This is the optimum material for knapping to make tools. Although an issue with flint in Ireland is that it remains very hard tounearth anywhere else but along the Antrim coast. We do find a large amount of tools being prepared from chert which contains chalcedony, agate, jasper, and flint and is almost identicalto flint. Commonly the dark coloured nodules are referred to as flint while the lighter colour 
is chert. (Beg.utexas, 2010) We would find in held within limestone rather than chalk. Chertis much more commonly found throughout the Island, and as a result would have been thedominant material.
The use of these materials shows a great understanding of the resources available to the earlyIrish settlers as flint and chert were still being used by Native Americans into the early 20
century. (Kroeber, 2002. 181) The use of these materials allows for many types of flakeremoval systems, from the main core of the stone. I will explain in more detail each methodwhen discussing actual lithics.
Early Mesolithic
The earliest sites in Ireland are Mount Sandel (7600-7330 cal BC) Lough Boora (7580-7180cal BC) and Newferry (7050-6050 cal BC) (Costa
et al,
2005). These are classified as EarlyMesolithic settlement, and believed to be evidence for the first settlement of Ireland. To dateonly two shards of Palaeolithic worked stone have been found in Ireland, and it is common belief that these shards have been delivered to the Ireland by glacial transference.Palaeoclimatic studies have shown that the glaciation of Ireland in the last Ice Age coveredthe island too extensively for human habitation; with some suggesting the southern point of the island may have been able to support humans.
During this stage the main type of microliths in use are small geometric scalene triangles and backed blades (Costa
et al,
2005). Although they are part of an extensive microlith toolkit, allare small retouched pieces of flint/chert, with some small worked pebbles. This toolkitconsists of rods, which are small bladelets, extensively trimmed down one side. This wouldresult in a sharp edge perfect for cutting, but would also leave a larger section that wouldhave a greater contact area with a haft. Obliquely trimmed, which have been retouched at anangle to provide a point, this would be perfect for getting through thick hog hide. Needle points are also found, they are retouched heavily on one side, with a lighter retouch on theother and a touch up at the tip and butt. These points can be found as little as 4mm in widthand 3 cm long. The lack of large game during the Mesolithic, pigs being the largest mammal(Woodman 1997), begs the question as to why they would need a strong needlepoint? Duringthe Mesolithic there was a large amount of birch trees (Watts, 1985. 170), birch trees are stillused by Bushcraft enthusiasts, like Ray Mears to create shelters & canoes due to its water  proof properties (Mears,1996. 168) and for drinking the sap (Mears, 1996. 242). The birch bark would make an ideal candidate for shelter; and its abundance in the landscape wouldalso support this hypothesis. Also found, although very rarely are micro-burins, not all themanufacturing processes required using the burins technique. Lamelle a cran have also beenfound, although they are regarded as a stage in the microlith manufacture and not a specifictool (Woodman, 1978. 38).Woodman (1978, 30) noted that most microliths appear to have used the punch percussionsystem, wherein a piece of antler, or similar material, is held to the flint and struck withanother piece of stone. This results in polyhedral flakes with differing size sides. Woodmanconcludes that it’s this technique rather than the size of the blade itself that allows for thedefinition of a microliths. Flaking blades in this manner allows for smaller items which can be used to form composite tools. In Ireland microliths are generally less than 5cm long and

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