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Ireland's Prehistoric Beginnings

Ireland's Prehistoric Beginnings

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Published by Brendon Wilkins
As Ireland’s land-hungry Celtic Tiger economic boom encroached on wetland landscapes once thought too boggy for modern development, it became clear that these sites, near to rivers, had been home to vibrant prehistoric communities that had settled along what would have been ancient thoroughfares. In the second part of this series on the top-ten sites of the Celtic Tiger, we investigate the new evidence for Ireland’s prehistoric beginnings.
As Ireland’s land-hungry Celtic Tiger economic boom encroached on wetland landscapes once thought too boggy for modern development, it became clear that these sites, near to rivers, had been home to vibrant prehistoric communities that had settled along what would have been ancient thoroughfares. In the second part of this series on the top-ten sites of the Celtic Tiger, we investigate the new evidence for Ireland’s prehistoric beginnings.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Brendon Wilkins on Dec 08, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/24/2013

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current archaeology
 
|
 
www.archaeology.co.uk
ireland
 
Prehistoric wetland archaeology
nb
2010
 
|
O
n a misty morning 8,000 yearsago, two young women pushedtheir way through the head-high reeds of a tidal estuary, 6mbelow the busy streets of whatis now modern Dublin. As theystepped onto the shifting mud flats, their baskets,wattle work and fishing ground came into view,and they could see, even from this distance, thatit had been a bountiful evening.They belonged to the period known as theMesolithic, and were the first people known to
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From ancient waterwaysto modernhighways
As Ireland’s land-hungry Celtic Tiger economicboom targeted wetland landscapes oncethought too boggy for modern development,it became clear these sites had been home tovibrant prehistoric communities, settled alongwhat would have been ancient thoroughfares.
B Wk
explains the evidence.
 Ireland’s prehistoricbeginnings 
   p   h   o   t   o   :
   H   e   a    d    l   a   n    d   A   r   c    h   a   e   o    l   o   g   y   L   t    d .
 
www.archaeology.co.uk
 
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current archaeology
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Issue
248
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microbacterial decay are slowed to a halt. In late2004, Melanie McQuade, a Site Director for Mar-garet Gowen and Co., excavated just such a site.
Mesolithic Fisher-Foragers
During routine archaeological monitoringdevelopment works at North Wall Quay in Dub-lin’s Docklands, McQuade and her team foundthe remarkably preserved remains of seven LateMesolithic fish traps dating to between 6100 and5700 BC. These are the earliest securely datedhave lived in Ireland, between 8000 and 4000 BC(there is as yet no evidence for Palaeolithic occu-pation in Ireland). The majority of artefacts wereorganic and perishable, rarely surviving the life-time of the people who made them. But it is notjust the durability of the artefacts or activities thattake place on a site that determines how muchis found. What survives is also a product of theburial environment, which on some lucky occa-sions can be exceptionally favourable to archaeo-logical remains: either because it is waterlogged,frozen, or so dry that the natural processes of 
 
aBove 
Pre-excavationshot of the multi-periodPrumplestown Lower site.The Early Bronze Age pitcircle is visible at centre.
IRELANDGrannyDublinPrumplestown
 
current archaeology
 
|
 
www.archaeology.co.uk
ireland
 
Prehistoric wetland archaeology
nb
2010
 
|
fish traps in Ireland or the UK, and are also someof the earliest examples recorded in Europe. Wetboggy sites adjacent to rivers – known as estua-rine and alluvial wetlands – provide a wealthof scientific information, but it is the record of human presence in these landscapes that makesthem special. The fish trap remains illustrate thevalue of this 70m stretch of the Liffey Estuary,which was in use over almost three millennia of Irish prehistory, as well asthe technological skill of their makers – and raiseseveral points concerningthe social implications of trap fishing.At this time in Ire-land, the population washeavily reliant on fish, dueto the fact that the limitednative fauna provided littleopportunity for hunting.The importance of fishing is shown by the con-centration of Mesolithic material recovered fromlakeside, riverine and coastal settings, and is alsohighlighted by the high percentage of fish bonewithin assemblages of that period. In contrast toBritain, the Irish Mesolithic was a fisher-foragersociety, rather than one of hunter-gatherers.
The fishing ground
The fish traps were buried within estuarine silts,where most of the remains were preserved in situat depths of 4m to 6m below sea level. They wereset to the south of a gravel shoreline about 30mnorth of the existing quay wall, which repre-sented either the northern bank of the prehistoricchannel of the Liffey, or the shore of a tidal islandwithin the estuary.The fish traps and the pieces of stakes and wattlescattered across the site were the remains of struc-tures that operated on the principle of passivefishing: fish in the incoming or outgoing tideswere caught in traps, and then retrieved at lowtide when the traps were accessible. The systemis separated into weirs of wattle work designed toguide the fish, and trapsdesigned to catch them.Most of the remains fromNorth Wall Quay wereparts of ebb weirs, whichcaught fish that driftedwith the falling tide. Ebbweirs are typically con-structed of large woodenfences (or stone walls) thatform a V-shape, with abasket set at the junctionto trap the fish.Four of the ebb weir pieces were Late Mesolithicin date. In addition to the ebb weirs, Late Meso-lithic dates were also obtained on a C-shaped fishtrap and a basket fragment. Evidence for a MiddleNeolithic fish trap was also discovered, whichcomprised a beautifully preserved section of awattle weir (4.41m by 4.16m), found at the edge of the shore where it had probably been washed upby the tide. All the remains were so closely datedthat they could have been used by the same orsuccessive generations of fishermen.The high level of preservation enabled detailedanalysis of the wood used in their construction.The traps were made almost exclusively of hazel,with small amounts of birch, ash and fruitwood
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aBove 
A Late MesolithicC-shaped fish trap.
aBoveright
Thissection of beautifullypreserved wattle weir waspart of a Neolithic fishtrap that had been left onthe shore’s edge, probablywashed up by the tide.
right 
Earrings and blueglass beads discovered atPrumplestown.
BeloW
The wedge-cutpointed end of a LateMesolithic fish trap.
   p   h   o   t   o   :
   M   a   r   g   a   r   e   t   G   o   w   e   n   a   n    d   C   o   L   t    d .

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It was wonderful to see how modernity has helped uncover some of the mysteries of ancient Ireland. This stands so much in contrast with my own experience of how free markets and the rule of law is currently pitted against the ancient traditions, religion and legends of the montagnard peoples in northeastern Cambodia. They began living on the Cordillera mountains in the 4th Century.
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