Prehistoric wetland archaeology
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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A Late MesolithicC-shaped fish trap.
Thissection of beautifullypreserved wattle weir waspart of a Neolithic fishtrap that had been left onthe shore’s edge, probablywashed up by the tide.
Earrings and blueglass beads discovered atPrumplestown.
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 .