isn't just about treasures in museums or archaeologists working
feverishly with trowels. Neither is it simply about creating site reports
that gather dust in the archives of some library. Students of the archaeology
of Ireland will already know of Tara and Newgrange but we all need
to be reminded that archaeology
is all around us and is seen every day in every landscape; it is especially
evident in hillside landscapes like the one pictured further down
this page. In
this area one might find: old roads, bridges and pathways; field
systems where farmers of long ago tamed the land; peat bogs many
thousands of years old, many with hidden secrets; field boundaries -
whether stone walls or earthen banks; possibly a ringfort, a
standing stone or a stone circle; a wedge tomb or portal tomb,
a medieval tower house, a ruined medieval church, (perhaps with a
Sheela na Gig); and farmhouses and cottages from 18th and 19th
centuries. In some areas, one can see remains of Bronze Age
mining. An Ogham stone would be a rare find as would a rock with
Bronze Age rock marks inscribed on it. Industrial Irish archaeology
includes things we see around us and take for granted: old mills,
lime kilns, old machinery, etc.; but how do you make sense of
all this archaeology if you don't understand the chronology and the
terms used to describe the different archaeological periods? Below
is a concise explanation of the terms most commonly used in Irish
archaeology when discussing time periods, and an overview of each
means Old Stone Age. Paleolithic is defined as that period
from the first emergence of humans on earth until about 10,000 years
ago. The Paleolithic is further divided into 'upper' and
'lower' and 'middle' but this need not concern us here as there is no evidence for human
habitation in Ireland during the Paleolithic. Of course Irish
Archaeology departments at Irish Universities are always
watchful for any evidence of Paleolithic habitation in Ireland.
Most of the
country was covered in ice during the Ice Age which receded
10,000 years ago. The ice glacier came as far south as a line drawn
across Munster from North Kerry to North Waterford, with parts of
Kilkenny and Wicklow also unglaciated, and some students
of Irish archaeology cling to the hope that some day evidence will be
uncovered in this area that humans existed in Ireland before the Ice Age. Such
evidence has been found in England. It is not expected that humans
survived in the southern areas of Ireland while the rest of the
country was covered in ice as the temperatures would have been too
cold. What we can be certain of is that humans were in Ireland a thousand years or so after the ice had
receded during the last
ice-cage. This archaeological period is known as the Mesolithic
or 'middle stone age'.
Could it be
that in a place like this in Southern Ireland, evidence will
one day be forthcoming to show human occupation of Ireland
during the Paleolithic?
in the foothills of the Galty mountains in South Tipperary.
Mesolithic in Ireland is regarded as that period from 8000 -
Mesolithic is further divided into the Early Mesolithic and the late
Mesolithic. During this time, hunting and gathering was the mode of
life and the evidence from the Mesolithic comes mainly from Mount Sandel in
Derry, Lough Boora in County Offaly, and Ferriter's Cove in County
Kerry. The evidence from Mount Sandel hut sites which were
excavated by Professor Peter Woodman (now at University College
Cork) shows they were in use from around 7000 B.C. to 6650 BC.
This is classified as an Early Mesolithic site. Mesolithic Sites were
usually set on elevated ground overlooking rivers. These rivers
played an important part in the survival of the hunter-gathering
people by being a source of food with salmon and eels available
for many months of the year. Water birds
would also have been drawn to the rivers. Deer had not yet been
introduced into Ireland. The diet would have been
supplemented by hares and wild pigs. However, the presence of hares and wild
pigs in Ireland, one thousand years or so after the ice had receded,
might be suggested by some as being evidence for a land bridge
between Ireland and the English/Scottish coast. The alternatives are
rather unlikely..they swam?.. they survived the ice?.. they were brought in boats?
tools from the Mesolithic are often the best evidence of these early
sites. Other tools, from wood and
bone may well have been used, but flint is the one that survived the
thousands of years in the ground. Early Mesolithic people used tools
called microliths. These microliths -as their name
implies - were tiny slivers of worked flint and are extraordinary in
their sophistication. Many different types are identifiable
and the use to which they were put has been determined. These
include scalene triangles, rods, needlepoints, and micro-awls.
These tiny flint blades were often used in composite tools with
wooden handles which have not survived.
the Later Mesolithic period, tool making technology was less
sophisticated than in the Early Mesolithic. Composite tools
with tiny microliths were no longer the norm, but larger - some say
'cruder' - flakes of flint were in use. Because of the
number of these tools found in Northern Ireland's Bann Valley, the
tools themselves are referred to as Bann Flakes.
Mount Sandel the evidence shows that the huts were circular, about
20 feet in diameter, and made from saplings stuck in the ground,
tied together at top and probably covered in skins or thatch. In the
centre of the huts a scooped out hollow in the ground served as a
is worth noting that there
are no recorded burials from the Mesolithic period in Ireland. The
tombs that can be seen in the Irish countryside from the magnificent
Newgrange and Knowth to the humblest portal dolmen are from the
later period known as the Neolithic.
Neolithic -New Stone Age - in Ireland is regarded as being from 4000 BC to
2500 BC and is the period during which farming
began to be a way of live for people living on the island of Ireland.
was certainly some carry-over of hunter/gathering from Mesolithic
times, but farming was
rapidly becoming the norm as people began to realise that they could
control the food supply by planting crops, storing them, rearing
animals, keeping animals in captivity, etc. To this end, they
developed new tools usually in the form of stone axes which
helped in the clearance of great tracts of oak and elm
woodland which covered most of the country at the end of the
Mesolithic. As well as tackling the country's forest with stone
axes, Neolithic people availed of a much more powerful tool in
forest clearance...fire. There is evidence to suggest that there was
contact between Neolithic people in Ireland and in Europe and
certainly in mainland Great Britain. As well as being the
first Irish farmers, the people of this period were the builders of
great tombs and the creators of field systems such as those found
at the Ceide fields in North Mayo.
tools used during Ireland's Neolithis period were ground and polished stone axes - many made from
porcellanite which is associated with granite and sourced primarily
from Tievebulliagh mountain in County Antrim and also from a site
near Brockley on Rathlin Island. Flint blades called plano-convex
knives were used wherever a knifeblade was called for - skinning
animals, cutting hides, cleaning fish, etc. Leaf and lozenge shaped
arrowheads were fashioned out of flint or chert. These arrow-heads
were beautiful objects as well as being functional. Chert is a black
flint-like stone that was used by Neolithic people where flint was
not available. Scrapers were used for a variety of jobs, perhaps
skinning animals and cleaning hides, etc. Hollow Scrapers were also
used, presumably for shaping arrow-shafts out of wood.
|This hoard of
porcellanite ground and polished Neolithic axes was found near
Belfast. Axes from Tievebulliagh and Rathlin
Island have been found in many areas of mainland Britain.
This is usually pointed out as being evidence of travel
and possible trade between the two islands 5,000 years ago.
||Porcellanite was an
advance over flint axes due to it being less brittle than the
flint. No porcellanite tools have been found from a Mesolithic
site. This demonstrates the resourcefulness of Neolithic
people in identifying and utilising new resources.
Neolithic Stone Axes
is first found in Ireland in the Neolithic period and has never been recorded from a
Mesolithic site. Books have been written on the subject of Neolithic
pottery. It is enough to record here some of the names given to
the round-bottomed and flat-bottomed bowls. Archaeologists
classify such bowls by type of rim, type of decoration, etc, and
usually name them after the site where they are first found or are
most prolific. Names include Western Neolithic, Ballyalton bowls,
Lough Gur class 1 and class 2, Linkardstown, and Carrowkeel ware.
Carrowkeel ware is usually found in passage-tombs.
during the Neolithic are dealt with on the Tombs
page of this site. When Neolithic people arrived in the country from
Europe they brought with them the tradition of tomb building which
was not practised in the country up to then. Court tombs, portal
tombs, and passage tombs are the classifications of Neolithic
tombs. Wedge tombs straddle the later Neolithic and continue
into the Bronze Age.
during the Neolithic were both circular and rectangular in
shape. In the larger houses, walls were constructed by placing a double row of posts
and fixing stones between them to a
height of just one foot, and then packing the rest with straw, sods
of earth or even planks of oak as at Tankardstown in County
Limerick. Lough Gur in Couuty Limerick has both a circular and
rectangular Neolithic house reconstructed and is an important site
with public access and information available.
here for Bronze
this page you can learn about Irish Cottages www.ballybegvillage.com/irish_cottages.html
of sites for Irish