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Ireland's First Settlers

Ireland's First Settlers: Time and the Mesolithic

Peter Woodman
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Oxbow Books
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Ireland's First Settlers
    Book Description:

    Ireland’s First Settlers tells the story of the archaeology and history of the first continuous phase of Ireland’s human settlement. It combines centuries of search and speculation about human antiquity in Ireland with a review of what is known today about the Irish Mesolithic. This is, in part, provided in the context of the author’s 50 years of personal experience searching to make sense of what initially appeared to be little more than a collection of beach rolled and battered flint tools. The story is embedded in how the island of Ireland, its position, distinct landscape and ecology impacted on when and how Ireland was colonized. It also explores how these first settlers evolved their technologies and lifeways to suit the narrow range of abundant resources that were available. The volume concludes with discussions on how the landscape should be searched for the often ephemeral traces of these early settlers and how sites should be excavated. It asks what we really know about the thoughts and life of the people themselves and what happened to them as farming began to be introduced.

    eISBN: 978-1-78297-781-0
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part I In the Beginning
    • Chapter 1 Why? (pp. 1-10)

      When I first started to write this book a few years ago it was with the very simple intention of providing an easy, and hopefully accessible, introduction to many of the issues associated with the Irish Mesolithic. In part it was a frustrated reaction to decades-old interpretations of the Mesolithic period in Ireland and was intended to reach the archaeological profession in general. That profession, which existed some years ago at the height of the “Tiger Economy”, is, however, no longer there! As I continued to write and think about why I still wanted to proceed with the project, I...

    • Chapter 2 Understanding Ireland’s environment and ecology (pp. 11-38)

      Authors, such as Mitchell and Ryan (1997) or more recently Hall (2011), have provided detailed surveys of how the Irish landscape developed. The former covers from Ireland’s earliest geological record to virtually the present, while the latter begins as the ice retreats after the Last Glacial Maximum and continues to the present, and indeed also looks to the future. The purpose of this short introduction is therefore twofold. First, to provide a précis of the aspects of the Irish landscape and environment that relate to the study of the Mesolithic, and second, to examine the aspects of past change, such...

    • Chapter 3 It’s about time (pp. 39-70)

      It is always useful to provide an historical introduction to a review of any discipline. It is partly nostalgic but it has the double value of providing an understanding as to how the corpus of evidence has been created and the reasons why certain theories are in vogue. It is not intended to be another “potted” history of archaeology, or even a supplement to Waddell’s (2005)Foundation Myths: the beginnings of Irish Archaeology, instead it is an attempt to see how ideas about “human antiquity” have developed, and in particular, how this search played out in Ireland. Perhaps it can...

  5. Part II Laying the Foundations
    • Chapter 4 Where did it all come from? (pp. 73-118)

      In any country or region, the corpus of archaeological material that is available for study from any period or culture is, as suggested in Chapter 3, a product its time, with its own interests, priorities and other socio-economic factors. In the case of the study of the Irish Mesolithic these perspectives have to be combined with changes to the landscape, both those that were the product of the natural alterations that took place over time and, in certain instances, changes in the manner in which the landscape has been used. Therefore, it is not surprising that the material available for...

    • Chapter 5 Chronology, flint facts and other artefacts (pp. 119-166)

      While the study of artefacts has been the backbone of Mesolithic research and in spite of using other dating methods, we still rely implicitly on radiocarbon dating. Therefore one has to consider how our use of radiocarbon dates helps create the chronological framework within which we work.

      After the radiocarbon dates for Newferry (Woodman 1977a) and Mount Sandel (Woodman 1985a) became available, the Irish Mesolithic was conventionally and conveniently divided into two phases. There is an “Early” Mesolithic phase which began sometimes around or after 8000 cal BC or about 10,000 cal BP and ended at an as yet unknown...

  6. Part III Often an Island Too Far
    • Chapter 6 Anything earlier? (pp. 169-180)

      Perhaps the pursuit of an Irish Palaeolithic seems like a selfindulgent search for irrelevant trivia. It is apparent from earlier descriptions of Irish Quaternary geology that there is little chance of discovering a significant missing, yet to be discovered Palaeolithic. The possibility of a post-Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), i.e. late glacial, presence falls into a separate category. It has to be borne in mind that there is a qualitative difference between investigating a potential late glacial presence and the possibility of evidence from the much older pre-Last Glacial Maximum periods. Different strands of evidence have to be found in each...

    • Chapter 7 The first arrivals (pp. 181-202)

      The beginning of the Holocene is notionally designated as the point at which the archaeological period of the Mesolithic began. The Early Holocene in southern Britain, and much of the adjacent areas of north-western Europe, contains a series of lithic industries in which microliths occur in significant numbers. In Britain this phase is often referred to as the “Early” Mesolithic though often also as “non-geometric or broad blade assemblages”. The Early Mesolithic appears to last until sometime around 10,000 cal BP, although a case can be made for either an earlier end to the phase or, in some regions, a...

    • Chapter 8 Settling in (pp. 203-234)

      On the basis of discussions in the previous chapter, one of the major issues which has so far received little attention is the documentation of how and when changes took place within the totality of the Irish Mesolithic. Instead, much of the focus has been on a perceived rapid change associated with the transition from the Early to the Later Mesolithic. Of course there has also been, as elsewhere, extensive discussion on the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic.

      These discussions may, however, have deflected research from a series of equally significant questions. The quotation fromWolf Willowabove,...

  7. Part IV Lifeways
    • Chapter 9 Patterns in the landscape (pp. 237-262)

      As noted, not too many large scale excavations of Mesolithic sites have taken place in Ireland and of these a relatively small proportion of sites contain significant quantities of organic materials. Therefore, we often have to rely to some extent on what can be learnt from the scatters of Mesolithic artefacts that have been recovered from across the landscape.

      As will have been apparent from the discussion on the history of research, the limited range of fauna and distribution of Mesolithic artefacts were partially masked by a double assumption. These were that Mesolithic settlement was primarily confined to areas where...

    • Chapter 10 Food, sustenance and procurement (pp. 263-286)

      In addition to matters such as the availability of raw materials, food procurement and various sociological requirements must, in some way, have been taken into consideration and have affected settlement patterns. Usually we focus on the bones of animals, mainly mammals, fish and birds, but often forget about the presence of plant foods – with the exception of hazel nuts. However, Ireland is one of those regions where many of the soils are acidic. A pH of 7 is usually regarded as neutral, but in parts of the north of Ireland, as at Mount Sandel, the pH is regularly recorded as...

  8. Part V Where to Now
    • [Part V Introduction] (pp. 287-288)

      This final part is not an attempt to set the agenda for the future but is, rather, a perspective that provides some personal sense of where priorities could be. Many of the issues discussed below have already been addressed in Conneller and Warren’s (2006) Mesolithic Britain and Ireland: New Approaches. In the preface, those editors correctly noted the sad fact that the Mesolithic is often seen as the poor relation to the Upper Palaeolithic and the Neolithic. There is also a tendency to compare regions; thus one aspires to the quality seen in Scandinavia (ibid., 7). However, one has to...

    • Chapter 11 A critical analysis of fieldwork and methodologies (pp. 289-312)

      Can we consider how we get beyond fieldwork that is doomed to simply repeat what we have done before? If not, and in a world where salvage excavation is the main means by which fieldwork obtains new information, then the chances are that any new perspective or insights will have limited opportunity for success. Salvage archaeology, especially when associated with the infrastructural developments that took place during the economic boom of the Celtic Tiger years i.e. during the mid-2000s, has the benefit, as far as research is concerned, of being a tyrannical task master. Field research projects can often be...

    • Chapter 12 Life and death (pp. 313-338)

      This is one of those topics where it is easy to be intimidated by what is found elsewhere. Once again one can be envious of sites that vary from cemeteries in the Baltic and Russia to those found along the Atlantic coast in Brittany and Portugal. There are also regions where there are numerous examples of ornaments and mobilary art. There is the existence of rock art and even paintings from the European arctic, as at Alta in Norway (Helskog 1988; Pl. XXXIIa) where extensive naturalistic representations of animals as well as hunting and fishing scenes occur. There must be...

  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 339-356)
  10. [PLATES] (pp. None)
  11. INDEX (pp. 359-366)