This article discusses some aspects of research, completed in 2006, which reviewed the evidence for the Mesolithic (c. 8000-4000 BC) in the west of Ireland (Driscoll 2006). This period and area had been, for the most part, overlooked by researchers and the record was characterised by a few find locations scattered throughout this quarter of Ireland. Most of the finds were initially discovered after mid-20th-century drainage schemes lowered the water table of two lakes, Loughs (the Gaelic word for lake) Allen and Gara. This article will discuss how the prehistoric use of various raw materials for stone tools had been presented by researchers, followed by some results and interpretations, with a focus on the results from fieldwalking around the shores of Lough Allen. Firstly, however, I will quickly introduce the geology of Ireland as it pertains to flint and chert, and outline the Mesolithic lithic technology.
Figure 1: Geology of Ireland and locations and counties mentioned in text. Geological map adapted from Woodman et al. (2006)
The schematic geological map in Figure 1 shows that the predominant bedrock consists of limestone, implying carboniferous chert deposits in places, with in situ deposits of flint in the north-east, especially in Co. Antrim. The Antrim flint is not chalk flint, but nodule deposits in the Ulster white limestone formation; other areas around Ireland have secondary deposits of beach flint, and also in the glacial till. My research area consisted of the six counties Clare, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo west of the River Shannon, which divides the Irish midlands in half; these six counties comprise about a quarter of Ireland (Fig. 1). Very briefly, and generally, the Irish Mesolithic is divided into two main phases; the earliest date for the Early Mesolithic is c. 8000 cal BC (Woodman 2003), with the lithic technology typified by a microlithic technology, as well as the use of flake, core, ground, and polished axes. At some stage in the seventh millennium, the Later Mesolithic began (for debates on the chronology see Warren 2003; Costa et al. 2005), which is characterised by a switch from a microlithic to a macrolithic technology, with the Bann flake, named after the River Bann in Northern Ireland (Fig. 1), as the icon of this phase. But these Bann flakes were just one part of this macrolithic technology, and indeed, only in one sub-phase of the Later Mesolithic (see Woodman et al. 1999). In the west of Ireland the evidence for the Early Mesolithic is limited, with almost all the material being Later Mesolithic.
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Last updated: Wed Jun 10 2009