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Timeline of Human Activity in Ancient Ireland is 33,000 Years Old!

Signs of early human activity in Ireland dating back to a stunning 33,000 years have been found on a bone fragment which was unearthed in cave over 10

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Signs of early human activity in Ireland dating back to a stunning 33,000 years have been found on a bone fragment which was unearthed in cave over 100 years ago. This paradigm-changing discovery instantly negates everything archaeologists though they knew about humans in ancient Ireland, and across the entirety of western Europe during the Upper Paleolithic.

If you were to Google search “the first people in Ireland” right now, you would read that between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago (around 7000 BC) “Stone Age” people arrived on the island and used stone tools for hunting. However, by the end of today, that same search result will have changed and it will have tripled in age to state that evidence of human activity in ancient Ireland has been discovered dating back to 33,000 years ago.

Irish Culture Just Got 20,000 Older

Up until this new revelation, the earliest evidence of human activity in Ireland was 12,500 years old, found on a butchered bear bone found in a Co Clare cave. The new evidence that establishes human activity in Ireland 33,000 years ago was discovered in 1972 at Castlepook Cave near Doneraile in north Cork, and it comes in the form of a bone fragment from the hind leg reindeer femur. This finding resets the clock on currently maintained population models of western Europe by more than 20,000 years.

According to The Times , between 1904 and 1912 the naturalist Richard Ussher named the site “Mammoth Cave” after he dug up a high volume of woolly mammoth remains. The fragment of reindeer femur that has sparked a total reassessment of Irish history radiocarbon dated to 33,000 years old, and under microscopes a series of tiny chop marks were identified that that are consistent with butchery using flint or stone tools.

It’s incredible to think that a tiny reindeer bone fragment has the power to push back our thinking on the timeline of history in ancient Ireland. Source: RF Carden / UCD School of Archaeology

It’s incredible to think that a tiny reindeer bone fragment has the power to push back our thinking on the timeline of history in ancient Ireland. Source: RF Carden / UCD School of Archaeology

The Filmmaker and the Scientist Who Changed Irish History

The story of the discovery of the “history changing deer femur” was revealed in RTÉ‘s The Burren: Heart of Stone documentary by filmmaker Katrina Costello. Costello’s first documentary film entitled The Silver Branch (2015) told the story of philosopher and fifth-generation farmer Patrick McCormack, owner of Fr Ted s House outside Corofin, Co Clare, and was nominated for Best Feature Documentary at the Irish Film Awards.

The Burren: Heart of Stone – Episode Two ‘Song of our Ancestors’ from Sea Fever on Vimeo.

In the second of her new two-part series, which is narrated by Brendan Gleeson, Costello met Dr. Ruth Carden, a leading consultant zooarchaeologist and adjunct research fellow with the School of Archaeology, UCD . In 2008 Carden conducted a personal research project involving antiquarian collections comprising 60,000 bone fragments from animal skeletal remains excavated from at least 11 limestone caves across Ireland in the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. 

Carden explained that after being excavated the bones had been sent to the National Museum of Ireland where they were stored in boxes for the last century, un-inspected. Summarizing what the discovery of the 33,000-year-old deer femur means, archaeologically, Carden explains that “this bone just changed Irish human history.”

Dr. Carden explains that ancient hunter-gatherers would have followed migrating reindeer herds to what is now modern-day Ireland across wide expanses of lands and water bodies which are now under the sea. (hakoar / Adobe Stock)

Dr. Carden explains that ancient hunter-gatherers would have followed migrating reindeer herds to what is now modern-day Ireland across wide expanses of lands and water bodies which are now under the sea. ( hakoar / Adobe Stock)

What Does This Mean for Tomorrow’s Students?

Dr. Carden highlighted that the dating of the ancient bone fragment “left her astounded.” As of the announcement of this news, all over the world history teachers who have become aware of this discovery will be scratching around for answers as to what to tell their students. For what was taught up to yesterday about Irish history is off by 20,000 years, or just wildly wrong. It all started in ancient Ireland at least 33,000 years ago, not 12,500 as was previously believed.

How and why did hunters get to ancient Ireland 33,000 years ago from the animal rich hunting planes of what is today central Europe? Carden explained that it was likely that “the hunter-gatherers would have followed and lived off the migrating reindeer herds to Ireland across wide expanses of lands and water bodies which are now under the sea , in the North-West European region.” Now it is known that humans came into Ireland 33,000 years ago, not only does this demand a reshaping of early population models in ancient Ireland, but the discovery “changes everything” archaeologists think about “north Western Europe as a whole during the Upper Palaeolithic period.”

Top image: This history-changing reindeer bone has hit the big screen thanks to the documentary entitled “The Burren: Heart of Stone” by filmmaker Katrina Costello, seen here. Source: Katrina Costello / Facebook

By Ashley Cowie

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