A chance discovery has shown that hunter-gatherer tribes were living in Ireland hundreds of years earlier than was previously thought.
In 2009, Elaine O’Malley from Co Clare was walking along Fanore Beach in the Burren area when she discovered a midden – a place where nomad hunters would cook their food. The midden contained tools such as axes from the Stone Age.
A shellfish cooker found there was then radiocarbon dated and found to be around 6,000 years old. This is hundreds of years older than artefacts found at any other site, including the stone monument, Poulnabrone dolmen.
Field monument adviser, Michael Lynch, said: “We have always thought hunter-gatherers existed in Clare but this is the first real evidence of that. We know that they were cooking and eating shellfish here but we don’t know yet exactly what method they were using to cook it. So hopefully that is one of the things we can uncover in the weeks ahead.”
The researchers also found a layer of black organic metal. It is not yet known what the metal is or how it got there. It is possible it arrived in a tsunami that may have wiped out the population of the area. However it got there, it has helped to preserve the area that the researchers are excavating.
Lynch continued: “We have not been able to identify exactly what this black layer is yet. If we can establish a date for this black material, it will help us to piece together more of the mystery of this site and it could tell us a bit about what happened here that brought the use of the midden to an end.
“It is possible that this is the result of a major climatic event, a massive storm or possibly a tsunami, or some other major event of that sort, which would have thrown up a large amount of debris all at one time.”
The Burren is an ancient site in Ireland that is filled with monuments. It also has an unusual climate that enables plants from different parts of the world with vastly different climates live side by side. It is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions