The early prehistory in the west of Ireland: Investigations into the social archaeology of the Mesolithic, west of the Shannon, Ireland.

Killian Driscoll

M.Litt. Thesis October 2006, Department of Archaeology, National University of Ireland, Galway. Head of Department: Professor John Waddell. Supervisor: Dr. Stefan Bergh

Summary and Acknowledgements

The Mesolithic period under consideration in this thesis, from c. 8000 cal. BC to c. 4000 cal. BC, covers about 40% of the time that people have inhabited Ireland since the end of the last Ice Age. Some time around 4000 cal. BC the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition occurred, a period that has been seen as the transition from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to that of farming.

Even though the Mesolithic period is nearly half of Ireland’s history of human settlement, it has generally not received much research attention in Ireland. This is especially so in the west of Ireland, where our understandings of the early prehistoric communities have been hampered by a lack of sustained, critical research. This thesis was undertaken to critically review the evidence we have for the social archaeology of this period, covering the six counties west of the Shannon, Co.’s Clare, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo. Along with the review of the literature and the material culture housed in the National Museum and elsewhere, this thesis undertook a series of fieldwalking programmes; these were undertaken to augment the material record, and to assess these various areas for suitability for further, longer-term research programmes.

After discussing the history of research concerning the Stone Age in Ireland, and in particular in the west, this thesis then considers the evidence for the Mesolithic and Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Ireland. Attention is then turned to discussing the approaches used by researchers concerning landscape and social archaeology, and how such approaches will be used in this thesis. This is followed by a detailed description and discussion of the fieldwalking programmes and museum research, where each locale will be dealt with individually. This thesis will then discuss how we can understand the evidence in terms of a social archaeology of the period.

I am profoundly grateful to my wife, Juliana, for her endless support and encouragement, and to my two sons, Luke and Rowan, for allowing me to work when I should have been playing. I would also like to thank my parents, Dennis and Zelie, for their support.

A great number of people have been more than helpful over the last two years of my research – this thesis would have been less without them. In no particular order, I would like to sincerely thank the following for the various help and they gave me.

Thank you to Richard Gillespie for the forthcoming publication on the Neolithic house at Newport; Tracy Collins for the stratigraphic report of the Hermitage site; Mel McQuade for the forthcoming publication on the River Liffey Mesolithic site; Gerry Walsh for help with access to the Oranmore and Leedaun lithics and lithic reports; Gabriel Cooney for the Stone Axe Database; Barry Raftery for the Lough Gara crannogs map; and Jim Higgins for tracing material in the Galway City Museum.

Thank you to all the landowners who gave me permission to access their land. Thank you to Paul Nessans for help with the boat trip to River Island, and for introducing me to Noel Higgins; and Noel Higgins for presenting me with the River Corrib divers’ lithics. Thank you to the staff, and especially Mary Cahill, of the National Museum of Ireland, for all the help with my many queries, requests, and tracing of material. Thank you to Stephan Kelly, and especially Juan Carlos Castaneda, GIS Lab., NUI,Galway, for the many, many hours of help and problem solving with the mapping software. Thank you to Michael Williams, Geology Dept., NUI,Galway for the identification of lithics that I collected and Matthew Parkes, Natural History Museum, Dublin, who identified some of the Lough Gara lithics. Thank you to Angela Gallagher for making the photographic scale bars.

Thank you to Dag Hammar for the tutoring on lithics and knapping, and help with fieldwalking for the weekend in Leitrim. Thank you to Christina Fredengren, and especially Graeme Warren, for their respective advice, time, and help. Thank you to Marie-Louise Coolahan for reading a draft of a chapter. Thank you to Peter Woodman for sending me numerous publications, and who was very generous with his time and knowledge over the last two years. And last but not least, thank you very much to Stefan Bergh for supervising my thesis; I greatly appreciate all the time, energy, and encouragement he gave to my research.


1        Introduction
1.1       Aims and Methods
1.2      Thesis structure
2          History of research
2.1       Introduction
2.2       In the days before the Stone Age
2.3       The beginnings of the Stone Age
2.4       The formulation of an Irish Mesolithic
2.5       The Stone Age in the west
2.6       Woodman and the Irish Mesolithic
2.7       Transitions, Megaliths, and Farmers
2.8       The early prehistory in the West
2.9       Palaeoenvironmental studies
3          The Mesolithic and Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Ireland
3.1       Introduction
3.2       Post-glacial arrivals
3.3       The Early Mesolithic
3.4       The Early Mesolithic-Later Mesolithic transition
3.5       The Later Mesolithic
3.6       The dead are (almost) everywhere
3.7       The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition
4          Prehistoric landscapes and social reproduction
4.1       Introduction
4.2       Landscape theories and methods
4.3       Landscape studies in Ireland
4.4       Tilley's Phenomenology and Ingold's Taskscape
4.5       Discussion
5          Fieldwork and museum collection review
5.1       Introduction
5.2       Terminologies and conventions
5.3       Case studies
5.3.1       Lough Corrib and its environs, Co.'s Galway & Mayo       Previous research/finds       Survey       Discussion
5.3.2       Lough Urlaur and its environs, Co. Mayo       Previous research/finds       Survey       Discussion
5.3.3       Tawin/Maree area, Co. Galway       Previous research/finds       Survey       Discussion
5.4       Further fieldwork
5.4.1       Lough Allen, Co.'s Leitrim & Roscommon
5.4.2       Tully, Co. Leitrim
5.4.3       Lough Inchquin & Lough Atedaun, Co. Clare
5.4.4       Streamstown, Co. Galway
5.4.5       Big Island, Co. Galway
5.4.6       Skehanagh, Co. Galway
5.4.7       Clonnaragh, Co. Roscommon
5.4.8       Turloughnaroyey, Co. Galway
5.4.9       Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo
5.5       Museum research
5.5.1       Introduction
5.5.2       Burrishoole Parish, Co. Mayo
5.5.3       Mallaranny, Co. Mayo
5.5.4       Lough Lannagh, Co. Mayo
5.5.5     O'Briensbridge, Co. Clare
5.5.6     Inishmore Island, Lough Arrow, Co. Sligo
5.5.7     Oranmore, Co. Galway
5.5.8     Belderrig , Co. Mayo
5.5.9     Leedaun , Co. Mayo
5.5.10     Lough Gara, Co.'s Sligo & Roscommon
5.5.11     Lough Scur, Co. Leitrim
5.5.12     Discussion
5.5.13     Post-Mesolithic material
6          Mesolithic communities in the west
6.1       Introduction
6.2       Distribution in the landscape
6.3       Taskscapes in the Early Mesolithic
6.4       Taskscapes in the Later Mesolithic
6.5       The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition
7           Conclusion

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