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Undersea Hunt For Evidence of First Irish Settlers

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Undersea Hunt For Evidence of First Irish Settlers

Undersea Hunt For Evidence of First Irish Settlers
March 08
09:19 2018

IT Sligo recently joined the University of Bradford’s “Europe’s Lost Frontiers” research team to explore the Irish Sea. Along with University College Cork and the Irish Marine Institute, the group carried out an expedition to explore the extensive submerged landscapes that exist between Ireland and Great Britain.

Following the last Ice Age, large areas of habitable land were submerged following climate change and sea level rise across the world. Globally, the sea level rose around 120 metres and an area more than twice that of the modern United States of America was lost to the sea.

Beneath the waves of the Irish Sea is a prehistoric ‘palaeolandscape’ of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys in which evidence of human activity is expected to be preserved.

This landscape is similar to Doggerland, an area of the southern North Sea and currently the best-known example of a palaeolandscape in Europe. Doggerland has been extensively researched by Professor Vince Gaffney, Principal Investigator of the “Europe’s Lost Frontiers” Project.

Professor Vince Gaffney said: “Research by the project team has also provided accurate maps for the submerged lands that lie between Ireland and Britain and these are suspected to hold crucial information regarding the first settlers of Ireland and adjacent lands along the Atlantic corridor.”

To provide this evidence, sediment was taken from 20 sites by the Irish Research Vessel RV Celtic Voyager in Liverpool and Cardigan Bays. The findings will be studied by an international research team.

Dr James Bonsall, from the Centre for Environmental Research Innovation and Sustainability (CERIS) in the Dept. of Environmental Science at IT Sligo, is the Chief Scientist for this phase of the research. Dr James Bonsall said: “Today we perceive the Irish Sea as a large body of water, a sea that separates us from Britain and mainland Europe, a sea that gives us an identity as a proud island nation. But 18,000 years ago, Ireland, Britain and Europe were part of a single landmass that gradually flooded over thousands of years, forming the islands that we know today. We’re going to find out where, when, why and how people lived on a landscape that today is located beneath the waves.”

Key outcomes of the research will be to reconstruct and simulate the palaeoenvironments of the Irish Sea, using ancient DNA, analysed in the laboratories at the University of Warwick, and palaeoenvironmental data extracted from the sediment cores.

The studies will be of immense value in understanding ‘first’ or ‘early’ contact and settlement around the coasts of Ireland and Britain, but also the lifestyles of those people who lived within the inundated, prehistoric landscapes that lie between our islands and which have never been adequately explored by archaeologists.


The scientific crew of the RV Celtic Voyager (L-R): Dr Martin Bates, Rosie Everett, Eithne Davis, Dr C Richard Bates and Kevin Kearney.

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