6000-year-old Trade Link Identified

Clare Champion, Friday, May 23, 2008

Clare Museum and the Irish Stone Axe Project (ISAP) at University College Dublin have uncovered evidence of a 6,000-year-old trade link between North Clare and Great Britain. A stone axe uncovered in Doolin eight years ago was this week confirmed as having most likely originated in the Great Langdale and Scafell areas of Cumbria. According to John Rattigan, curator of Clare Museum, “The linking of this stone axe with Cumbria suggests there was contact between Neolithic people in Ireland and in mainland Great Britain.”

The Neolithic or New Stone Age (4000-2500 BC) is generally regarded as the period in which Ireland became a predominantly agricultural-based society. As well as being the first Irish farmers, the people of this period were the creators of field systems and the builders of great tombs such as those found in the Burren. Tools, usually in the form of stone axes, are believed to have been used to clear great tracts of oak and elm woodland, which covered most of the country.

As Mr. Rattigan explained, the discovery of the tools “reinforces suggestions that trade links existed between the West of Ireland and western Britain during the Neolithic era”. He explained, “Studies on the finely polished implement have found that it is different to the typical dark grey shale axes produced at a site close to the cobble beach at Doolin. More significantly, petrological analysis indicates that the pale green axe was of a type of stone known as tuff, which is typical of the tools produced in Cumbria.”

The stone axe will be on public display at Clare Museum in Ennis from this week. Also included for display will be a recently conserved bronze axe head acquired by the museum in 2004.

Speaking about the axe head, Mr Rattigan stated, “This socketed and looped axe head was discovered at Knockliscrane in Kilmurry-Ibrickane, County Clare. Although badly damaged by time and weathering, the metal has been conserved and stabilised, thus ensuring its survival into the future.”

Clare Museum acquired a collection of archaeological objects from Doolin townland back in 2000, however, as it is a designated museum under the National Monuments Act the museum was legally entitled to retain these objects on behalf of the State.

In a bid to establish more information about the axes in their care and to contribute to a national study, the museum sent the implements to the Irish Stone Axe Project (ISAP) in UCD in Dublin for analysis in November of last year. The aim of the ISAP is to establish a database of all known Irish stone axes and analyse the data to enhance knowledge of the different types, roles and significance of stone axes in Ireland..

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