Visiting The Life Of Our Ancestors In Ireland

Interesting article from The Irish Times on an experimental archaeology project being undertaken by UCD students to show how our ancestors lived in Ancient Ireland.

How many of us would survive in similar structures & with similar diets today?

From IrishTimes.com website:

“Constructing the life as lived by our ancient forebears

Have you ever tried digging a hole with a stick? Or chopping down a tree with a stone axe? How about living on porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month? Reading about the way people lived in Stone Age and Mesolithic (10000-5000 BC) times gives only a very limited understanding of how things were in the distant past. Actually recreating everyday life introduces a sense of empathy and other dimensions which paint a far more detailed picture: the essence of experimental archaeology.

Let’s begin with a clarification. Experimental archaeology should not be confused with reconstruction. Those involved don’t dress up as cavemen and women for the sake of an audience. They are using certain tools and techniques common in different time periods to try and learn more about the variables which affected hunter gatherer life while also exposing some of the misunderstandings that have become accepted truths.

The University College Dublin experimental archaeology department is currently building a Mesolithic structure based on the only surviving example on this island: Mount Sandel in Co Derry, which dates from 7800 BC.

“Our structure will be six metres in diameter with a number of timber posts going up and forming an apex – not unlike a teepee – but bigger in scale,” explains Dr Graeme Warren of UCD’s school of archaeology. “Smaller hazel sticks will also be stuck in the ground to support it and we will then weave hazel like a basket around. We’ll leave one area as an entrance and have a turf covering on the lower half and possibly thatch on the top half.

Wild boar
“We could also use animal skins to cover it. It would be easier now to get them than it would have been in the Mesolithic period as the fauna was quite restricted. The biggest animals they would have had were wild boar but seal skin and even salmon skin might have been used back then.”

Structures like this, which can be found across Europe, question much of the conventional wisdom of the life of the hunter-gatherer. “People assume they were very mobile and didn’t have many possessions but we’re building a six metre diameter house that will be seven metres high and there’s evidence to suggest structures like these may have housed up to five or six generations of the same clan in their time.”

In fact, in parts of the Pacific North West, archeologists have found evidence of huge halls from Mesolithic times and communities with up to 1,000 people living in the vicinity.

Talking shop is the easy part in all this. UCD undergraduates, postgraduates and doctorate researchers are all giving up their time to work on building this structure – and several more down the road – using traditional techniques, such as digging with a sharp stick.

PhD student Niamh Kelly, 25, has found it somewhat easier than expected. “It’s obviously no shovel and spade but it’s not too bad. I was also involved in chopping down trees with stone axes. We worked in groups and these took about 40 minutes each.”

View the article in full on IrishTimes.com