The journey began in 1903. A team of scientists, excavating the Alice and Gwendoline Cave in Ireland’s County Clare, discovered thousands of animal bones. Among the collection was a bear bone etched with knife marks. While the curiosity was noted, the bone was subsequently stored at the National Museum of Ireland, where it remained since the 1920s.
But a new look at the butchered bear patella has allowed archaeologists to confirm human existence in Ireland 2,500 years earlier than previously thought.
Marion Dowd, of the Institute of Technology Sligo, and Ruth Carden, of the National Museum of Ireland, are responsible for the new finding. Their research on the subject was published recently by Quaternary Science Reviews.
After the team reexamined the bone, they sent it to Queen’s Univ. Belfast for radiocarbon dating. The bone was dated to 12,500 years ago.
“When a Palaeolithic date was returned, it came as quite a shock,” said Dowd, who is a specialist in Irish cave archaeology, in a statement. “Here we had evidence of someone butchering a brown bear carcass and cutting through the knee probably to extract the tendons. Yes, we expected a prehistoric date, but the Palaeolithic result took us completely by surprise.”
For confirmation, the team sent another sample for radiocarbon dating at Univ. of Oxford. The second test confirmed the validity of the first.
According to Dowd, the person butchering the bear was likely inexperienced, as there are around seven or eight cut marks on the bone.
Previously, the oldest human evidence from Ireland was found at County Derry’s Mount Sandel. The site was dated to 8,000 BC, the Mesolithic period.
“Archaeologists have been searching for the Irish Palaeolithic since the 19th century, and now, finally, the first piece of the jigsaw has been revealed,” said Dowd. “This find adds a new chapter to the human history of Ireland.”
The research team hopes to expand their investigation to other archaeological items found during the 1903 expedition.
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