Radiocarbon dating of an artifact found in the Burren in County Clare has redefined the time line of human inhabitance in Ireland. A shellfish cooker found in 2009 has been identified to be around 6,000 years old, predating the nearby Poulnabrone dolmen by hundreds of years.
The Irish Examiner reports that a midden, “a cooking area where nomad hunter-gatherers boiled or roasted shellfish,” was discovered at Fanore Beach in Clare in 2009 by local woman Elaine O’Malley. Along with the midden were axes and smaller stone tools, artifacts of the Stone Age.
Also found at the site was “mysterious black layer of organic material” which researchers believe could have been from a tsunami that struck the Western coast of Ireland during the Stone Age, possibly wiping out the population of the area.
"This is the oldest settlement in Clare," said Michael Lynch, field monument adviser for Co Clare. "We have always thought hunter-gatherers existed in Clare but this is the first real evidence of that.”
"We know that they were cooking and eating shellfish here,” said Lynch of the pre-farming settlement discovered, “but we don’t know yet exactly what method they were using to cook it. So hopefully that is one of the things we can uncover in the weeks ahead."
The mysterious black layer found at the site remains under investigation. "We have not been able to identify exactly what this black layer is yet but, as it happens, it is this layer which helped to protect the ancient settlement that we are currently excavating,” said Lynch.
"If we can establish a date for this black material, it will help us to piece together more of the mystery of this site and it could tell us a bit about what happened here that brought the use of the midden to an end.
"It is possible that this is the result of a major climatic event, a massive storm or possibly a tsunami, or some other major event of that sort, which would have thrown up a large amount of debris all at one time.”