The magnificent Céide Fields in County Mayo
Through cross comparison with pottery found in tombs and Neolithic sites in Western Europe, the Céide Fields' shards, along with radiocarbon dating from the hearth, placed the occupancy of the enclosure at around 3000 B.C. A primitive plough head was also discovered within the enclosure, which gave additional evidence of animal husbandry, probably cattle, as the horse was not yet introduced to Ireland.
Much of the rest of the site remains underneath the bog. The Céide Fields workers rely on probing, an inventive yet rudimentary way of mapping the site adapted from a traditional practice of finding ancient trees deep beneath the bog. An archaeologist (or like-minded volunteer) pushes an iron rod down into the bog until met with resistance such as a stone wall. The wall position is then marked and followed in its presumed direction, much like a game of Battleship. In this way, the main plan of the Céide Fields has been discerned. A number of sectional cuts have also been made into the bog, unearthing segments of these stone walls. Primarily, this has been done for the benefit of the visitors. Interestingly, the bog is already reclaiming these sections.
The Céide Fields, as understood today, is a network of parallel stone enclosures with a number of those walls running up to two kilometers in length. The site has been mapped up to ten square kilometers or four square miles but it is clear that the site is much more expansive than these numbers suggest. Although there is one known domestic structure (Seamus' oval enclosure) found, there must be others.
The sheer scale of the site is an indication of the size of the population and the degree of organization that it would have taken to construct such fields. The area, at the time of the stone enclosures' construction, was a dense primeval forest filled with animals that today can only be found in Ireland's museums, including wolves, brown bears and boars. To clear this landscape for agriculture, let alone move the over a quarter of a million stones used for the enclosures, would have taken a great deal of cooperation from a sizable community. This society would also have to have had a source of food production independent of these new fields and independent of the population working on them.
No evidence has yet been found of any fortifications at the Céide Fields. This has prompted many into believing that this agrarian society lived peacefully without thought or threat of war. Although this is a tempting and agreeable hypothesis, it is argued from a position of lack of evidence rather than proof positive.
The Céide Fields' society did not live in isolation. We know that the population participated in trade and therefore certainly had contact with various other peoples, as evidenced from a number of flint and Porcellanite (used for stone axes) finds from County Antrim in the north. It is certainly possible that their interaction with neighboring groups was completely peaceful, but it is unlikely. Just because defensive structures, such as protective walls (which would be larger and thicker than the farming walls) and tower foundations, have not been uncovered is not reason enough to presume that they do not exist. The Céide Fields is such an expansive site that these structures could lie undiscovered deep beneath the bog miles away.