The oldest known Irish communal settlement in Australia has been unearthed in a dusty, rural paddock.

The settlement, known as a 'clachan', dates back to the 19th century, according to scientists. 

The clachan may be the largest in Australia says Flinders University archaeologist Susan Arthure whose Ph.D. investigations of Irish history and archaeology in South Australia led her to Baker's Flat, where the clachan is located. 

Read more: On this day: 250 Irish convicts survived a shipwreck in Australia, in 1791

The site appeared to be a featureless paddock near the historical farming and mining community of South Australia, but a geophysical study of the area revealed a significant Irish clachan. 

A clachan is an ancient type of Irish settlement where houses were built in clusters to form a type of hamlet. 

Susan Arthure discovered the clachan

Susan Arthure discovered the clachan

Arthure, who discovered the site at Baker's Flat, said that it was home to more than 500 Irish immigrants. 

“We found a large, vibrant clachan settlement, now hidden beneath the surface of an empty farm paddock, which contains a wealth of materials to tell us a lot about the past,” Arthure said. 

“This traditional Irish settlement style, characterized by clusters of houses and outbuildings, highlights the way the new residents to this dry country worked together to make the best use of marginal land." 

She said that, while the settlement might look chaotic to an outsider, Irish immigrants were able to make it sustainable by managing their animals communally and making joint decisions about how best to use the land.

Read more: Fenian convicts transported to Perth remembered by their descendants in festival

Arthure said that large settlements, such as the one at Baker's Flat, allowed Irish immigrants to maintain customs and traditions more easily.

Bakers Flat Houses

Bakers Flat Houses

She said that many people living in South Australia would be descendants of the settlers at Baker's Flat and other Irish settlements in Clare Valley and the Mid North.