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Bronze Age Catastrophe Layer Discovered In Irish Shell Midden
George Howard comment 8 Comments

Den Aengus Fort on the Tsunami Wracked Aran Islands offshore of Fanore Beach 


Irish Examiner

6,000-year-old settlement poses tsunami mystery

By Andrew Hamilton

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Archeologists have uncovered evidence of pre-farming people living in the Burren more than 6,000 years ago — one of the oldest habitations ever unearthed in Ireland.

Radiocarbon dating of a shellfish midden on Fanore Beach in north Clare have revealed it to be at least 6,000 years old — hundreds of years older than the nearby Poulnabrone dolmen.

The midden — a cooking area where nomad hunter-gatherers boiled or roasted shellfish — contained Stone Age implements, including two axes and a number of smaller stone tools.

Excavation of the site revealed a mysterious black layer of organic material, which archeologists believe may be the results of a Stone Age tsunami which hit the Clare coast, possibly wiping out the people who used the midden.

The midden was discovered by local woman Elaine O’Malley in 2009 and a major excavation of the site is being led by Michael Lynch, field monument adviser for Co Clare.

“This is the oldest settlement in Clare,” said Mr Lynch. “We have always thought hunter-gatherers existed in Clare but this is the first real evidence of that.

“These people were pre-farming. Farming would have been introduced a few generations later and these farmers built monuments like the dolmen.

“These people would have come to certain places at certain times of the year. Obviously they came here to eat shellfish, but possibly they had another place beside a river nearby for when they wanted to catch salmon and trout, and at other times they would have collected things like hazel nuts.

“We know that they were cooking and eating shellfish here, 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 archaeologists are also hoping to establish the make-up of a mysterious substance found during the excavation.

The substance, which is two or three inches deep, disintegrates when it comes in contact with air. A large slab of the material has remained intact on an ancient settlement, indicating that a large amount of it was laid down at once, possibly as the result of a tsunami. 

“We have found a mysterious layer of black organic material on the site and it is just under that level that we have found all the oldest archeology,” said Mr Lynch. 

“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.

“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.”

Read more:

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  • If I have the facts right, if the site is really 6ky old, the black layer over it would seem to be consistent with the 3114 BCE mega-tsunami Ed talks about.

  • Since they haven’t got a definitive date yet it looks like a lot more detailed analysis of that layer needs to be done before jumping to conclusions. But I wonder if this might have something to do with something mentioned in Bob Kobres’s work. Comets and the Bronze Age Collapse

  • Hermann Burchard

    Are guys doing arithmetic or Voodoo? If 6k is the age, that would be early Chalcolithic (copper, gold) or late Neolithic, but not Bronze Age, if memory serves. A date of 3114 BC would be 5126 BP, not 6k.

    This could be my problem, because I used to teach math, regular folks could care less??

    Where’s Ed, he complained he couldn’t get on TUSK.

  • Hermann Burchard

    Further Comment of Age:

    The article states that the community was pre-farming. The dates for age archeological subdivisions such as neolithic or bronze age differ by region, with Middle Eastern ones being usually early. The Bronze Age came late to Northern Europe and, presumably, Ireland. So, perhaps this settlement was mesolithic.

  • Steve Garcia

    I have to take exception to the logic behind this passage:

    “Excavation of the site revealed a mysterious black layer of organic material, which archeologists believe may be the results of a Stone Age tsunami which hit the Clare coast, possibly wiping out the people who used the midden.”

    A midden is pretty friable, pretty fragile. It’s just piled up shells and fish bones. Any tsunami would have erased the midden, unless I am missing something. One as strong as the Sumatran and Japanese tsunamis certainly would have, since they moved entire buildings and trees, not to mention cars, trucks, and ships. A midden is not more solid than buildings and trees.

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  • Jonny

    Steve, you are missing something. You are correct that a tsunami would likely obliterate any evidence of a midden, but the mysterious black substance is reported to be found in the archaeological layer BELOW the midden. Thus if this layer was laid down by a tsunami, and the midden is above it, it implies that the users of the midden moved onto the land after the event, and that the two layers are not contemporary.

    Thus logically all that can be concluded is that the black mat is older than 6000 years BP, but how much older still needs to be verified.

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