Wicklow Archaeology

Mesolithic (Early 9,000 - 7,500 years ago; Later 7,500 - 5,000 years ago)

This is the period we know least about in this country. In Wicklow the first evidence of this period comes from numerous lithic scatters that were found in many ploughed fields and on beach sites. In Brittas bay evidence of lithics dating from the later Mesolithic were found, and over looking the bay on Wicklow head a Mesolithic burial in a cave site was uncovered. There have been some lithic scatters found in ploughed fields close to the coastline, but poor preservation has destroyed much of the potential for learning anything new about this period. Archaeologists traditionally think of this period as the time of the Hunter-gatherer. In the later Mesolithic in particular, the evidence suggests a life dominated by coastline living and the use of rivers. Most sites are ephemeral and suggest a mobile society. This period proves to be the most elusive for prehistoric archaeologists.

Neolithic & Bronze Age (5,200 years ago - 3,200 Years Ago)

The Neolithic is the period of time which archaeologists relate the beginning of civilisations in the Near East and the spread of farming, religion, and people from there throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. Although there is evidence of cattle bone in Kerry, and in Dublin as early as 5th millennia BC, there is little evidence for actual farming practices. The 4th millennia BC is mysterious and most archaeologists believe farming practices were taking place in the earlier part of this millennia. The first conclusive evidence dates to about 3,200 BC, with the now famous monuments in the Boyne valley, such as Newgrange and Knowth being built. The landscape in the Neolithic became like an artists paradise, and the landscape has been monumentalised. The use of stone in tombs such as portal tombs, court tomb, passage tombs and linkardstown cists, not to mention the various standing stones and decorated rock. In the Neolithic people seem to be obsessed with sun worship. There are alignments with the four sections of the year. The winter and summer solstice, both sunrise and sunset, and also the equinox.

Wicklow was an important source of stone in these monuments. The grey wacky stones were taken from the Mountains and transported north to be used as a construction material in Newgrange. The mountains are full of cairns and standing stones, with rock art on some places close to Redcross. The Wicklow mountians were also a source of quartz that was used for decorative and ritual purposes.

Archaeologists like to divide and categorise by period, referring to technological or monument changes that are perhaps not really useful in understanding the peoples of the past. The appearance of metals like copper, gold and soon after, bronze were used by ancients peoples who began also create new monuments, but also to evolved their existing monuments. The stone circles began to appear, but also circles around existing monuments. The stone circle is prevalent in the landscape in Co. Wicklow. Wedge tombs are the most common monument throughout the country and often have a alignment with the setting sun on the winter solstice.

Recent excavations in Wicklow have found many grave sites and it seems that Ireland in the Later Bronze Age particularly had large populations. This is a trend found throughout the country.

The Iron Age

The Iron Age in Ireland is a bit of a mystery. In Ireland we have the Celtic language, Celtic traditions, but not much evidence archaeologically to support this reality. There is no hard evidnce of Celtic migrations into Ireland during the Iron Age. In fact in the Early Iron Age there is not much evidence for anything happening. Between the 6th and 3rd Centuries BC the archaeological evidence is scarce. There is some evidence in trackway dates from midland bogs, but nothing to suggest migrations of significant numbers of Celtic peoples into the country.

The Irish during this period changed their cultural and social organisation significantly and for some unknown reason they stop using pottery and favour making their utensils from wood. In wetland excavations wooden bowls have been found.

According to Irish myth recorded in a middle Irish text known as "The conquests of Ireland" The sons of Mile (Milesians), supposed ancestors of the modern Irish, came to Ireland and found it unpopulated. The previous occupants of the country, called the Tuatha De Danaan (Children of Danaan), had gone 'underground', leaving the land to Mile and his sons. Perhaps there is some truth to this story.

Ogham Stones

Ogham stones are found mainly in the east and south of the country, but are believed to have been manafactured in the south-west, in modern day County Kerry. The origin of the Ogham language is unclear, but in myth and legend there are many references to this written language. According to myth the written language was given to man by the God Ogminios. The God of eloquence. The letters in the alphabet are named after trees and plants of Ireland.