The Bronze Age In Ireland
The introduction of metal to replace stone was clearly a significant one, and so it proved to be in Bronze Age Ireland. New metals such as copper and tin, mixed to make bronze allowed the creation of better tools and weapons. These new metals could be easily forged and shaped into place much easier than anything that could be done with the use of stone.
The Bronze Age in Ireland is generally described as lasting from 2000 BC until 500 BC and in this time the country was colonised by the Celts. The first notable find was the discovery of what is known as “Beaker pottery.”
The Bronze Age PeopleQuite often the Bronze Age people are referred to as the Beaker People, named after their decorated drinking vessels. The actual roots of how this type of pottery ware came to be in Ireland are unclear, but it has also been found throughout Europe and Britain and is generally associated with ceremonial burials.
Very noticeable on the Irish landscape we see what are known as “dolmens.” They are distinct as they consist of three upright stones with a flat capstone balanced on top that forms the central chamber of a grave mound.
In this modern age they stand vividly out against the Irish skyline, but in the Bronze Age these would have been buried. Similar dolmens can be found in Cornwall, England and in Brittany. Dolmens were often covered with earth or stones to form a barrow.
We also see the introduction of wedge tombs during Bronze Age Ireland and can be found in the more western parts of Ireland and these are attributed to the Celts, who arrived from France.
They are a basic stone chamber which would have been covered by earth, with a single entrance which in most cases also faced South-West. They are found throughout Ireland in Ulster, Connaught and Munster. They get their name simply from their shape being narrower and lower towards the rear of the tomb.
Henges in Bronze Age Ireland
|Giant's Causeway in Ireland|
They were made by scraping earth from the centre outwards to form a ridge all around it and can be between 100 and 200 metres in diameter. Inside these are remnants of what would most likely have been wooden posts and the bones of animals. It does suggest that these henges were used for some type of ceremony.
Stone circles also form part a big part in Bronze Age Ireland and the Irish landscape has many circles of varying sizes of stones. Again it is assumed that these were used for some type of ceremonial behaviour. In Ulster the best example of these can be found in Beaghmore in County Tyrone.
Set in the Sperrin Mountains there is a concentration of distinctive sites made up of stone circles. The most outstanding of these is at Beaghmore which means “the moor of the birches” and was found in 1945 when over 1,000 stones were uncovered. Until then they had been buried under a layer of peat.
Copper In IrelandIreland certainly appeared to have an abundance of copper and at Mount Gabriel in County Cork there are some of the very few prehistoric copper mines known in Europe, and over thirty shafts have been found. Some thirty shallow pits have been found here dating back to the Bronze Age.
Mining was carried out by setting fires at the face of the mines and then stone hammers were used to break the ore-bearing rock away from the mine face. There are also copper mines at Ross Island, near Killarney in County Kerry.
The main item produced from the Bronze Age in Ireland was copper axe heads that had been alloyed to make them tougher. When copper was mixed with tin then a much harder metal was formed and this led to the production of awls, daggers, chauldrons and horns. Over 120 horns have been found in Ireland and a few samples can be found in the Irish National Museum.
Many of these objects were decorated with different type of motifs and what this also shows us is that gold was being used for the first time. Much debate exists as to whether the gold was found locally or imported but gold was used for making torcs, bracelets, fasteners, gorgets and lunulae.
They can best be seen in what are known as gold lunnulae, which would have been made from a thin sheet of gold, which would have been hammered into shape. Other type of this ornate work would have included a sun-disc which included two pierced holes, indicating that it may have been attached to a garment.
In the latter part of the Bronze Age, thicker gold would have been used to make bracelets and neck ornaments known as torcs. It is best assumed that gold would have been panned from rivers, or perhaps even imported. It does seem pretty clear that highly detailed gold carvings were most certainly one of the earliest fashion accessories to start in Ireland.
We also know that there were burials and cremations in this early Bronze Age and in a burial the corpse was placed in a crouched position in a small tomb knons as a cist. Some burials took place on the tops of hills and these burials were covered by stones which them formed a mound known as a cairn.
At a place called Clonfinlough in County Offaly, a late Bronze Age in Ireland settlement was discovered in a peat bog in 1990. It has taught us many things about the people who lived in Ireland at that time.
A type of enclosure was found and consisted of timber track ways with circular wooden houses and stone lined hearths. Using tree ring dating, archaeologists have estimated that the oak timbers used were most likely felled around 900 BC.
They also found wooden boat paddles that would suggest the people made use of the nearby river, possibly for fishing and travel. A stone sits there and is also known as the Fairy Stone or the Horesman’s Stone and is regarded as the oldest stone in Ireland.
There are carvings on this huge boulder which can be dated back in Irish History to the Bronze Age in Ireland because of their unusual type of markings. Ireland like the rest of Europe made its way into the Iron Age in Ireland.